Should books always be read all the way through?

Marching, page after page, directly towards the conclusion? Read in order, read all at once, read right through. Chapters numbered, follow the numbers, like a list, like an order, it was placed like this to be understood like this!

Why do we feel the need to read a book like this? I’m thinking about books that try to break out of this mold. They’re not too many of them around these days (or if they do they are so underground they’ve sprouted roots), but they exist. We’ve got the two primary ones- Finnigan’s Wake and Delany’s Dahlgren, either of which read better when you dip in and out of them at random points. Reading in order provokes more confusion that reading and letting go, then dipping back in, and reading and letting go.

The worst is reviews. I hear reviewers complain all the time about having to actually read this book from beginning to end, because it’s some kind of duty the good reviewer owes the book. Why is this? Why do we have to read all books, all the way through, all the time? Why are so obsessed with endings, with patterns, with starts, with following forms? It’s a dictatorship of plot, of shape, of function.

Of course there are Mosiac novels that can be read like this, but those aren’t quite the same thing, are they? They are several self-contained parts barely connected by a thin thread that sort of creates a narrative theme. But what about a book that isn’t like this? That is basically a series of connected scenes, floating in amber, that the reader can flip through, dip in, meditate on, return to later?

Why must the momentum of narrative propel us forward, constantly, constantly moving forward? The entropy of the past eating away, a rocketfuel fear pushing us out and quicker towards the ending. What’s so brilliant about endings? What do endings give us? Closure towards the pattern? What is the purpose of closure?

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One thought on “Should books always be read all the way through?

  1. Sounds like Quentin Tarantino should write a book. His movies confuse the heck out of me. I am stuck to order. I can be a little OCD about it. I will admit, there are times I skim through what my husband deems “fluff” because I don’t care, I just want the “meat” of the story. There is a book I need to get into again that is sort of like what you speak of – “House of Leaves” It breaks the norm.

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