I’ve never been much of an avid reader. But I was always a finisher. If you started something, you finished it- it just never even occurred to me that it was an option to abandon a book mid-way. Once you read the back-cover description of a book and decided to give it a read, you fulfilled the commitment- whether it took a few days, or couple of months. And I always read only one book at a time. So in short, once a book was opened, it was a commitment as serious as marriage.
Then something changed. I was in college when I read Atlas Shrugged. For all the faults in the book and even more in the author that I have the benefit to appreciate now, there was something incredibly powerful about that book in the hands of a teenager. It was a love affair that played out in the empty corridors of college after classes, and the deserted nooks of the library.. in the shade of trees on sultry afternoons, and the heat of lamps in the dead of the night. When the book ended, I did not pick up another for a long time.
When I eventually did pick up another book, I realized I had been ruined for other books. The books I picked up didn’t grip my shoulders and hypnotize me by looking deeply into my eyes. They seemed breezy. That’s when I first started giving up books mid-way. Will I ever find another book that I will read cover to cover, staying up nights, I wondered.
It was many years later when I was working in Mumbai, that I had a (figurative) drunken spree, coming home arm-in-arm with 11 new books. I read many of them. Cover to cover. I could have that relationship again.
Over the last year (and a half perhaps), I have been reading again, sitting in a geography where English books are hard to come by- thanks to my Kindle. I’m reasonably satisfied with my current reading activity, and yet as I browse my Kindle library, I find again several books stacked up to different degrees of non-completion. It troubles me just a little bit.
I am not sure if there is a common reason for leaving books unfinished- I think compared to the school days when every single book was deferentially completed, I now exercise more judgment. Perhaps there is also less patience due to several demands on one’s time. Perhaps there is now a clear expectation from books, and when they are not met, the book is abandoned e.g. sometimes a book may suffer by seeming too far removed from the real world, at other times it may suffer for not offering sufficient refuge from the real world.
Whatever the reason, the unfinished business Ieaves me feeling the need for closure. So here I acknowledge the books that lie unfinished on my virtual bookshelf from over the last year or so:
The poetics of Space (by Gaston Bachelard): Based on descriptions/ reviews, I was hoping to read about how the physical structure of spaces influenced the lived experience- how certain spaces can enhance or hinder the activities they are meant for. Perhaps the book does give that- I don’t know. I couldn’t make much headway because of sentence constructions which required several minutes of hard work to decipher what it probably might mean. It was not the book, it was me.
Catch 22 (by Joseph Heller): Ok, no one I tell this to, believes me. They look at me like I might be nuts. Or uneducated. I could not enjoy this book. Contrary to what everyone tells me, it did not entertain me. It did not engage me. It did not make me smile, or nod. Again, I am quite sure I can tell the book: It’s not you. It’s me.
The Self Aware Universe (by Amit Goswami): Now, this is a fantastic book. Amit Goswami is a physicist who sets out to prove that consciousness creates the physical world, and there is essentially one consciousness which creates the interconnected reality of everything material that we see. It is thrilling to read through all the theories which we studied in school (on quantum physics), now presented with much more meaning in reality. It does get, however, quite involved with all the physics experiments and theories through the years. I did not need to finish the book and read through every physics proof to be convinced. I did want to get an answer to what this line of thinking says about free will. I kept looking, but it wouldn’t come to that. So I proved it to myself by exercising free will in practice and in fact closing the book.
The Spellbinding power of Palmistry (by Johnny Fincham): This is again a great book which presents a very contextualized and non-fatalistic view of palmistry, as well as step by step guidance on learning it. It advised learning by practicing it on oneself and near & dear ones. The possibility of uncovering something untoward about a dear one, and the corresponding sense of helplessness/ responsibility, made me stop.
Aura Reading for Beginners (by Richard Webster): It is written simply and with a view to enabling practical learning, however this is something perhaps best learnt under guidance.
Tiger’s Wife (by Tea Obreht): I generally enjoy fiction, especially simply told stories. Therefore I expected to like this one, set in the Balkans, and about a girl and her grandfather. But the story-telling has left me holding several disconnected ends of different ropes, none of them urging me to hold on longer to see what lies at the other end.
The best of Ruskin Bond: To be fair this book is neither finished nor unfinished. A collection of short stories, several of which one has perhaps read before, it is like soup on a rainy day- a comfort for days when you need it. And it’s fine to save it for another day.