Book Guilt

I’m in a reading dilemma.  Not a lack of material sort of problem.  That’s not happened in my recent memory.  It’s finishing what I started that’s giving me fits right now.  Unfinished book guilt, I guess.

I’m just a few chapters from the end of  If You Want to Write (Barbara Ueland),  two-thirds through The Tao of Physics (Fritjof Capra),  a mere three chapter into After the Ecstasy, the Laundry (Jack Kornfield), and  three-quarters through The Canon (Natalie Angier).  Since starting these, two to six weeks ago, I’ve read at least a half-dozen other books in succession.  A few days ago, I spotted a borrowed copy of Contact (Carl Sagan), so that’s front and center each evening.

I started the others with earnest interest and rapt attention, at least initially.  While my understanding is minimal, I find quantum theory and relativity fascinating, and sermons over the years linking particle physics and spirituality, especially Eastern spirituality practices) increased my interest.  The Tao of Physics came with my minister’s recommendation and arrived quickly via Paperback Swap.  I leapt in and could barely set it down while reading the first half.  Perhaps the material is less gripping, or perhaps reading it at 10:30 at night is just too much for me, but I’m no longer making meaningful progress.  I try to read, but my mind skips off in other directions, pages turning without my comprehension.  Oh, the guilt!  I should be soaking up every word, making connections, finding meaning!

The Kornfield book sat on the shelf for a year or two.  On a recent shelf sweep, it made the cut to my nightstand.  Again, the material was interesting (real living after spiritual experience, essentially), but this time, I felt inadequate.  After all, I’m barely having spiritual experiences of the kind referred to in the book (remember that lonely meditation cushion?) .  Why concern myself with after until there is a during?

The Canon, a perky and fast-paced trip through current scientific thinking, was a gift from my father a year or two back.  Again, I started off quickly.  Math, physics, chemistry.  They flew by.  Then I hit biology.  Perhaps teaching biology this year worked against me.  I’ve had enough, and this felt like a re-run of the lessons I’d taught for the past six months.  How many pages until Geology?

Finally, the biggest guilt-producer of all:  the writing book given to me some 20 years ago by my now-deceased Uncle Bryce.  He inscribed it, believing in me as a writer.  I went on to PA school and vowed to write (and read that book) later.  After writing two posts on my uncle, I pulled it out and began.  It starts beautifully but becomes, about half-way through, redundant. I’m simply bored.

I intended to seek advice from those of you with unfinished piles teetering on your nightstand.  What would you do?  What do you do?  I still want to hear what you do, but I’ve discovered my own solutions while writing: I’ll continue with The Canon, fast forwarding to Geology.  The rest return to the shelves or Paperback Swap.  I’ve found what was useful to me now, and that’s sufficient. Goodbye, guilt!

5 thoughts on “Book Guilt

  1. I try to pay attention to what I’m feeling while I’m reading. Since I’m not currently reading on assignment (sigh, I do miss being a student) I avoid the books that fill me with dread. I already carry parent (and assorted other relationships) guilt, I have to let some go.

  2. ditto Chuck! I am listening to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle right now after attempting to read it twice. I actually really like the audio version because Barbara Kingsolver reads it herself. She as an adorable accent.
    I get book guilt too. The pile I’m returning to you (someday, when I see you again….) are ALL unfinished books I moved off my self in attempts to remove the guilt.
    If I don’t fall in love with a book right away (in other words, carry it to every room I’m in) then I need to move on.

    I listen to some that are tolerable to the kids in the van but others I put on my phone as MP3 files and listen while I clean or prep dinner.

  3. Actually, I drop books all the time, no guilt at all (and that parental guilt is far heavier to me, too). Certain books weigh on me, either because of who gave them to me (less true) or what they’re about or even what my intent was when reading them.
    I’m not a big recorded book person (my visual memory is much stronger than my auditory memory), but this may be the answer when I just want to cross the finish line. We’re rarely in the car long enough to make for good listening (and quiet in the car is a rare commodity), but I could try while making dinner. Thanks, Michelle and Chuck, for that reminder.

  4. I “read” a lot of audio books while I am crocheting, cooking, walking, folding clothes, etc… Too many books and too little time to read. At least that way I can squeeze in reading while I’m doing something else. I’m also getting better at quitting in the middle of a book, without feeling guilty. A lot of the books I have not yet read are hidden in a cupboard, out of sight, out of mind.

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