Books sometimes aren’t read. They’re purchased. They’re kept, usually. Some of the more popular ones get read quickly once acquired (Grisham, Patterson, Grafton, Steele). Others linger, like David Foster Wallace, Ron Chernow, Robert Pirsig, and James Joyce.
I once read the entirety of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, with the exception of the thirty-page speech that John Gault gives towards the end of the novel. I just couldn’t stay focused that long.
Now I will often quote John Waters (of Hairspray fame) who says: “Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Nothing is more important than an unread library.”
Even Nick Hornby’s book Ten Years in the Tub (which I’m still working through) mentions that books we buy and don’t read reveal something about the person we are, or at least want to be.
I notice this type of inconsistency throughout my life. My girlfriend keeps telling me that I need to watch The Dallas Buyer’s Club. It’s on Netflix, I own the movie on Blu-Ray, and I have yet to watch it. Every night that I’m visiting, if we’re lying in bed thinking of things to watch, she asks, “Tonight?”
“No.” By the time we get to bed, it’s too late for that kind of movie. I don’t really watch tv in bed, unless I’m staying with her. Not anymore.
So, movies that are going to invoke thinking require a chunk of time and the attitude that such a movie is going to require. The seriousness. And I think books are the same way.
We tear through the legal mysteries and thrillers. Rejoice in the light-hearted fantasies and romances. But when it’s time for those books that are going to fire more neurons than we’re comfortable with, we have to give them time.
Maybe that’s a result of the way our culture is, throwing so much at us all the time. Our neurons feel so inundated with information that it’s hard to devote a full allotment of attention to anything that we think could be challenging material.