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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Skip the Boring Parts

The Overwhelming Tome: The Lord of the Rings
   I'm a bit discouraged by a post I recently read at Goodreads, in which a reader was advised to skip the boring parts of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. You know what I'm talking about, all those stupid poems, and all that nonsense about Tom Bombadil, and anything that has to do with a historical backdrop. Then there's all those long, descriptive passages of topography, and the scenery. Just chuck that crap, who needs it?
   At first, I thought these people were just illiterates who perhaps find reading to be so difficult they really need to skip the long words. But that isn't it. Of course not. What they really meant was that they just can't concentrate on anything that doesn't have running and stabbing and peril. Actually, I get the feeling that battle scenes like that might just bore them as well. I mean, after all, such things do take up your time. And that's the crux of the problem. I don't think people feel they have the time any more to read. They just want to get it over with.
Lengthy books are far easier to handle on a Kindle.
   We've been raised by our televisions, where we get the whole story in two hours or less, with plenty of commercials in the middle to give us a chance to stretch and graze in the kitchen, or go check Facebook. What we do not want to do is sit down and really take the time to read. One reason I love my Kindle so much is the little per cent bar at the bottom, which tracks my progress. I've always loved to play math games with any book I was reading, calculating how much of it I had read or how much was left. I even will make the effort to time how long it takes to read a page or two, then do the math to see how long it will take to finish. I have no idea why I do this. I usually hate to finish a book I read. But the point is, I know how long it takes me to read a book. If I were to read non-stop, some longer books can take around 20 hours to read. Broken up over so many days, that can be really tough for people to do. Shorter, more common genre books take 7 to ten hours to read. This is still difficult for many people in our busy world. But is it?
   Two football games on Sunday last almost seven hours. Many people watch two or three hours of TV every night. The fact is, we have lots of time to read. People just don't do it. But what of self-professed book lovers who do read? Why would someone like that wish to read The Lord of the Rings by skipping the boring parts? What point is there in reading a book that you find to be full of parts you don't like? That's where pride steps in, I believe. Perhaps people, whether on Goodreads, Shelfari, or other social book-lover sites, are so keen on impressing their fellow book-lovers that they want to add books to their list that will look impressive. Maybe they want to be able to tell people at a party that they've read the The Lord of the Rings but just can't bring themselves to outright lie about it. I don't know. What I do know is that if you find the great majority of a book boring, don't skip those parts. Put down the book. Find a book you do like. There are so many out there, it is not like you should feel obligated to force your way through any book.
Spend a month on Tolstoy?  Or just a few days with James Bond?
   When I went looking for a copy of Les Miserables to read, I read the notes on the abridged version, one that left out Hugo's extensive descriptions of the Paris sewers, among other things. Why? Can't readers take the time to learn a little something? Does everything have to be candy?  I fear the biggest need for these abridged versions is the fact that our society is sliding into ignorance.  That most people just can't handle reading anymore.  It is a terrifying thought.
   At this point, I calculate that only about ten per cent of the people who started reading this post are still with me. Possibly you're reading this part because you skimmed most of what was written before. I'm guilty of doing this in magazine articles; this generally happens when I'm just searching for specific information. But I've never thought to skim sections of a novel. I just never thought an author put parts in there that he did not really intend for people to read. I figure it is all a part of the story. And I've read many long works: Moby Dick, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamozov, Les Miserables, Last of the Mohicans, and the list goes on. I've also abandoned books. But I can't remember skipping parts of a book.
Have books outlasted their shelf-life in our busy society?
   One book by James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, has been a real sticky wicket for me. I love Cooper's writing, and love the Natty Bumppo character. Three times I've tried to read The Pioneers, three times I've put it down. I can't really say why. But I do know I've never considered just skimming it, or skipping over large chunks of it. What would be the point? It is now like an old familiar defect in my house that I will one day correct. I'll finish that book eventually. I really will.  If I only get the time.
   Or, if it looks like my time on earth is going to be cut short, I might just skim the darned thing and mark it down on my Goodreads list as read.  After all, as Julia Childs liked to say: who's to know?

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