Every book has its day. Or does it?

Posted 8/7/20

My love affair with books sometimes eclipses my love affair with reading.

Which is to also say that I don’t finish every book I start, a trend I sometimes struggle to reconcile.

Reading has …

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Every book has its day. Or does it?

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My love affair with books sometimes eclipses my love affair with reading.

Which is to also say that I don’t finish every book I start, a trend I sometimes struggle to reconcile.

Reading has always been high on my list of desirable activities, and lately I’ve found myself doing a little reading about reading, causing me to examine my own relationship with books and my practice of the habit. In re-reading, for example, parts of novelist Stephen King’s non-fiction treatise on writing — of course it’s called “On Writing” — I was reminded that this prolific and popular author is also a voracious reader: he carries a book with him wherever he goes in public. You never know, King reasons, when you might end up standing in line somewhere and have a few minutes to finish that next chapter.

What about books you buy and don’t read? King’s own 842-page novel “11/22/63” is one of a small collection that rests, unread, upon a bookcase near my bed. It’s among a group of supposedly great books I want to read — and bought in order to read — but haven’t found the fortitude yet to get started, despite having them close by for a year or more.

What I’ve been thinking most about, however, are the books I have started but, for one reason or another, abandoned before finishing. In the vicinity of the untouched King novel, for instance, there are two biographies, a memoir and a classic work of fiction that I began in the last year or two but never completed. “Hitler’s Vienna: A Dictator’s Apprenticeship,” a scholarly work outlining the formative years the madman spent in Vienna as an art student-turned racist ideologue, was well-written, fascinating and richly detailed. “Horace Greeley: Print, Politics, and the Failure of American Nationhood,” a critical look at the newspaperman’s colorful career, was concise and well-researched. And “In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox,” Carol Burnett’s behind-the-scenes story of The Carol Burnett Show — a staple from my childhood — was full of plenty of fun tidbits.

Still — Oxford commas in the titles aside — I gradually grew bored with each and set them down.

And the classic work of fiction? I’ve just not been able to get very far into Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” on several attempts, but it remains high on my list of books I really want to finish. Particularly since it’s about books and the power of the written word.

So all that has made me particularly determined to get out of Dodge, and soon.

Literally. And I literally mean “literally.”

The last couple of months I’ve been making my way through “Dodge City” by Tom Clavin. It’s an entertaining but meandering book about Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and “the Wickedest Town in the American West,” recommended to me by my attorney pal Darrell Spain. Darrell is a Kansas high school bud whose own personal library and love of reading likely exceed my own. He recommended that book to me a couple of years ago and I bought it immediately, promising him I’d give it a read and him a full report.

I’ve started it three or four times since— never getting more than 10 pages in — and finally determinedly picked it up again in June. I’m just about halfway through but circumstances (and frankly, a competing book I started reading on my Kindle in July and am well on my way to finishing — yay for me!) have kept me out of its pages the last few weeks. So as I prepare to hop on an airplane on my first COVID-19-era trip, Earp and Masterson and “Dodge City” are accompanying me. (We’ll be flying over western Kansas, maybe even within spitting distance of Dodge, if I could roll down the window; maybe that’ll help inspire me to get through the last half.)

So what to do about unfinished books? In Marie Kondo’s “Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” — yep, I did read that — she instructs us about tsundoku, the Japanese word for that stack of “to-reads” you have on your bedside table. The word also reflects the act of buying books and not reading them.

Kondo’s advice about books includes:

• Unread books are harder to part with than books we’ve read. If it’s been on your shelf for a while and doesn’t “spark joy,” give it away.

• If you’ve had a book for a few years and not started or finished it, that book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it. Time to part with it.

• If you’re concerned you’ll give an unfinished book away and then regret it, don’t worry. If you want it badly enough later, just buy it— and read and study it then. “The moment you first encounter a particular book,” Kondo writes, “is the right time to read it.”

• If you don’t love a book you think you’re supposed to love, don’t feel guilty. Again, give it away.

In the “Dodge City” book, Bat Masterson is quoted as saying, “Every dog has his day, unless there are more dogs than days.”

When I finally finish it, I’ll have a lot to choose from for my next read. More than enough, frankly, because my shelves elsewhere in the house are full of the unread and unfinished.

Definitely more dogs than days.


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