Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Half Read Books

My passion since I was 12 was reading really great literature. Steinbeck was my favorite the summer I turned 12. I remember not being able to get enough of Poe when I was in 10th grade. I fell in love with T.S. Eliot when I was a senior in high school and loved nothing better than reading The Wasteland out loud to my sister, who patiently but squirmingly sat through it twice. I fell in love with the romantic-type novels like Wuthering Heights, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Madame Bovary, and Anna Karinina to name a few. I read every word that J.D. Salinger wrote - twice. Between high school and college graduation, I read Moby Dick four times and loved every word even the fourth time.

I graduated from college nearly 20 years ago with a degree in English Literature. I had my first child the day I turned 28 and haven't read a full-sized novel since.

About 5 years ago, I took my two kids to the ocean, our first trip on my own with them. I sat by the pool and read an entire parenting book - every word, cover to cover. That's the only book I brought with me besides a programming certification book that I fully intended to read with my toes in the sand. When I finished the parenting book (Scream Free Parenting, which I highly recommend), I realized that was the first book I finished since my daughter was born. I had gone 10 years without doing the thing that I was most passionate about, the thing that defined me, besides being a parent.

Since then, I have started and not finished several books. I am proud to say, I have finished several short ones (some which may well be classified as short stories). I have read Ethan Frome, The Great Gatsby, Beowulf, Of Mice and Men, and Call of the Wild, truly a strange combination of genres and historical periods.

While I have read many short stories over the last few years, the list of books that I have half-read since that trip to the beach is both sad and telling:

  • The Hobbit (I read half of it twice)
  • Sense and Sensibility (I watched the movie twice)
  • Paradise Lost
  • Canterbury Tales (I started this yesterday)
  • Alice in Wonderland (I started this today)
  • Great Expectations
  • White Fang
  • Morte D'Arthur
  • The House of Seven Gables
  • The Odyssey
  • The Oedipus plays
  • Madame Bovary
  • Last of the Mohicans
  • Lake Woebegon Days
Only the last one I stopped reading because it was really boring for me. The others I just forgot about when I otherwise got busy with work or with life. Aside from that last book, there was never a conscious choice to stop reading it. When I was younger, I would read one book until it was done, often overnight. Now, the time I have to read is so tiny, I think it's hard to choose so I read pages of this and chapters of that to get that high I used to get when I could totally emerse myself in great writing.
The problem I have is that I have a shelf full of wonderful books, plays, and poems that I want to read as well as an e-Reader stuffed full of pdf's.
My family has taken karate at a couple different facilities over the last four years. The current instructor focuses on self-discipline for the kids as "doing the right thing without being told or being told once." That's not really true for adults. For me, I definitely have self-discipline regarding things that are needed for my family, but not the things that I need that no one else would ever tell me to do. That is the challenge that I am really struggling with.
I am compelled to read more books and add to the list of the Half-Read. Instead, I think my first step toward having a more fulfilling life is to finish my half-read books, one at a time, and then pick up another.

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