04 December 2005


I used to be a stickler about finishing books. It didn't matter how bad they were, I stuck it out to the final page, even if I spent the next year whining about the waste of time. I attribute this habit to my fifth-grade reading teacher, although it's not entirely her fault.

To encourage us to read outside of class (we had ORBs, or Outside Reading Books), Ms. VV gave us a sheet every month with a space for the date, the title of a book read and -- here's the rub -- the number of pages in the book. At the end of the month we would all dutifully total up the number of pages and compare it to last month's, hoping to show some improvement.

I was a slave to that number. I was a pretty addicted reader by that time anyway, but I got it into my head that I had to hit 10,000 pages per month, or else. This emphasis on the number convinced me that a bad book read was better than no book, because you didn't get any points for pages in books you didn't finish. Sometimes I would even pump up my totals by choosing the easy read over the over-my-head classic, just so I could. (Sorry, Ms. VV!)

Of course, now I can only wish I had the amount of time I had to read that much. I guess if I counted magazine articles, Weblogs, scholarly excerpts and class reading I might get there, but it's not about the number so much any more. This year I've been trying a little harder to be choosy about what I read, because (although I won't admit it) I will not get around to reading every book in the world. At least, not if I'm a teensy bit more choosy than I have been in the past. Here's a list of a few books I didn't finish or gave up on this year:

- Ian Gibson, LA VIDA, PASION Y MUERTE DE FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA I love García Lorca and I love two-volume biographies, but this just wasn't a good fit. There was too much name-dropping, and Leslie Stainton's LORCA: A DREAM OF LIFE is better. (Alas, I lent that one to someone I don't like and now I don't have a copy.)
- Jorge Semprún, AQUEL DOMINGO This was for a class I took on Spanish novels since 1939, and our professor proclaimed its brilliance constantly. But with 45 minor characters and a main character who, having lived his life in espionage, had a new alias every chapter, I just couldn't keep up.
- Carmen Martín Gaíte, IRSE DE CASA I loved Martín Gaíte's other book I read this year, NUBOSIDAD VARIABLE ("scattered clouds"), but this one just didn't take.
- Jay Cantor, GREAT NECK I challenge you to read this every-moment-can-foreshadow-unspeakable-doom-for-all-characters novel and not throw it out the window. Seriously. That's what you get for choosing a book by its cover (literally; I saw it in Borders and it looked interesting). Sucker.
- Marian Keyes, SUSHI FOR BEGINNERS The first month of my stay in Madrid I read about 10 Marian Keyes books in Spanish to adjust myself to thinking in the language. I know, they're trashy, but I picked up a lot of useful slang. (The word ligar, for example; it means "to hook up" or "to flirt," depending on context.) I snatched this one from my sister for the trip back to school, but they aren't as good in English; when I realized I'd left it on my first flight, I didn't bother buying another copy.

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