When I came out of the stupor that results from surviving a newborn baby, I picked up a book to find that my attention span had decreased to the level of a gnat. If the first sentence didn’t thrill me, it took every ounce of energy I had to read on. If the first paragraph included anything less than 90% pure plot, I would fall asleep, book in hand, lights still on.
Costa’s words resonated deep within and spoke to the way I’ve been feeling about books and reading but have been unable to verbalize. Essentially, I’ve known for a while that I have changed as a reader. I need more plot, I want clearly defined characters with clear motives. I need distinct themes, narratives that flow with ease and a plot that moves.
I love reading. I want to learn more about myself and human nature with each read. Perhaps, more importantly, I want to be entertained and sucked into a world that allows me to leave everything behind for 10, 20, 30 minutes (30 minutes!) of reading.
Time is a precious commodity. Some days it seems that every second of my day is spoken for and I have no say in how to use my time. Many times I’ll settle into a comfy position, open a book or turn on my e-reader only to hear “Mom!”, “Karen, where is the…?” or now that I’m 7 months pregnant, I’ll have to make a run for the wash room for the fifth time that hour – even in utero children take over our lives.
So, when I indulge in a fragile window of time to spend with an author and her/his characters, I need to feel that my time will not be wasted. I need to feel that the author respects the fact that I have a few stolen minutes to read what they have created. If I am taking time away from my family, from my list of things to do, from my sleep, to read a book, I expect that book to return the favour.
When it doesn’t, it is sheer torture. If I moan and internally complain each time I open a book, it must not be finished. I’ve written about this before – here and here about books that I have not finished.
Costa says she normally gives herself 50 pages to decide whether or not the book is worth finishing. I would agree. I don’t have a page limit for engagement, but if an author has failed to captivate me by page 50, it’s not going to happen.
I think teaching English in addition to motherhood has tainted my attention span. I spend so much of my time evaluating student writing – that when I turn to a novel, I really don’t want to feel that I’m still doing my job.
The ultimate message here is to allow yourself the freedom to say “I have enough commitments in life to make yet another commitment to spend time with a book I truly dislike” and then take your bookmark out, put the book down and leave it alone without guilt or fear that the unfinished book police are coming to get you. Then, move on to the next book you know you really want to read – whatever it may be. Because reading is far too important and too much fun to turn it into a chore.