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In Praise of Half-Finished Books

One year, I made a ‘To Read’ list, composed of five novels-Mozart’s Women: His Family, Friends, His Music by Jane Glover; Hot and Bothered, Annie Downey; Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot, First Wife of T.S. Eliot by Carole Seymore-Jones; Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire and Howard’s End, E.M. Forster-to be finished within six months. Pretty ambitious, considering the proposed books are all within the 200-300 page range, one at nearly 700+ pages. Some would say, that doesn’t sound ambitious at all!

It is when there is a toddler running around the house.

Back when my girl was toddling around, I rarely had the time or the brain power to actually sit down and read a book all the way through. Not unless you counted Miss Spider’s Tea Party, The Cat in the Hat, and the entire Madeline series-all favorites in the household and all of which I can still fully recite by heart.

I made the list as a challenge to myself, knowing I would finish, at the very least, two of the books within the six month period. I surprised myself and finished two as well as delving half way into two others on the list.

Mozart’s Women was easy to read for a biography and fascinating, a hard combination to come by in that genre. Although, this one took me three or four months to read. I was determined to finish it.

In stark contrast, I finished Hot and Bothered during one feverish night, in a fit of restless insomnia.  Just about any woman who has kids can relate to the main character. It was the language/dialogue that caught my ear with particular story, as is the case most of the time.

Of the two I turned half-way into, one happened to be the longest and most difficult, yet intriguing, of the bunch: the Vivienne Eliot book. This is a heavy book to read, both in language and content: immense amounts of background information on both Vivienne and T.S. Eliot- and did I mention it’s nearly 700 + pages? It had been sitting on the shelf, on and off, for months, a bookmark moving ever so slowly through the book (settling at page 116, hardly cracking the surface, actually). It is still there, sitting on the shelf with the same bookmark. I’d like to pick it up again.

I began Howard’s End, fully intending to finish it, spurred on by the thought of how the movie compared to the book and the language of the story. Yet it remains on my shelf today, page 71 crisply dog-eared, half- finished, waiting to be picked up again.

The other, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, currently remains on the list, and the shelf, unread.

I’ve always been an avid reader and don’t want to lose that just because I had a child. My love of words is something that keeps me alive, makes me feel alive. Surely there is room in the heart and mind for all that keeps one alive?

My mother once told me she didn’t read any books for two years while my siblings and I were very young. I can understand this, but I just don’t know if I could do that. I need to have words: words to be read, words to be written, words to keep me sane. I’d rather have my nose in a hundred books, even if they remain half-read, than not read at all.


About Kris Underwood

Kris Underwood is the Social Media Manager at Hunger Mountain (Vermont College of Fine Arts). Poetry has appeared in several publications including MotherVerse, mamazine.com and Poetry Midwest. I read books & write about them on my blog sometimes.

Comments (3)

I feel the same about books. Before I had any kids, I would read at least one book every week. During my oldest's toddler years, the reading definitely slowed down, but never completely stopped. When he was a little older, I picked up right back to my regular reading habits. When I had a second child, in addition to an older child now involved in school and sports, my reading time took a hit again, but I always had to be reading something, even if it seemed to take forever. When my husband died suddenly from cancer a few years ago, it was the first time since I learned how to read that I actually stopped reading. I didn't read anything for months. I'd try to get back into it, but between working and being the sole parent for my kids, I was usually to exhausted for it and just didn't make the time. I recently made a concerted effort to bring books back into my life on a regular basis as part of my efforts to include "mom time" in my day. Instead of always feeling like I have to be doing something "productive" every minute of the day, I spend my time waiting in carpool lines at the kids's schools reading instead of paying bills or catching up on e-mail. I also turn off the TV earlier and read in bed to unwind before going to sleep at a much more reasonable hour. It's definitely helping me too feel more like myself and I can't imagine ever stopping again.
I haven't found this to be true, though I confess that being a "work outside of the home" mom has something to do with it. I get a fair amount of reading done on the train commuting to and from the office. At several points in the last year, I've had library books piled three deep on the counters and four or five in progress on my electronic reading device. Of course, some significant portion of that is young adult reading which goes quickly, but I've also been able to get through a lot of non-fiction. Other things go undone: dishes, laundry. The bathroom is not spotless and dust piles up on the nightstands, but the reading gets done. I've sacrificed other leisurely pursuits in the two years since my daughter was born - I watch far less television than I used to and I am lucky if I get out to see a movie three times a year (I used to go two or three times a month). But reading remains the same.
While I love the feel of a book in my hands, my ereader has allowed me to start reading again. It comes with me when I rock my little one to sleep, to be savored when we get to the too asleep to sing/rock but not awake enough to move stage, or on those nights where any time I move to leave the room she wakes. Slipped into my purse, I can sneak in a page or two here and there throughout the day
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