Thursday, March 20, 2008

Getting to the end

btt button

You’ve just reached the end of a book . . . what do you do now? Savor and muse over the book? Dive right into the next one? Go take the dog for a walk, the kids to the park, before even thinking about the next book you’re going to read? What?

No dog, no kids - sometimes I am actually thinking about the next book I'm going to read before I'm finished with the current one. That is one of my greatest pleasures - sitting in bed with four or five anticipated reads and choosing! I remember reading a thriller having figured everything out before the end. The book wasn't bad but I kept thinking 'ok, ok, I get it. I know what happens. How can there possibly be thirty pages left? I'm in school. I don't have that much time to read. I should be reading something better than this.' When that is not the case, there are two factors, one is how good a read it was, the second is where I am. If I've finished a book on the subway and it was really good, I might sit and space out for a second. With Pat Barker's recent book, I sat and thought about what I was going to write here. Sometimes I bring a book on my commute thinking I will finish it, but find I am still still twenty or thirty pages shy of the end when I arrive. I'll usually sit down and tear through to the end no matter what I have to do. But that means that as soon as I'm finished, I'm late to start studying or to run errands, or make dinner. Then I can't sit and muse. I just have to get busy. Very often when I finish a really good book I want to tell The Ragazzo about it. Writing about my reading here has also structured the end of my reading because now I must ask myself when I finish a book - what do I think? How do I feel? Why do I feel or think that, what about the writing or the story makes me think that? Or what does this evoke for me that relates to my current world, to my personal memories, or to my obsessions - artistic process and brains. Sometimes quiet must descend when a book ends. That's where Stegner's Crossing to Safety left me. Luckily I was in the living room of a b&b in upstate New York, looking at the trees and listening to the stream by the house and that was exactly the setting I wanted to think about everything that book meant. When I finished The Go-Between recently, my first thought was - oh no, what can I read now? That will be a hard act to follow! Then I headed over to my laptop to write and I had thoughts about it that interplayed with seeing The History Boys and those two experiences talking to each other charged me up to write. If I've read a series of books in sequence - like Olivia Manning's The Balkan Trilogy or Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori, even if they are really good, I will often be relieved to finish my 1000 pages in that world and move on to a new one. Other times as with The Master Bedroom I just sigh with the pleasure of everything it accomplished and stared at the ceiling for a while. Other times I'm sad to reach the end of a book because I know I will miss the characters. Ethan Canin's For Kings and Planets was like that. Brideshead Revisited is so sad, when I get to the end I have to read the first few chapters so as not to get depressed. I remember leaving home last January for a week to workshop a project and I had about five books to take with me but I was just 40 pages from the end of The Book of Lost Things, I didn't want to drag it with me so I read as I packed. The Ragazzo's friends were coming to visit for a few days while I was gone. They insisted that I read so I could get to the end. I sat in a chair in the living room with my coat on reading the last ten pages, slammed the book down when I was done, grabbed my keys, kissed The Ragazzo and friends goodbye, and flew out of the door late for my train. It wasn't until I was on the subway that I could think - what did I just think of that?


Sheila O'Malley said...

Great thoughts - I love how you have specific memories attached to finishing certain books. I have that, too. I remember literally trying to slow down my reading as I approached the end of Kavalier & Clay - I have rarely had that experience ... I had a physical response to the thought of that book ending. I read so fast that it was quite a struggle to read only, oh, 2 pages a day or whatever - to stretch it out. But I felt such a sense of loss as I approached the end - knowing that I would have to say goodbye to those characters.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

While travelling, if I am reading sometjing, I do feel nostalgic if I see that book again. I never could stretch any book. I have to finish it fast!

So that I get to the next!

Booking upto ending

Teena in Toronto said...

I'm a diver too!

I played too :)

Ted said...

Yeah, it's like saying goodbye to friends, almost excruciating but still, like Gautami, I'm terrible about making it last. I just want to finish it and I temporarily suspend the knowledge somehow that when the pages on the right side keep decreasing that there won't be more when I get there.

Anonymous said...

Great post. What a perfect place to be at the end of Crossing to Safety. I loved that book and mentioned it in my BTT post too.

Ted said...

Lissam - Thanks. Nice to meet another Stegner fan and become acquainted w/ your blog.