Friday, February 26, 2016

Slow and steady

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.

The wisdom of Confucius turns out to be the wisdom of most of us, at least those of us who slow down long enough to think about it. We live our lives one day at a time, even one moment at a time. Athletes speak of playing one game at a time, not thinking about the next opponent until they've dealt with the one at hand. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The slow and steady tortoise outraces the hare. When I get behind a slow driver in traffic I often remind myself that, slow or not, the other driver got there first.

We can apply this wisdom to just about anything, so allow me to apply it to the reading of books. Many people take pride in how quickly they can finish a book, although I've noticed that such people usually focus on thrillers or romances, the kinds of books written to be read quickly. With more challenging books, I'm not so sure a quick read is the best read. Some books reward you for slowing down, not speeding up. Instead of stopping to smell the roses, stop to reread certain sentences or paragraphs, not just to understand them better but to better appreciate the prose (or the poetry).

At present I have nine books in progress. These include a novel on CD I listen to when I am alone in my car, a novel in my car I take with me into waiting rooms and restaurants when I eat alone, a novel I read at breakfast and sometimes at lunch, plus two novels, a book of short stories and three nonfiction books on my reading table. I don't read from each book each day, but I try to open most of them and cover at least a few pages. At this pace it can be slow going, sometimes taking me weeks to finish a book, yet I actually complete quite a number of books over the course of a year. The trick is to keep at them.

Some books have literally taken me years to get through. One that comes to mind is That Dark and Bloody River by Allan W. Eckert. This is a good book, but a massive one and one that did not hold my interest for very long at a time. Yet I kept returning to it and, a few pages at a time, eventually finished it.

I have been reading The Annotated Baseball Stories of Ring Lardner, 1914-1919 for more than five years. In other words, it has taken me longer to read these stories than it took Lardner to write them, and I still have several stories to go. I left the book back in Ohio, but I expect to return to it when I get back there this spring. Maybe this will be the year I finish it, but probably not.

When Confucius said not to stop, I think he meant not to quit.

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