Thursday, May 3, 2012

On Having to Read a Book

My daughter's stack of books
she wants to read (My same
such stack is not as

These days, I feel like my children, a middle schooler and two high schoolers: I have to read certain books by certain days. Each of them had to read certain books over Passover break, and I had to nag them to read their daily page allotments. Nevertheless, I myself let reading deadlines come dangerously close while I read what I want to read, all the time calculating how many days are left on the book I have to read, and how many pages that amounts to per day.

So I wonder, is it a good thing to have to read a book? And why am I in that situation in the first place, when I'm not in school, college or graduate school? Shouldn't one be able to leave that having-to-read-a-book-by-a-certain-date behind as an adult? Or is some of that pressure inherent to reading?

Why do so many of us join book clubs? Surely it's not only to read and discuss, with others, books we like. Surely, there are often books on the agenda that we don't like, and wouldn't read if we didn't have to?

Are we just eager to further our education? To be able to say, I have read this, and I have read that? We join book clubs, take classes, or in my case, take on writing book reviews and teaching a class for which I have to read a book per month that my students decide on. Honestly though, rarely have I had to read a book I didn't like, and even if that was the case, that experience was, perhaps, more educational than reading a book I ended up liking.

So, to sum up this rumination, I do resent having to read a book, particularly by a certain date. I wish all the time that I could be reading something else from the ever-growing stack of books I want to read. But then again I appreciate that I otherwise wouldn't read one of those assigned books. Perhaps I will continue to have to look at this having to read a book as "education." I kept telling myself that when, during my first MFA semester, I had to plow through the 1,000 pages of Normal Mailer's The Executioner's Song. Thanks to that having-to-read experience, I can now wax smartly about that book, but I certainly would not have read it, had it not been for an assignment and a deadline.


  1. I prefer reading what I want to read, which is why I don't do book clubs. It's more fun to read what you want.

  2. I never resent it, though I often disappoint myself by not reading as voraciously as I need to as my book club deadlines approach.

    I don't think the pressure is necessary per say (I'm an avid reader) but the deadlines of a book club help me keep reading a priority.

  3. I don't particularly like deadlines when I'm reading- my problem is that I read very fast and that I finish a book too fast and I have to slow myself down. My hubby groans when he sees me pick up a book because I'm a bookaholic- and as long as I don't start one, I'm fine...but the moment I flip that first page- I can't stop til it is DONE- I drag it with me to the toilet- turn the night light on to read it while he is snoring- and when I finally turn the last page...I experience the 'hangover' ... he tells me, "LEARN to discipline yourself!" ...but he just doesn't understand how addictive the words are...even with the boring books!!

  4. I'm usually a good reader in terms of getting through a book, but there have been times when I just can't finish the book. For one reason or another it disagrees with me.

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  5. Since I have ADD and am always dead tired, I worship reading deadlines. I also prefer to have books recommended to me. If I'm readin' a novel and find that I cannot get into it, I'll quit reading unless someone I know says that it's worth reading. Right now, I'm reading a Joyce Carol Oates novel that didn't nobody recommend, and I am having a hard time trying to pick it back up. I can discipline myself (which sounds slightly sinful) to write much better than I can to read.

  6. I'm not great about having to read a book by a certain deadline either, even if I'm interested in the book. I love being able to read freely and allow one book to suggest another based on theme, my mood or even the title of a book mentioned in another book.

  7. Kelly - you are a free woman, and secretly, I do envy you1

    Thomas - interesting point. Perhaps you should join our workshop again in order to have to read. Hint, hint...

    William - I totally agree that at times it's impossible to finish a book; if you're not being graded on it, then why waste your time?

    Anjuli - I'm amazed that you manage to plow through boring books. I don't have that talent.

    John - wonderful point, that book club deadlines help you make reading a priority. I think you're on to something there. Do we need deadlines to make something a priority? Perhaps!

    Victoria - isn't it the best when you can just pursue your interests, when one book, as you say, suggests another? I guess that's what I really resent about having to read certain books, that it does take away that freedom to pursue your interests.