I care passionately about books. I believe that they could pretty well sustain us all on their own, with a touch of food and water for good measure of course. But they are not merely vehicles of pleasure, or time passers, they hold ideas, thoughts, emotions, complex dialogue, illustrations, and so much more that an individual writer pained over. To write a book is to give away a little piece of your soul, whether you dabble in fact or fiction, whether the story is yours or someone else’s, it does not matter. It is a practice in love and agony, and that’s why it has always been my theory that you must finish a book.
Though economists would have us believe that we shouldn’t suffer through something just to get our money’s worth, I would say that books are an exception to this rule. Not only have I as a reader gone to the trouble of purchasing, renting, loaning, or downloading said book, but some human has lost sleep, friends, family, and faith all in the pursuit of creating this one piece of work that lays in my hands, not many professions can say that. So when I crack open the spine of the book, it is truly a till death do us part, or till the last page turns kind of situation. I am in it for the long haul.
I would love to say that it has less to do with my own sense of accomplishment than with a sense of duty to the author, an agreed upon pact, but that is simply untrue. It feels good to go page by page through a long and laborious work and come out the other side refreshed, with a weight lifted off of your shoulders. Last summer, the weight that was dragging me down was One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read it, among others, on my 45 minute train ride from New Jersey to New York and back again, and I hated it. It’s Gabriel García Márquez, they said, you have to read his work they said, you’ll love it, they said. All lies. For me at least. In my drowsy early morning commutes, and my weary evening commutes, I knew it would be waiting for me. I could hardly help but to draw a family tree in the front cover of my book to keep the thousands of characters with identical names straight, and it distracted me from start to finish.
To put it lightly, I wasn’t a fan, I was angry. Who had recommended this I wanted to shout?! Because now it was too late, Catholics don’t believe in divorce, and I was stuck with it. It would taunt me on the daily. “You’ll never finish me,” it said, “You’ll get bored and move on to a book you like more,” it teased. But I would not be defeated. So I finished the book, after much blood, sweat, and tears, and I thought that I had held up my end of the bargain with Mr. Márquez you see.
You can hardly imagine my dismay when someone told me that Love in the Time of Cholera would be better; I should have known to get involved with that Gabriel García Márquez again. It was like getting back together with an ex-boyfriend after a long time apart, and finding that nothing has changed, in the most unpleasant of ways. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to escape this one either.
But, I will always be proud of myself for completing these texts, for giving them the benefit of the doubt up until the very last word. Though I was disappointed on the level of enjoyment, I do get pride in the accomplishment, and I like to believe that the author has not suffered in vain for his work. If no one ever takes the time to read what you write, really read it, from beginning to end, pen in hand, then why do we bother writing at all? If we do not absorb a text as a complete whole, do we really ever get its message? Or can we dissect it into its parts, picking and choosing the ones that suit us, and glossing over the passages and chapters that we find useless? Is reading meant to be a labor of love, or has the author already freed us from that obligation?