Who are you as a reader? This is a question that my department often asks of its students. One of the philosophies we base our work on is that students basically stop reading in or right after middle school, so we try to create classroom communities where kids can choose the books they read rather than having everybody read the same thing. This makes for difficult management at time (do we have books kids like? are they reading on their level?), but well worth it (most kids actually read and can name books that have changed their lives). The basic tenet we guide them with is pick a book you're excited to read that is at or just above your level.
This is the first piece of advice that I need to apply to myself. I recently started reading Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. It won the National Book Award. It is supposed to be amazing. But. I didn't enjoy reading it. It's not a light book, and I would dutifully pack it in my bag every time I left my apartment, thinking I would definitely read it on the subway. That is, until I found that I could play solitaire on my ipod...I mean, what better way to spend my time than staring at pinky-nail size cards? It's good for brains like mine to use logic every once in a while, right? It was so er, enthralling, that I couldn't put my *ipod* down. Tree of Smoke remained at the bottom of my bag. Interestingly enough, this was right around the time I went through a two week period where I didn't feel like myself. I wasn't reading and had zero motivation.
This is what we like to call a "teaching point." We never want our students to get stuck in books like this because they really do stop reading...and if I can be thrown off in my reading life, you can bet that so will kids. So I tried to wrap my mind around the idea that--just as I tell kids--it is ok to once in a while abandon a book. Unfortunately, despite the fact that I am mostly right brained, I have a few left brained tendencies--I like to be organized. I like cleanliness. I like to finish what I start, which was a problem for this Tree of Smoke dilemma. It pains me to leave a book unfinished. I see it sitting on my bookshelf haunting and taunting me.
But. I am trying to take my own teaching advice. When I realized the negative repercussions of not being engaged in my reading, I decided it was time. Well, in the back of my head I still think I will finish it, just like The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana...shoot. This has happened before and I didn't learn.)
So who am I as a reader? Someone who wants to be engaged and challenged by my reading...but when the challenge completely throws off the rest of my reading life, my personal life and my writing life (I obviously haven't blogged much lately...and yes, I use that in a verb), it is time to set my pride aside and admit.
I have to abandon this book.