Over the last few days I’ve been reading Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and last night when I put the book down and went to bed I had about 60 pages remaining until the book’s end. Which creates an interesting conundrum: caught in the sweep up to its climax, I want to finish the book as soon as I can (because getting carried away in a book’s conclusion is one of life’s great joys, obviously) – but I also want to be able to read its conclusion in one unbroken sitting so as to maximize my enjoyment of it. Like a pale and out of shape gymnast, I’m struggling to find the right balance.
What’s a reader to do?
One the one hand I can chip away at the remainder of the story on my lunch break and between when I get home from work and when I have to start making dinner and in any other number of small, fragmentary windows – that would satisfy my desire to get back into the story ASAP. And on the other hand I feel as though I should wait until later in the evening, once dinner’s been cleaned up, the trash has been taken out, and the dogs have been walked, so that I can read the book’s ending (which promises to be something of an attention-requiring clusterf***, in this case) with an unbroken focus.
I ask you again: what’s a reader to do?
Spoiler alert: I chose to wait. I wrote that first part of the post this morning, when I was as yet undecided in my course of action. I’m writing this part in the evening, after I’ve already skated past most of my limited-duration reading opportunities. And I’m waiting to finish Snow Crash until I can blow through the ending in one fell swoop. I guess in the end I felt like, given how important the ending experience is for a book – the conditions under which a book’s ending are processed can really impact a reader’s overall appreciation of a novel – it was worth the wait to be able to have a focused closing session.
In the end, it seems that, given how much time and effort goes into reading a book, it’s only fair that I end the practice properly, with focus and attention. There’s no point in nailing the the routine if you can’t stick the landing.