Thursday, 29 March 2012

You don’t have to read all of this

I’ve mentioned before my habit, when browsing, of turning not to the first but to the last page. Not, you understand, every time – this isn’t a principle – but it’s something I do, and sometimes I get odd looks, as if I’d shouted aloud a rude word, as if I was a man in a Bateman cartoon.

And I’ve mentioned the man I know who reads fiction like this: he dips in, sometimes at random, and reads as many or as few pages as he’s inclined to, and if he comes back to the book he’ll dip in elsewhere.

Now here’s an excellent piece by Tim Parks arguing against the ‘tyranny of our thrall to endings’, suggesting it’s perfectly OK to put aside a book – even a good book, even a book we enjoy and admire – before reaching the end. (‘I don’t doubt I would have a lower opinion of many of the novels I haven’t finished if I had.’)

(And here is another piece by Parks arguing against the notion that ‘the world needs stories’.)

Sometimes even the author doesn’t feel a need to get to the end. The photo above shows cat on desk this sunny morning and behind it the last page of Stendhal’s Memoirs of an Egotist: ‘Half past one – it’s become too hot to think,’ he wrote, and laid down his pen.


Anonymous said...

Helene Cixous, the ultimate alluder, told me once that she had never read ANY book from start to finish.


Mase Escasi said...

Bad books can be good books in disguise. I've sometimes had 4 or 5 goes at books I've really enjoyed, good, bad or indifferent depending on my mood. On other occasions, I've bailed before the end, unable to bear just how complete something is.