It’s perhaps a surprise to some people that there are readers who do feel guilty about not finishing a book. At Bite-Sized Books we have an answer – and a way of avoiding that guilt!
One of the reasons that I started Bite-Sized Books – our tag line is the antidote to unread books – is because most business books that I had read were really just far too long – padded and repetitive, presumably on the basis that a long book is better value. I’ve since applied that to our lifestyle, public affairs and children’s books – though not to our fiction – with the idea that an hour’s reading should be more than enough to get over the essence of an idea, approach, situation or an event, and if you can’t do it in that sort of time, then break down the focus into a smaller area.
It’s a good discipline and most of our authors have found it, paradoxically enough, quite liberating. It does take more time to write something pithy and focused and usually it’s all the better for that. Our readers, too, really do like the concept – and while people like me relish the idea of devoting my next two weeks’ reading to War and Peace (and I did that), it’s not something that most people can contemplate. For good reason.
I do know that compulsion to finish a book once I’ve started it – and it is exactly that, a compulsion. There’s still a nagging doubt in me that I’ve never finished Anna Karenina, nor Crime and Punishment. (What is it about Russian novelists?) But actually the only loser must be me – so it’s not harming anyone else. Getting me to believe that is perhaps more difficult than actually doing it – but you know what I mean.
While we actually, on average, read far more in the modern world than we have ever done before – because reading has become the key to social media (and hence people’s lives), to knowledge (we now have access to the written word on every subject you can think of at the touch of a button), and to current affairs. (I know that video is the dominant medium – but you think how many words a teen reads per day now and compare that with your normal contemporaries – that is non-bookworms.) It’s just that it isn’t novels and text books and encyclopedias and non fiction nowadays – it’s not really books. On this basis I did think that there would be more unread books today than in the past – as we have cultivated a shorter and shorter attention span – but I think that’s probably false. (If only because fewer are started.)
I have been criticised for Bite-Sized Books pandering to this instant knowledge, fast moving, non-contemplative world – and I understand the criticism. However I do believe that just because I consumed very long books out of choice – the idea of settling down and reading George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda seems like a real treat to me – that isn’t how the world is nowadays. I don’t think we should apply a qualitative value to that. But then perhaps I would say that.