Just Seventy More Pages

Sarah and Charlie sat opposite my wife and me at a Starbucks in Seomyeon, a sort of downtown district in the heart of Busan. We’d only just met. When they learned that I was an English major, Sarah said, I’d love to know what kinds of books you read!

Here’s the sad truth: I’ve spent the last three months laboriously trekking through A Game of Thrones. I don’t know why, but almost every time I start a book, I have to finish it, no matter how disinterested in it I’ve become. There are a few exceptions and I can list all of them on one hand. They are: The Story of God by Franco Ferrucci (100 pages left), The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff (300 pages left), Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck (70 pages left), and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein (7322 pages left).

It’s not that these books are necessarily bad (though I could make a case for Visitation), it’s that they’ve lost their appeal, often because they’re far too repetitious and/or long-winded. There are countless paragraphs in Thrones that could be cut because Martin decided to spend the duration of it describing superfluous details, such as wardrobe. While in the middle of The Two Towers, I remember reading a full page or more on the ornate carvings and history of a door. Often, these books are so heavy in the minute details, that I the story they’re meant to tell becomes lost, and I no longer have the desire to learn what happens.

I was about to explain my three month sojourn through Westeros, but  before I could, Sarah said, We’ve met English teachers who say they don’t read. They say they don’t have time for it! But they’re English teachers! Reading should be part of their job!

I completely agree. But yet, I was just about to mention that I was too busy to get a lot of reading done. I’d finished reading a couple books earlier in the year, but my determination to finish Thrones along with grading essays, planning lessons, and writing, revising, and editing my own work, has left me little time to do much reading. Instead, when my brain is overworked and tired, I much prefer watching movies or wasting time on the internet. I swear that Facebook, Twitter, reddit, and StumbleUpon are the ultimate end to a once productive civilization.

I’m not a prolific reader to begin with, but last year I was a reading machine. I tore through works by Hemingway, Vonnegut, Torsten Krol, Cormac McCarthy, Paul Harding, and John Connolly. In total, I read sixteen books, which isn’t going to make headlines, but for me that’s an accomplishment. This year, I’m stuck on book number three. Sure, it’d be easy for me to get out of my slump by starting something new and interesting, but I’ve spent so much time reading and, for the most part, enjoying A Game of Thrones that I can’t quit now. I can’t say I read it if I don’t reach the last page.

I’d rather dredge through a book slowly rather than have to explain, I mean, I’ve read most of it, but I couldn’t get through the last hundred pages. In fact, it’s so hard for me to let go of an unfinished book, that the books I listed above I still consider to be in progress. I’m going to finish them, just at some later unspecified date. This is also why I have trouble raising my book count: I can’t start another until my current one is finished, even though I’ve been on the same book for over ninety days.

I always get a little apprehensive when people ask what books I like. Sure, I love literature, but I’m insecure about the prolificacy of my reading. I know people who can easily read thirty to fifty books in a year. For goodness sake, my wife can read that many, yet I’m the English major and I’m the one who should be going through books the way Charlie Sheen goes through cocaine.

But the good news is, I’ve got just seventy pages to go. Seventy pages, which are made of paper from the ground pulp of trees and then pressed and printed and bound into a book. I held this book as I sat in Starbucks wearing denim jeans that stopped just at the ankle and red cotton shirt. The shirt was given to me…

…see what I mean?

Steven E. Athay is an aspiring story designer and connoisseur of all things awesome. Follow him on Twitter at @steveneathay, or read his blog Afflatus.


4 thoughts on “Just Seventy More Pages

  1. The librarian/superhero Nancy Pearl has her “Rule of Fifty” about how much time you owe to a book you are beginning, if it doesn’t grab you. Her formula is based on your age, and it is quite liberating! http://nancypearlbooks.wordpress.com/pearlisms/

    A relative told me when I was a teenager that in one lifetime, we can really read a depressingly small number of books, just a few shelf-ranges worth in a library, and that we should make the most of what we choose. To me, that doesn’t mean that we can’t read junk, if we like it, but that we should make sure that every book is worth the space on that shelf we’re giving it, in enlightenment, pleasure, diversion, etc. And if it’s not, off it goes!

    1. That website is great! Also, that is a very depressing factoid, and something I’ve lamented for far too long. It also makes me feel a squeeze of urgency to get off the lazy couch and into the reading armchair of contentedness.

  2. I seem to suddenly have the same problem. It used to be that I always finished every book I started — no matter how long it took, no matter how much effort it took. I felt I owed it to the writers. But now it’s a real struggle; ad I have to say I do have a small pile of books that are unfinished and I expect they will stay that way. I say this knowing full well that my book, when it is finally finished, may very well suffer the same
    fate. And you know what? Maybe that’s ok. Maybe between trying to cram working, parenting, relationships, caregiving, cooking, cleaning, exercising, and God knows what else into our already overcrowded days we’re allowed to close te chapter on a book that just isn’t doing it for us.

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