Finishing A Book
I just finished a book. Perhaps I should clarify: I do not mean that I have finished a book that I have written. I finished reading a book that someone else has written. I consider it a triumph nonetheless. While this may not register very high on the Triumph Meter employed by others, some of us need to celebrate our little victories however we can.
And the book I just finished was . . .
. . . well let’s come back to that in a minute.
I have always loved to read. As one who writes a bunch, this is probably not a revelation. I still have the entire set of Hardy Boys mystery books that I devoured as a kid. At least the entire set before they began re-writing them under the same titles. I am not so hung up on having the complete set that I will go and buy the newer versions. Knowing when to stop a collection is an important life skill.
As a teen I read scads of non-fiction – history and biography, mostly. I continued this streak through college, even though there was plenty of less enjoyable reading fror classwork. Edmund Morris’ lengthy bio of Teddy Roosevelt was a great read.
Law school put a bit of a crimp in my reading time and I will admit to taking more or less of a three year holiday from recreational reading. However, once out of school I re-started my page-turning ways.
I got a set of fifty hardbound, gilt-edged classics from one of the mail order outfits that sold such things in the ’80s. My mother suggested that we could go in on the set together, taking turns paying for the books as they were mailed every month or two. She never took custody of a single book. I eventually decided that this was her way of insuring that I had some suitably impressive bookshelves in my home. It worked. (I have never once stood in my living room with those books on display while someone asked “Ain’t ya got no class?”)
It was my opinion then (and remains so today) that “classics” become classics for a reason and that every good citizen of this thing we call western civilization should read as many of them as he can. I gave it a good start, reading things like Moby Dick and The Confessions of St. Augustine. Between the heavy duty stuff I would plow through something more fun, such as William Shirer’s seminal Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich or a series of Tom Clancy novels.
Back and forth I went, becoming a little bit more complete as a human being with each checked-off volume. I would have been a conversational asset at any upscale cocktail party, had I been the cocktail party-attending type. But then . . . life.
I got married, we had kids, and – well – many of you know how that goes. Those that do not, well, your day is coming. And if not, then I am so envious of all your free time. The life of a busy family man does not leave much room for idleness, and in truth, I do not regret the temporary loss of my reading time at all given what I received in return.
But one by one the kids left the nest and . . . I failed to pick up a book. OK, I have read one on rare occasion, often over the Christmas holiday. The thick bio I received as a gift from one of the kids on the life of Walter Chrysler was time well spent. But mostly, I did other things.
Some of those things involved writing, which I took up in earnest maybe about seven years ago. Every minute spent writing was a minute not spent reading (ok, not spent reading anything besides what I was working on). My output, first at Curbside Classic and now here, increased apace while my well-roundedness began to recede into the misty past.
Some men are married to ladies who love to read. Such men who are not devoted readers themselves can spend much time on the golf course or at sporting events while the Mrs. contentedly devours novel after novel. I, however, did not marry one of those. My Mrs. and I have this odd kind of married relationship where we actually like to spend time with one another. Strange, right? Reading, however, is not something that works well with that kind of program.
This reduced reading lifestyle has not, unfortunately, resulted in a reduced appetite for acquiring books. The little table next to my favorite reading chair has about five years worth of material (at my current pace) and this does not count the books I will undoubtedly receive as gifts – many of which I will have specifically asked for.
I have been trying, however, to wring some effeciencies out of my life and one of my little prizes to myself has been to squeeze a little reading time in here and there. I decided that I had better start with something light, and picked up a gift from this past Christmas. Or was it from the Christmas before . . . ?
One of my kids bought a used hardback copy of John Feinstein’s Season On The Brink, an inside look at Bob Knight and the 1985-86 Indiana University basketball team. It was a must-read when it came out – in the 1980s. But somehow, I had not read it. I will admit to being more of a sports fan now than I was then (although this a fairly puny boast), and worked my way through little by little.
And I am proud to report that I have finished it! It was a very good read, and taught me that I would have never made it on one of Knight’s basketball teams. Even if I had possessed any skills at basketball, I mean.
What next? I have picked up a collection of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries. I found this in paperback at a used bookstore a few years ago and never opened it. It is one of those old Pocket Books which manages to get about three hundred pages into a little book about a half an inch thick.
Upon opening this edition (the back cover of which explains how to send copies to the servicemen fighting Hitler and Tojo) it became apparent that I may have been the first human to actually open this volume during its roughly seventy-five year life. The ancient paper, cheap and thin, is terribly delicate and tears at the slightest provocation. Worse, the print is devilishly small, taxing my bifocals something fierce.
I am happy to report steady progress and expect that in a few months I will be able to casually drop pithy Father Brown references in conversation. Although most everyone who would appreciate my sparkling quips will be in assisted living. Oh well.
The big question is what will come next? Do I pick something a little more daunting from the shelf? I will confess that about half of my series of classics remains virtually untouched by human hands. Or do I go back and finish some of the books I have started but have never resumed after an interruption. Another Chesterton book, a second volume to the Teddy Roosevelt biography and a book on cured meats are in this category.
Time will tell. But for now, I have to finish this post. Father Brown is waiting.
Photo credit: This expressive photograph is in the public domain and was found at the Flickr page of Many Wonderful Artists, to whom I extend my appreciation.
Reading is a leisure activity that’s always been a struggle. Other hands-on things are equally to more enjoyable and the older I get the less I like to sit, which makes reading a challenge at times. That said, I recently finished John Toland’s biography on Hitler and have started “Inside the Third Reich” by Albert Speer. There seems to be a common theme going on…
You are in luck. My daughter has read many Father Brown mysteries and although she is provided room, board, and transportation it isn’t the stereotypical assisted living! It also appears the FB mysteries are relatively popular in the Catholic homeschooling community.
Interesting, I had no idea that the FBM had developed a modern following. Here I thought I was plowing into obsolete esoterica like gear shifting patterns on 1950s automatic transmissions. Or the really enjoyable book I read several years ago about the development of sulfa drugs from the German dye industry after WWI. My own daughter moves out into her own apartment in a week. I believe I shall refer to her current situation as assisted living for the next several days. 🙂
I have noticed that ladies tend to do book club, and read large numbers of books while men do not do book club. At least I get sort of a pre-screening and can read the ones she really liked. Latest one is “They Left Us Everything” about a daughter who has to clean out a huge house when her 93 year old mother dies. Not one I would have picked but for book club pre-screening, and it’s good.
I occasionally have trouble finishing a book, and I can partially attribute this to some books starting out as an academic paper or web article then getting converted into a book, which can leave the 2nd half stretched a bit thin. Examples of this are “The Death of Expertise” and “Shop Class as Soulcraft”
My next book to read is Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life”, don’t agree with everything I’ve heard him say but it certainly is interesting and if you don’t agree with something that can help you think about why you don’t agree. We’ll see how this one goes.
If you or Jason is looking for something good to read:
– Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas is an excellent weighty book
– The Last Open Road by BS Levy. This is the first book in a series of six about 1950’s-1960’s sports car racing. The first book is fantastic, and the quality decreases linearly, by the 5th book they are virtually unreadable so I’d only recommend the first two…
I have generally avoided self-help books. Perhaps my life might be better if I had not? I suppose that we male readers are more of a minority community. I suspect that most male readers are introverts who would rank the reading several magnitudes higher than socializing about the reading.
I love to read and read some of the Hardy Boys boks as a child, and also those about their contemporary female detedtive Nancy Drew.
I am afraid I don’t read non fiction for pleasure.The Father Brown stories are quite ingenious and provide an insight into human nature.
Also, you are absolutely right in saying that when one starts to write a lot one’s reading decreases in proportion. I have had the same experience since I started my blog. I guess it’s because there are only 24 hrs in a day.
A funny thing about those Nancy Drew books. When I was about 7 I picked one up and read it. I liked it – who doesn’t love a good mystery, right? My mother was going to the store and I asked if she could buy me another one. She came home and handed me a Hardy Boys book, telling me that the store was out of Nancy Drew books. At that age, a mystery with all guys was even better. 🙂 I have since decided that the store wasn’t really out of Nancy Drew books and that Mom decided to set me straight on how the world works in a way that might not happen as much these days.
And I agree – we really need to do something to improve on that pesky 24 hour day. Once the scientific community gets global climate issues ironed out I think global slowing should be their next project. Tapping the brakes on the Earth’s rotation could buy us all a little extra time.
You are sooo right about slowi ng down the earth.
Reading Nancy Drew and Enid Blyton’s Five Find Outers left me with a passion for detective fiction and mysteries. Agatha Christie is my favourite. I also like Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers,P.D. James.
LikeLiked by 1 person
At that age, I was such a voracious reader that ignoring half the mysteries due to gender would have probably caused a book shortage. 😉 I think I read all of both series, plus the Bobsey Twins, and a good chunk of the Tom Swift books.
I salute you – you may be the first person I have known who went for the triple crown of childrens’ mystery books. Weren’t the Tom Swift books older? It seem that I was given two or three of them along the way but I don’t recall them being in stores along with the others.
William Shirer’s “Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich” is among your FUN reads? Gosh. Don’t know whether to admire your literary taste or question your definition of “fun.” 🙂 You have every right to pat yourself on the back for finishing “Season on the Brink.” Finding the time to read these days is a real discipline, with so many competing distractions — and actually finishing a book is a real discipline too. Thank you for this look at your bookshelf, so to speak.
As for my reading tastes, well it takes all kinds to make a world, as my father used to say. 🙂 I should give you a shoutout for the inspiration for this one. I was so impressed with your Summer-O-Books that I could not resist patting myself on the back for my own wee little accomplishment.
You raise a great question on discipline – when is it ok to give up on a book part way through? My upbringing would suggest that this is being a quitter and another example of not finishing what I start. I will confess to continuing a joyless slog through a dense verbal brier patch just for the feeling of accomplishment I will get from closing the cover for the last time. But then one of my sons told me that it is OK to not finish a bad book. I had started one on notorious murders in Indiana (written by a local-ish historian) but despite the interesting topic found it to be such a miserable read that I took my kid’s permission and put it down.
LikeLiked by 1 person
When is it OK to give up on a book? Unless it’s required reading, anytime you please! Life’s too short to be wasted on things you don’t enjoy. Sometimes it is good discipline to stick with something (like gym workouts and second marriages) for the sake of seeing it through. But when things reach that “joyless slog” state, what’s the point? That’s my philosophy, anyway (which maybe explains some of my grades, ha ha).
LikeLiked by 1 person
I used to read a lot more than I do now. Or, to be more precise, I used to read a lot more BOOKS. I love light non-fiction … I’m the kind of guy who will pick up those free real estate or tourist guides when I’m traveling, and actually read through them. So the Internet has become my literary drug. I can read good essays, in The New Yorker, or this blog and it’s comments. I can fantasize about the voyage I may, or may not, take on Adventure Rider or Expedition Portal. Or I can learn – and promptly forget – technical minutiae about late ‘50’s Studebakers on Curbside Classic. I don’t watch much TV or many movies, though the occasional YouTube how-to videos come in handy.
I have been reading a little more fiction lately, almost all books I pick up at random at the public library based on the spine design and title, skim for 30 seconds and check out or put back. Most of those I check out I do read, so my method works for me. By the way, in my senior high school English class we had to read some books of our choice and give a brief oral report. I picked a Father Brown mystery. My teacher (who drove a red Valiant convertible, but that’s beside the point) raised his eyebrows a bit but seemed OK with my choice. I think the other students nodded off … Vonnegut or Roth were more fashionable then.
Yes, internet reading has consumed *a lot* of time. I guess reading lenthy essays on interesting topics is a better use of the internet that is common, but it does take away from book time.
BTW, I am enjoying your recent CC work.
I used to read a lot of sports books, especially hockey and baseball. Now for fiction I read John Grisham, occasionally James Patterson, and I do enjoy Vince Flynn (the Mitch Rapp series) although Mr. Flynn is no longer with us.
If it’s non-fiction I enjoy history, most often surrounding wartimes, and books on aircraft (e.g. the Avro Arrow or the Challenger disaster).
I also read Hemmings Classic Cars, and of course the CC website, daily.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I don’t know why I have never picked up a Grisham book. Maybe a desire to leave law at the office? A mystery. 🙂
I enjoyed reading your blog. As a collector and an avid reader of all types of books, I can relate with the desire to reconnect with my favorite books.