I don’t finish reading half the books I start. In fact, most books on my shelf keep pieces of paper or string pointing to where I had stopped.
Perhaps some might think that these bookmarks also mark certain traits: laziness/attention-deficit/procrastination. They would be wrong, at least partially. While I would definitely score an ‘above average’ mark on any test devised to detect aforementioned traits, the main reason I don’t finish the books is that there are certain passages I can’t get past. Certain pages, paragraphs, or even single phrases stop me dead in my tracks. These could be resonant or original; heartbreaking or eyeopening; genius or just genuine; but always, always profound. They force me to look up, down, or sideways, and sometimes even backwards –essentially anywhere but forwards– and how does one move forward if they’re looking elsewhere?
Every time I pick up a book I had not finished, I re-read the same passage, and, again, often, stop. Sometimes, if I put it aside for a year or two, hoping time would provide enough distance in which to accelerate–gather up momentum–to go through the block, I succeed. But even that is not guaranteed.
To this day, I have started my favourite novel over eight times in the span of as many years, but never finished.
Today, as I look forward to a twelve-hour flight, I stare at the only book I brought, Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and I wonder if I’ll succeed where I failed twice before, in 2002 and 2004. I think about the first hurdle, so close to the starting blocks, in the acknowledgments:
[Theme] c.2 The Knowingness About The Book’s Self-conscious Aspect.
While the author is self-conscious about being self-referential, he is also knowing about the self-conscious self-referentiality. Further, and if you’re one of those people who can tell what’s going to happen before it actually happens, you’ve predicted the next element here: he also plans to be clearly, obviously aware of his knowingness about his self-consciousness of self-referentiality. Further, he is fully cognizant of the gimmickry inherent in all this, and will preempt your claim of the book’s irrelevance due to said gimmickry by saying that the gimmickry is simply a device, a defense, to obscure the black, blinding, murderous rage and sorrow at the core of this whole story, which is both too black and blinding to look at–avert…your…eyes!–but nevertheless useful, at least to the author, even in caricatured or condensed form, because telling as many people as possible about it helps, he thinks, to dilute the pain and bitterness and thus facilitate its flushing from his soul…