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Promiscuous Reading; My Christmas Wish List

December 10, 2010 | by

I have this compulsion where I read the first one hundred pages of a book, and then stack it on my bedside table. I never finish them—call me promiscuous. But I feel guilty not finishing books! What do you advise? —P.

There’s nothing wrong with not finishing a book. Samuel Johnson, surely one of the great readers of all time, claimed to feel guilty because he almost never read a book to the end—but still, he didn’t. Finish them, I mean. Why should you read a book just because it’s there, or (worse) because you read it yesterday? Completism is the bugbear of actual reading. There are books even by some of my favorite authors that I have never looked at and never plan to. If you really love Henry Green’s Loving, why should you have to read Living? And, really, how many second acts redeem a slow act one? I say, enjoy your promiscuity and keep reading new things. (But better make space on your bedside table!)

Can you recommend any good gifts for the holiday season? What do you want? —Erica

Let the record show that I have my doubts about this question. It has an intern-y je ne sais quoi. But on the off chance that it isn’t a ringer ... there is just one thing I want for Christmas—the same thing everybody wants: a Paris Review Holiday Gift Set! I want the special new T-shirt. I want the subscription. I want the card designed by our own assistant editor, Stephen Andrew Hiltner, in the shade that our managing editor, Nicole Rudick, has taught us to call “wintery blue.”

There. I’ve said it. And you interns—Brenda, Miranda, Katy, Alexandra—if this question did come from one of you, please understand that this is not the way we do things on White Street. I plan to launch a thorough investigation first thing next week.

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  1. Will @ AJRMS | December 10, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    My dad, a (finally) retired police detective and the most compulsive reader I know, claims that he finishes every book he starts. I always thought this was completely insane. And how can I give him a book knowing he might torture himself with it?

    Another way to avoid guilt, P., is to keep in mind that most books have crappy endings.

  2. Carol Sanders | December 10, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Life’s too short to drink bad wine, eat bad food, or to finish books that are boring. Would you feel guilty not finishing a pie that was terrible or a glass of wine that was too tart?

  3. ann | December 10, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    If unfinished books make you feel guilty on the night table, you can:
    Pass them along to a friend
    Donate them to the local library’s used book sale
    Get a wood stove and heat the house with them.

  4. J.S. | December 15, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Quoth John Irving in no. 100:

    “Grown-ups shouldn’t finish books they’re not enjoying. When you’re no longer a child, and you no longer live at home, you don’t have to finish everything on your plate.”

    Another reason to read the Paris Review interviews, I guess!

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