I recently finished reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. If you’re not familiar with IF, it is a vast tome. The book is nearly 1,000 pages long-not including the footnotes. And the footnotes are crucial to the story; you cannot avoid them if you want to understand the book. It’s an endeavor. In all honesty, the only reason that I decided to tackle it during the month of February was that I had been given the gift of empty (not free but empty) time, and I needed something to occupy that time. So, I read Infinite Jest.
It was an adventure. I spent every spare minute I could find reading the book. At some point in my venture through the book, a friend asked me what I thought, and I said that while I was enjoying it, I had no intention of ever reading it again. She reminded me of one of life’s great truths-being an adult means that you don’t have to finish a book just because you started it.
But that wasn’t it. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to finish the book. I was hypnotized by the writing, and I desperately wanted to find out how the story ends. However, I don’t think that I’ll be revisiting the book. DFW and I had our adventure. We had a nice long fling together. As flings go, it was solid. I grew from the experience. I’ll always remember it fondly. But it’s not a fling that I feel any need to revisit. The book is on the shelf. I can look at it. I can remember. But I don’t have to go back there.
That’s the thing about reading books as an adult. You get to choose what you read and what you don’t read. And you don’t have to reread books if you don’t want to. You can have an enjoyable fling with a book and leave it behind when your fling ends. If you love it and revisiting it is good for you, go for it. Revisit it often. I used to read a few pages of Marisa Dos Santos’s Love Walked In almost every night because I was having trouble falling asleep and the book helped me calm down and sleep. (Also, I loved reading about Teo Sandoval right before bed.) I have friends who reread The Lord of the Rings every year.
Your time is your own, and you get to choose how you use that resource. Yes, some things in life are mandatory, but others aren’t. As an adult, you get to choose what you read and when you read it-within reason of course. It’s absolutely true that you don’t have to finish a book. You don’t have to have a set timeline for reading a book. And you can read a book as many times as you want. If you want to read it once, that’s your choice. Likewise, it’s your choice if you want to read it twenty times. It’s all up to you.