Patience, Reading, and Life

I have always believed that I am an impatient person. Nowhere is this more evident, at least in my adult life, than in my lack of reading. I have begun many books, though have actually finished very few. The problem is that if I am not completely taken in by something, I give up quite easily, and am willing to set it down, and walk away.

When I was a young boy, my grandparent’s house had an upstairs bedroom which had a long shelf of books. Most of them were yearly type annuals of compilations– Reader’s Digest and the sort. There were also at least 15-20 hard cover books. Again, even these bound volumes were likely book club editions; but through my eye as a child, they appeared as glorious library quality volumes, antiqued and catalogued upon the shelf. This shelf… this space… was my first experience at beginning something, and then– of never finishing it. I simply did not possess the patience to read through those books. I did not know at the time that these books would be my introduction to the literary world and to life in general, but I did find them interesting enough to skim through.


A few titles come to mind. “The Gulag Archipelago”, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was just huge, I think it was a 3 volume set, and it should have been huge, as it took nearly ten years to . I now have a thorough understanding of everything contained therein, and yeah, I’ve actually found my way through most of it. Solzhenitsyn’s miracle is probably one of my greatest gulagachievements, not only in actually reading it, but also in actually coming to terms with some of the nuance that might elude most Western readers. Of course, it’s easy to claim such a victory as I sit here now, in middle age; but, as a 3rd grader, the vision of the work was not so clear. All I knew then was that it wasn’t really a good idea to disagree with Stalin.

“Gone with the Wind” was there too, and that son of a bitch is just too long, and even though I’ve read it by now, I find very little value in the fluffed up historical fiction that it turns out to be. I’ve since dismissed this crap-fest of characters on the gone with the windpage as non-essential, and the fact that the movie was better than the book is living proof of its un-importance in my universe. Thank you, young , for NOT finishing this one, as the effects would have surely proven disastrous.

A third book, “War and Peace”, was among all of the others on that bookshelf. I still haven’t read it and I’m kind of proud to be able to say that. Hell, I don’t even know, or care about the , number of pages, or anything really. I honest to God, without looking this stuff up, couldn’t even begin to describe what this albatross is about, and I don’t care! My not knowing or understanding a goddam thing about “War and Peace” has not mattered to me– not in the least; then or now.

There were other’s probably “Little Women”, “Huckleberry Fin”, or some stuff like that, but I can’t really remember much beyond those first three titles. What I do remember, were the 100’s of National Geographic magazines propped up, all very neatly between metal bookends, just like at the library. In fact, if I had to guess, this was probably what I considered to be my library… my FIRST and personal library, and since nobody else in that family bothered to read much, or to even care about the books anymore, the notion seemed to fit. The National Geographic’s were nice, and I still like the publication. Also, the Reader’s Digest– even though that’s a weird name for a magazine, is o.k. with me too.


If this was my apprenticeship, these books waiting to be read, was my first chance at being a self-starter, then I had a good training ground but must have ultimately failed. In adulthood, I magazineshave become adept at not finishing things, and although it usually does not cause me any trouble, there are times when I wish this attribute was not inherent to me. My life would be much easier if I intentionally set out to complete, no matter the cost, everything that I have begun. But, of the tasks that I do complete, I normally complete them successfully. It all has to do with what I choose to begin, work through, and complete.

Questions. …

I have little patience for things that do not immediately hold my interest. However, if something falls within my boundaries of caring, then I am patient enough to try and master it. In this light, was it really a failure for a 9 year old to not care about “Gone with the Wind”? Likewise, as a youngster, I did not read completely “The Gulag Archipelago” but have, with the passage of time, come to appreciate that work. I suppose that it is not fair to scold a child who lacks patience to read a multi-volume and multi-themed work which was written over the course of 10 years. Likewise, the intricate layers of “War and Peace” did not, and still do not, resonate with me. The difference then, is how do we narrow down our goals, our interests; how do we choose our battles, and are we victorious in the ones that are chosen?

Most of the time, I know the difference by the end of the first few pages. I either care about the author and his book, or I do not. Does this make me a bad person, or does this only mean that I know what I’m after in a good read?

There are now, as I sit in my office, books on the shelves that not only have I NOT read, but I really don’t ever intend to do so. They look nice, they are matching and complete sets of volumes, and I intend to just leave it at that. In my estimation, if I were to begin reading them, and then if I were to not finish them, the set– that genre– would be tarnished, and I would then be forced not to display them in such a proud manner. The works of Shakespeare, and some of the other “greats”, rest in supposed splendor on my shelves between heavy brass bookends.

And then– we have O. Henry, Salinger, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, and OrwellVoltaire and Nietzsche– storytellers and philosophers who have always held my interest. Some of these books are mixed and matched… some lie flat on a shelf, some lie in stacks behind my chair. theThey aren’t n order, and they aren’t neatly catalogued. I read them without trying to read them, and so, without having to struggle, the experience is a good one. To read them is more like having a casual conversation, where neither person tries to impress the other, but instead to only communicate. These are my authors, and they wrote my books… the books that I care about. For these, I have ALL of the patience in the world, and I read them over and over in spite of my lack of time on this planet… simply because I enjoy them.

Is it impatience, or only a focused attention to the details of my choosing that defines my ethic? In truth, it’s probably a little bit of both. But, I’m not sure that I’ve suffered that much for it. As of late, I have had some trouble finding the words to put to paper, and I haven’t’ written as much as I need to. The same could be said for the amount I have recently read. But, in either case, I am enjoying what little amounts I take in… or the number of words that are put out.

With the beginning of the school year upon us, the kids (at least the ones who still read) know it better than anyone else. During the summer, you get to PICK what you read; whether it be from the Library, the bookmobile, or your favorite blogger. But, in school, you read– and write– what is assigned by the Teacher.

Most Teachers that I had… well, they thought that “War and Peace” was essential– but I knew better. Does that make me right, wrong… or simply impatient?

~Jon