Taking a break in reading
It was something of an epiphany for me as an adult reader that no, you don’t have to finish every book you start. Life is short, books are practically infinite, and you as a reader have the right to prioritize your reading and not finish things you aren’t liking for whatever reason. I think most readers have this moment at some point and it changes your reading life.
Recently, I had a similar realization about another facet of reading: you don’t have to read something in one go. Breaks are allowed. You can start and stop reading, you can read something else in between, and you can pick right up where you left off whenever you like.
I first realized this last year when I spent most of the year reading (and alternately not reading) John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga. The Saga is particularly well-suited to start-and-stop reading: it’s broken up into shorter books within one larger one, with even shorter “interludes” between the books. Decades gallop past between each book, with the same familiar characters, personalities, and problems cropping up in each generation.
Now, I loved The Forsyte Saga. I truly enjoyed reading it and thinking about it. But it took me almost a full 12 months to read, not because it’s long, but because I kept hitting the pause button and wandering literarily afield every so often. To my surprise, these breaks did not remotely negatively impact my experience reading Galsworthy. On the contrary: it prolonged my enjoyment of his work.
In the last few weeks, I started reading a newish translation by Robert Fagles of Homer’s The Odyssey. Fagles’ translation retains the original’s poetic format rather than turning the whole thing into a straight-up novel (as a previous Victorian translation I have did). It isn’t necessarily something to sit and read in one long gulp. It’s more appropriate to dip into and enjoy and then…
Well, let’s just say I’ve decided to pause. Because pausing your reading is okay! After a round of e-mails with my New York book club wherein they mentioned too many good books to not run out to the library immediately, I decided to take a break, check out something else, and then come back to The Odyssey. I’m actually enjoying the Odyssey too much to do otherwise — I want my time reading it to be prolonged and luxurious.
It feels wonderfully freeing to have realized that breaks in a book are okay! It may not work for everything, but for episodic stories, nonfiction, and hefty classics, I’m learning to love it.
So tell me, readers, do you take breaks in the middle of books?