Completism

January 6, 2009 at 11:04 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 2 Comments

I’m working on an enormous book right now, I Know This Much is True, and for some reason I’m reading it really slowly.  For the last year, I’ve been able to finish most books in one night.  Reading a lengthy novel again made me think of the time commitment involved in reading a series.

Being a completist means you have a strong preference for reading all of something:  the full series, every book by a particular author, everything in a set or on a list.  You probably also find it difficult to give up on a book before finishing it. 

I would say I have completist tendencies but that I also have something of a short attention span.  I also like to hoard things.  So, if I’ve started a series and haven’t finished it, there’s an even chance that I either started to lose interest in it (Clan of the Cave Bear, Interview with the Vampire) or that I love it too much to finish it right away (12 years for Lord of the Rings).  As for lists, I like the idea of having read all of someone’s idea of The World’s Greatest Books, but I keep finding myself diverted by other things.  (Mainly nonfiction, which is sorely underrepresented).

Great minds think alike.  My man Rocket Scientist finished Patrick O’Brien’s books last year.  When he took the last one off the library shelf, he leaned his forehead against mine and sighed.  “I know, babe, I know,” I said.  (I tried to find him some Captain Jack fan fiction, with little luck, though I know it just isn’t the same anyway).  Sweetie Junior is the same way; I’m not entirely sure she’s ever read a stand-alone book.  This is part of the conflict with the Twilight series – in her mind, she must complete the series, and in our minds, she needs to wait at least another year before reading sex scenes.  Just a few months ago, she was perfectly happy reading about the little cats in the Warriors series…

In my mind, completism is a prison of sorts.  I have a friend at work, R., who has been working his way through the Modern Library 100 Best Novels for years.  He hasn’t enjoyed most of them, and he slogs through maybe 10 a year.  I keep asking why he doesn’t just read things he actually likes, but he feels he should read these books.  He’s semi-retired now, and I’m afraid James Joyce might be the end of him!

Completism does have the potential to be a powerful force for reading discipline.  Some books are more challenging than others, and while they’re definitely worth it, it takes chops.  I couldn’t get through The Magic Mountain at 16, but I loved it at 24.  Maybe reading a few dozen Nancy Drew books helped give me the focus to read War and Peace and Moby-Dick.  I grudgingly admit that the huge volumes in the Twilight series will probably help young girls move on to sink their teeth into more challenging works later on.

At least, I sure hope so.  The alternative would be to complete one thing and not initiate another.

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