The Melancholy of Persistence (Or Bookish OCD)

on Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Yesterday's post got me thinking. Although I have no intention of abandoning poor Don Quixote, that swaying tower of new releases continues to tempt me.

Which leads me to a question. Is it ever okay not to finish a book? People often speak of the 100 page rule. If you aren't well and truly sucked in by the time you hit triple digits, give up. I suppose it is a perfectly functional approach to reading, but it only really applies to a certain breed of books. It presupposes a need for 'enjoyment'. It also doesn't allow for subtlety, for those books that set about weaving their magic at a more glacial pace. I can think of a whole slew of books that I have loved but that didn't 'click' until the end. The brilliance lay in the final chapter. Or paragraph. Or sentence.

Whatever the case may be, it is all rather irrelevant to me. I suffer from what someone once called Obsessive Conclusion Disorder (though I find Obsessive Conclusive Disorder linguistically funnier), an almost pathological need to finish any book I start. I can count on a single hand the books I have begun only to put down without finishing. The Brothers Karamazov, but only because I left my copy on a plane and, by the time I got around to buying another, was already a slave to whatever it was I was reading next. In the First Circle by Solzhenitsyn. The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn. Cancer Ward by Solz... You get the point. That guy is impenetrable! And then there was The Melancholy of Resistance by Laszlo Krasznahorkai. I started it once. Twice. Probably six times, before forcibly trudging my way through it. And hating it. It made Solzhenitsyn look like Beatrix Potter. I totally should have chucked that sludge to the side.

So, why the compulsion? What would I lose by putting down a book that I am not enjoying? I've done it a few times and lived to tell the tale. Perhaps, I enjoy a challenge. Sluggish books may well be my Everest. Maybe I approach books like I approached my law degree. By the time I considered dropping it, I was too far gone. It made more sense to just suck it in and finish the bloody thing. Or perhaps, I just don't want to admit failure. There are only so many books in the world. With an annual uptake of about 200 a year, I am doing my darndest to read them all. I am, however, willing to admit (reluctantly, and only in whispers) that it would be impossible to do so, and therefore I pride myself on being able to pick the good ones.

Obsessive Conclusion Disorder is playing havoc with my reading life. Maybe I need to go see my local librarian, lie down on the trolley and talk these things through. Maybe I can wean myself onto the idea of discarding unfinished books, starting with some of the dross I am given to review, and then moving on to selective missteps. But only when I am able to count the books I have started, got the flavour of, and then closed before the end amongst my annual reading catalogue will I be truly cured. Ah, who am I kidding? That ain't gonna happen. Time to jump back on Rocinante and joust with livestock, for beyond the field, on the sunny Spanish horizon, I think I spy Paul Auster.


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