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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I Was Doomed to Read This Horrible Book

by MAB (bio)

I have this affliction where I usually cannot stop reading a book once I start, no matter how bad it is. I say 'usually' because there are books I've read parts of but didn't finish. But nearly all of my unfinished books are by-products of dates or vacations. Let me explain.

When we were first married we went on 'dates' to bookstores because it was cheaper than a movie and we loved to read. They were odd dates, I will grant you that, because we would spend a few hours in different parts of the book store as our literary tastes do not always converge. We rarely bought any books, but just read whatever we fancied hunched down in an aisle somewhere. Aside from 'date' books, there are unfinished vacation books scattered in relative's houses, lodges and cottages we've stayed at, but whose final pages were not met before it was time to go.

Once a book enters my house for a longer period and I crack its cover, I usually read it from start to finish regardless of the content and quality of the writing. This affliction recently played havoc in my life, and during the holiday season no less! My dear readers, I will now tell you a little about this book so that you will not pick it up unawares, and if you are afflicted like me, be stuck reading all 500 pages.

The book is called Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. The book won some awards and has a sci-fi element, so I thought I would be safe. The book is about a young time-traveling historian who tries to go the middle ages, about 40 years before the plague hit Europe. But uh oh, something goes wrong. I bet you can guess what. I guessed (nearly, but close enough) what went wrong on about page 10, but due to my affliction I had to read the next 490 pages where some semi-interesting things happened but the writing got in the way of its explanation. In fairness, the book kind of gave a vague sense of what it would have been like to live in a small village during the plague. Oh, and the author kind of does a few weak twists on good and evil. But don't let that tempt you into reading the book. You can do much better.

My wife on the other hand can pick up a book and stop reading it at anytime, never to pick it up again. She just gets tired of the book and moves on to something else on her long 'to-do' list. In other words, unlike me, she does not feel compelled to read a book once she's started. One other odd reading behavior she has (which I think is a little blasphemous) is she reads the ending ... first! That's right, she often reads the end of a book first to see if she wants to spend time reading the entire book. This is not what authors intend and her habit is one of the many things that prevent me from writing a novel. I'll not let her read the ending of my book without going through the whole thing, chapter by long chapter.

So, I put a few questions out to MMM readers. Do you have to finish a book once you've read even a small portion of it? Do you ever 'cheat' and read the end before you get there? I have a feeling this is all explained by some economic theory, perhaps loss aversion, which probably means I shouldn't start frequenting casinos. Any other theories?

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