Cover to Cover

If you know me at all, you will not be shocked that I have a bit of a “completeness” compulsion, particularly when it comes to reading. In its most innocuous form, I cannot leave a book unfinished or skip/skim over parts of it, even if it is nonfiction. This includes the introduction, appendices, and footnote material. The idea of putting a book down because you are bored with it, or only reading the “relevant” chapters just makes no sense. This is why my “currently reading” list can have the same books on it for months (or years….) at a time, as in my mind I have just picked something else up but will get back to it.
Magazines/journals have always fallen victim to the same compulsion – I have to read every article before putting it aside. As a result, while I only have a few subscriptions – mostly related to computing or science – I have ended up with a huge stack of periodicals that I have not touched because of some boring article that is bogging me down. I knew most people just skimmed through reading those articles that appealed to them, but I just couldn’t do that.
I think the internet is finally starting to cure me of all of that. Sure, I have always had a list of sites that I read regularly, but it was a limited enough list that I could allow the same compulsion to apply, reading every single update and going back into the archives if I fell behind. But now that I use RSS feeds, I have subscribed to more and more feeds, some at sites with dozens of updates a day. For a couple of months, I tried to make sure i worked through all of my feeds every day and would go through the backlog on weekends to catch up.
It has become clear that one cannot read the entire internet, or even the complete set of entries from the portion of it that I keep track of. I have given in and will skim through my feed listings only clicking through on the articles that actually seem interesting. If a backlog gets too big, I’ll just read what is new from the past day or two and then delete the rest. And I have realized that I am reading a selection of items from more sources, with less content that I am not really interested in, in less time than I used to spend websurfing. This surely sounds obvious, but it is a bit of a breakthrough for me.
And using this same approach I have actually started moving through my backlog of periodicals, reading maybe the first paragraph or two of most articles but stopping or skimming when I got bored. It is great – I might not read everything new that is coming out, but I am reading more than I was. If I had figured this out years ago, maybe I would have finished grad school a couple of years earlier….

2 thoughts on “Cover to Cover

  1. I have a terrible habit of not letting myself start another book before ending the one I am reading.
    I need to learn to “give up” on books if they lose my interest. I have had some success, but I feel like a “quitter.”
    I had the same problem you do with magazines, so I ended up cancelling all of them. They’d just pile up.
    I seem to be able to skim the newspaper (which I won’t give up)…but I can’t bring myself to do that with books. I don’t know why.
    I’m curious as to your comment about not skipping ahead or skimming “even with non-fiction books.” No plot twists to miss by skipping ahead on non-fiction?
    I have not read a fiction title in so long, I don’t even remember what it was like. I’ve just gotten into non-fiction in recent years, and I don’t seem to have any desire to go back.
    I think one thing is non-fiction lends itself more to starting a book and getting busy and coming back to it in a few weeks. If I did that with a fiction book, I’d have to start over from scratch because I could never remember the characters that long.

  2. I do think that non-fiction is easier to skip forward through than fiction. Right now, I’m reading a book about the history of the software industry. I’m sort of bogged down in a chapter that I am not so interested in but there are later chapters that I am more interested in. On the one hand, I realize that if I skip ahead, I will miss some of the setup for the later content. But, I read the first few chapters, and if the option is skipping or not reading the book at all, skipping would probably be the more logical choice.
    Of course, I will do neither and will plug ahead stubbornly, but I have friends who will skim non-fiction for the sections when they start to lose interest until it grabs them again, and I can concede its probable value.

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