I don’t know about you but I think as vices go being somewhat bookish is pretty innocuous, having said that are two problems with it. The first problem is the knowledge that there will always be far more interesting books than my limited time to read them and the second is finite shelf space to store these good reads. But, there are eReaders to solve the second problem I hear you say. True, but I am not a big fan of them as a reading device.
I mention this as my book shelves are bursting and a growing proportion of the books on those shelves are unread, and with each new acquisition the earlier unread books fade into dusty obscurity. I think the number now exceeds eighty books in my unread pile, of course the simplest thing to do would be either sell or give them away and start again from scratch (I have been tempted), but I cannot bring myself to do that. I acquired those books for a reason, what treasures would I lose if I swept them all away?
So, I take a strict approach to reading books these days, I generally stop reading after a chapter or two if they do not engage me. In the past I used to show a dogmatic committment to the books I read and finished them regardless. But these days I happily abandon books. Recent casualties are Robert Lewis Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae, Michael Chabon’s Manhood For Amateurs and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Still, abandoning a book is a hard thing to do for someone who has a fondness for them especially the unread ones. When they have been waiting on my shelves for years it feels like a betrayal to read only a few chapters and then give them away, like passing over a loyal friend whose time has come and is then casually spurned.
Oliver Burkeman wrote an article on this for the Guardian last year, he mentions that ‘several psychological phenomena, presumably, contribute to this post-abandonment regret, most obviously the “sunk cost bias”: once you’ve invested time and effort, it’s a wrench to walk away.’
This applies to writing projects too, in recent years I have written and put aside two manuscripts representing many hours of work and thousands of words, but as Oliver Burkeman states ‘It’s fine to abandon books or other projects but you’ve got to really abandon them, not let them fade amid vague intentions to finish them some day’ this makes it a positive act and not a defeat, I think this is an important perceptual difference.
What writing projects have you abandoned?
Do you finish the books you start?
Perhaps you choose your potential reads with more care than my scatter gun approach?