I read recently a literary critic who said that Tristram Shandy was one of those books in which no one ever got beyond page 10. Well I can do better than that. I was given Tristram Shandy as a school prize in 1959 and there it is in my bookshelf with a bookmark at p. 58. I think that works out at about six pages a decade.
The trouble is that I have lots of books like that. It's not that I get bored with them or don't like them. I would be perfectly happy to decide to stop reading a book I wasn't finding interesting. It's that I don't finish the books I do want to read. In fact I have bookshelves full of books with bookmarks sticking up half way through them. Even if I do get one of these books out of the bookshelf, I will have to start reading it again from the beginning because it's been so long since I looked at it that I've forgotten what I've already read.
Usually the reason I stop reading a book is because another book arrives on the scene. I start reading the new book in the enthusiasm of a new subject, and the old book gets forgotten about. Of course I never finish the new book either!
Recently I've found a way that avoids all this, and allows me to get all the books I start finished. If you have the same problem (and I know a lot of people do), you might like to try it.
What I do is simplicity itself. I chose five books as my "active" books and put them in a pile. Then I take the top book from the pile and read as much as I want to in one session. At the end of the session, it goes at the bottom of the pile. Then for my next reading session, I take the next book in the pile, read as much as I want to of that, and put it at the bottom of the pile. The two most important rules are:
1) I don't allow myself to read any book that's not in the pile. If a new book arrives it has to wait until one of the others is finished.
2) I don't allow myself to keep a book on top of the pile for more than one session. Once I've put it down, it has to go at the bottom of the pile.
This works like magic because the variety keeps my interest going. To make sure it works as well as possible, here are a couple of things to note:
1) Give yourself a good variety of books, both in subject, size and ease of reading. If you choose five heavy tomes, you will simply get yourself bogged down.
2) You can stop reading where you like, but most people like to aim for the end of a section or chapter. It helps if you read the first couple of sentences of the new section or paragraph before you put the book down. It helps your mind to prepare for the next session with that book.
Maybe I'll even get Tristram Shandy finished someday soon!
The growing popularity of the e-book reader over the last few years has made this method both easier and more powerful. In my Kindle I have opened a folder called “Active” which contains my five current books. The Kindle keeps track of the order of the books and where I’ve got to in each book.
Because of the portability of the Kindle versus carrying around five printed books, I can switch between books during one long reading session (e.g. in a train, on the beach). Perfect!
Confession: I still haven’t read Tristram Shandy though!