Reader’s Guilt

More than ever now that I am staying home, reading is my refuge, but I admit to not finishing every book I start. I feel guilty about that. Maybe it’s superstition–if I quit a book before the end, somehow the author will know and be angry or disheartened. Or, I might miss an extremely powerful passage lurking in the last few pages, a bit of wisdom that could change my life.

This guilt is leftover from grad school where professors beat into me the need to read every word or lose my good grade; a flighty, lazy,  overwhelmed candidate I would fail the course. To graduate I was to hike to the top of a mountain of words in order to see the whole landscape. Then I was determined to comply, so much so that I read Moby Dick twice, once for a Survey of the American Novel and again for a Survey of American Lit.

Now I am my own wacky professor assigning books. In the past two weeks I have read all or some of Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale, Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born, and The Laurel Edition of Longfellow. This last made the list because of a Dana Gioia essay in Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture. Wait, there’s more, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns:The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Like a goat, I nibble whatever tastes good at the moment.

I gorge on the work of great writers. But what would happen if all these authors could crowd into my living room? I see myself like Martha in the Bible scurrying to get them snacks and drinks, and dodging the ugly truth that I did not finish every book. Imagine those brilliant people with wounded egos. Just as well that some of them are dead and not likely to knock on my door. As it is I have just enough room for the books, let alone the authors and the guilt which takes up far too much space in my head.