Abandoning books

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I can’t put my finger on why it makes me feel so bad to abandon a book. When I think back over the hundreds of books I’ve read, there have only been a handful that I’ve decided to put down for good. First there’s the wrestle with the decision to close the book for good. Then there’s taking your bookmark out knowing that this is final – there are no intentions of returning to it at a later date.

Lately I’ve abandoned Johnathon Franzen’s ‘critically acclaimed’ The Corrections. Franzen joins my growing pile of abandons alongside The God of Small Things, The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao and, controversially, Moby Dick. In abandoning these titles, I’ve realised that there are two types of abandonment guilt. The first one comes because somebody has recommended a book that you really don’t get on with – because you then have to deflate their enthusiasm with a declaration of ‘I didn’t finish it…’. The second type of guilt comes from the fear of missing out. Moby Dick, for example. A classic. Referenced so much in popular culture that I already felt like I’d been introduced to the characters before I even read it. Once I put my copy down after the third chapter, I knew that was it. I’ll probably never pick it up again, and I’ll probably die having never read Moby Dick. I’ve missed out.

The one thing that makes me feel little better about book abandonment is the list of books that I probably should have abandoned, but didn’t. I struggled through Proust’s Swann’s Way for about three months, at times simply glancing over words without registering them in my mind. I remember nothing about Swann, or his way. But I remember everything about the Richard Yates novel that I read prior to Proust – and The Easter Parade remains a firm favourite, going on to influence my reading list ever since.

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Reading isn’t something that you should get something out of, all the time. But it’s also not something that you should get absolutely nothing out of. So last week when I felt a twinge of abandonment guilt as I unfurled the dog ear marking my place in The Corrections, I thought of Proust. Or rather, I remembered that I remembered nothing. How ironic, for a book about the search for lost time.

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