WHEN READING REQUIRES MATH

 I love conversations with readers and writers. There is nothing like a discussion about books and words with your people. There are endless subjects, boring to most people, that can go on forever, some surprisingly inflammatory. A topic like punctuation may be a little like talking about religion for others. Let’s just not talk about the Oxford comma.             Only book lovers understand how serious a question about reading habits can be. Do you read more than one book at a time? Does it matter if they are fiction or non-fiction? Do you ever read a book twice? More than twice? And now for the question only asked in a whisper. Do you ever not finish a book?           Not finish a book? Isn’t that blasphemy? For some it is. Many books, particularly those written long ago have a classic was of starting slow and working up into a sizzle. I’m a huge Jane Austen fan. Ever since my English teacher, Danny Dwyer, forced me to read Pride and Prejudice in the last semester of my senior year when it was almost impossible to make me do anything, I have been a rabid fan of Jane and eternally grateful to Mr. Dwyer, who died tragically two years later at the age of 34. For years, I reread Pride and Prejudice as a rite of spring.         Had I not been forced to suffer the first half of the book, I’m not sure I would ever have finished or known the joy of Jane Austen’s other books. Jane is a slow simmer, for sure. But once she gets you, you can’t put the books down. At least, I can’t.        Yet, others disagree about Jane and I respect and understand that. After adoring Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series and another stand-alone, I was so excited to have Life After Life delivered to my Kindle. But when the protagonist died over and over again, I gave up, not willing to read 512 pages just so I could say I endured the latest literary gimmick. It became the first and only book I have returned from my Kindle and I have no regret about it.       I’ve read too many books where I hung in there, certain the author wouldn’t betray my trust and would deliver in the end, not that it had to be a happy ending. But after being entertained by a Barbara Michaels novel while combating the flu, I found myself flinging the book, fortunately a paperback, across the room when the resolution involved someone walking through a door. A closed door. No book has infuriated me more for “hanging in there” with the author than Anita’s Schreve’s “The Last Time They Met.” It would be a spoiler if I told you what caused my wrath, so I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to read the book, but was I angry? Enough to toss this one through the room and it was a hardcover. A few years later, I heard Anita Shreve tell a crowded room that my reaction wasn’t exactly unusual and I had a chance to tell her how I “handled” the situation. She was very gracious and even seemed to enjoy that her readers were reacting with gusto, and even more so when I told her the book had been given to me by her high school English teacher.     But had I known either book was going to take me where it did, I would have stopped reading long before I hit the end. While I am a writer and a reader and lacking in anything beyond basic math skills, I do know this. There are more books I want to read than time left in which to read them. So without apology, I now say what I hesitated to declare before I was fifty. Too many books, not enough time.     Will I risk not knowing the next Jane Austen because I don’t read to the end? I don’t think so. I trust I’ve learned how to distinguish a deliciously slow start from a book headed nowhere. Do you ever stop reading a book before the end or do you hang in there till the finish?  

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