When I was in chorus in sixth grade, we staged a production of “Bye Bye, Birdie,” and at the party after the last show, our music teacher presented each cast member with a handmade award. She handed out an award for Best Singing, Best Costume, Best Acting, and so on, until I was the last person left. “This one really fits you,” she told me. My award? It said “Asks the Most Questions.” And I remember thinking at the time “What? What is this?! What the hell does she mean by that?!”
Looking back, I can tell you she gave me that award because the ratio of questions I asked her to the number of lines I had was probably 50 to 1. And I had one line. But my questions were important! What if I didn’t emphasize the right word? Or have the right color sweater on? Or wear my hair the right way? I admit it – I asked a lot questions. And I still do. Why do I think I ask questions all the time? One reason is fear – I am a chronic worrier. I worry I will do something wrong. Or not know the answer when it is asked of me. (Despite looking like a tatted-up bad-ass, I’m actually quite a big baby.)
Another reason is curiosity - I like to know everything. About everything. (Oh, when I first got the internet, how I spent hours upon hours happily dry-humping the Google search bar’s leg – the answers to so many questions I’d always wanted to know all right there for me to learn!) My film aficionado ex-boyfriend used to call me “Eight to Ten” because I would drive him crazy asking questions while we were watching movies:
“What’s in the briefcase?”
“Wait eight to ten seconds and you’ll find out.”
“Whose blood is that?”
“Wait eight to ten seconds.”
“Why is that dog in a tuxedo reading Ayn Rand?”
“WAIT EIGHT TO TEN SECONDS!”
I think it is these two reasons that make me unable to stop reading a book if I am not enjoying it. For realsies. If I start reading a book and decide I don’t like it, I will still torture myself with the rest of it anyway. Which makes it that much harder to read – I have to force myself to push through. And I can’t bring myself to skim pages or skip to the end, either, because I would know I cheated. It drives me crazy – I am hella envious of people who can read 30 pages of a book, decide it isn’t doing it for them, and move on to the next one.
Tom, at RiverRun Bookstore, has been trying to talk me out of this for almost a decade now.
“There are too many good books out there to waste your time on something you’re not enjoying,” he always tells me.
“Yes, but what if the answer to everything I’ve always wondered is at the end of a book, and I’ll never learn it, because I gave up on the book???” I whine.
“Chances are, if you didn’t find it in the first 200 pages, you aren’t going to find it in the last 200 pages, either. Still – you’ll never be able to read all the books you want before you die.”
Tom’s really good at motivational talks.
For me, it is impossible to turn my back on a book. I recently rolled my eyes and threw myself around on the bed like a sullen teenager as I worked through a lame 600-page thriller. “This book is soooooo awful!” I cried to my friend.
“Then stop reading it,” he said.
“I can’t – I need to know how it ends!”
“How about this? I’ll come over and take the book away from you and then you won’t be able to read any more of it.”
“That’s really sweet of you,” I told him. “But I’d have to stab you in the neck if you tried it.” (I was just kidding-ish.)
These are actual things I worry about: What if I’m at a dinner party with the author of a book I didn’t finish, and they mention something really interesting that they wrote and I have no idea what they’re talking about, and they think I’m a big dummy and don’t want to talk to me anymore? What if I could have won a game of Trivial Pursuit, but I didn’t know how A Separate Peace ended? (Answer: it’s dumb.) What if I’m taken hostage with a bunch of people in a bank, and the only way they’ll let everyone go is if I can tell them who the killer was in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?!? (Spoiler: the sparkly vampire did it.) I know, I know, this is crazy: I shouldn’t be scared of things that will most likely never happen when there are so many real things to be afraid of, like horses and heights and Martin Amis.
I would like to think that some day I will grow out of this habit, but I have been thinking this same thought for 25 years now (which is amazing, considering I’m only 23). Luckily, Twitter has been a great book match-maker – I have read far fewer books I didn’t enjoy the last few years than in the past, thanks to recommendations from like-minded readers. Still, I occasionally find myself slogging through a book while the next fabulous read taunts me from the shelf: I’m left feeling like I have to swallow every last bit of my asparagus before I can have cake.
Does anyone else out there have this same problem? Has anyone figured out a way to break themselves of this habit? Is it really a bad habit? Why are there so many songs about rainbows?