For me, as for (probably) many others, approaching the finish line of any book is enough motivation to shift into a determined sprint and put the whole race behind me as quickly as possible.
Most of the time.
Tristram Shandy, however, is sitting at the edge of my desk, staring up at me with the mournful eyes of a motherless marmoset. I have exactly twelve pages left. And I will be leaving them for tomorrow.
You could call my struggle with Mr. Shandy a marathon, but only if it’s the kind of marathon in which I jogged halfheartedly for a bit, fell behind a row of six cancer survivors wearing assless chaps and platinum wigs (making any form of concentration impossible), wandered off the track and sat down on the sidelines for a while, drinking wine and harassing passers-by, walked the other twenty miles, came in dead last, and still called it a victory.
With so little left to read, you’d think—I’d think—I’d just want to get it over with at this point. You’d think I’d be ready to bask in the vague satisfaction of, if not a job well done, then a job technically completed.
But the five to ten pages I’ve been forcing myself to read every day for the last, oh, eternity, have been painful enough. Each word is like a wilting fern to the imagination, and each chapter is like a paper cut to the eye. I don’t know if all those Amazon reviewers were conspiring to play a prank on me when they called Tristram Shandy “hilarious,” or if I just didn’t get the joke. I’ll probably never know, and just have to live with that.
This is the primary reason I found Personal Creations’s infographic on the time it takes to read popular books a little bit amusing and a little bit presumptuous. Sure, if we sit down to read The Great Gatsby and never get up again until he’s The Dead Gatsby, and we happen to read exactly 300 words per minute, it might take 2.62 hours. But for all of us with lives that interrupt that sort of undertaking, this estimate feels like a taunt.
I will not be mocked by your infographic with its cutesy book scale, Personal Creations. I will not let you convince me that Gone With the Wind can be read in less than a day. I will take six months to read Tristram Shandy if I must, sentence by inane sentence, and then spend another six months on Lolita if that book is terrible too. WATCH ME. I’ll do it, so I will.
Oh, and Tristram: I’m coming for you tomorrow. And I will end you, literally. I admire your tenacity, but you haven’t defeated me yet. Let’s do this now so I can go on vacation with Bridget Jones—a book that is actually hilarious.