I like to completely finish a book before I start reading the next. I feel like I’m breaking a commitment to not finish what I’ve started. As a consequence, I’ve often forced myself through books just to get to the end and I’ve delayed reading books that I really should be reading for work, needed personal knowledge, etc. so I won’t cheat on the author whose book I either want to or should set aside. This is ridiculous and unproductive. Go ahead and make a commitment to read all of Ulysses. It will be good for you (I haven’t yet managed this). But why beat yourself up if it’s not the book you want to take on vacation, even if you’re in the middle of it?
I presume this finish-what-you-start fixation came from my parents – “you committed to take piano; you’ll try it for at least a year” – and from my introverted inclinations. I recently read that introverts can’t concentrate on a task as well as extroverts if music is playing. Introverts, consequently, absorb more information. The point being, for me having multiple books going at once would be like having the radio and TV going at the same time.
Talking to a friend recently about an impending move across the country to recreate her life and live someplace more affordable than San Francisco, I readily dispensed my advice, “Yes, it may feel messy, but you can’t wait for one thing to wrap up before you start the next. Moving necessitates a bunch of things going on at once. When I moved out of my Nob Hill studio, I slept on the floor for a week because my bed was one of the first things to go on craigslist.”
Thinking more about her situation when I got off the phone, and confronted the same day with the need to start a book before finishing another, I reflected that my disrupted comfort level and hers were initiated by the same impulse, a need to minimize the number of moving parts so we could reduce the feeling that the moving parts were out of our control.
I decided to start the new book – I will still finish the one I set aside even though I reprioritized the new one – and I know that my friend will make the move towards her new life, both of us accepting that the moving parts will move even if we don’t move with them. Our efforts to maintain control, our first steps to losing it.