So, that nonfiction goal I had…

29 Feb
Guys, I am failing miserably in my New Year’s resolution to read more nonfiction. I swear, I’m trying! I just can’t find anything that fully catches my attention. Why was I cursed with the attention span of a toddler?!

I am here to confess: I didn’t finish Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden. I mentioned in a previous post that I was making my way through it and was enjoying myself, but my progress slowed to a snail’s pace. Nothing Daunted tells the story of two society misses from New York who, feeling stifled by the rigid roles they were supposed to adhere to, picked up to rural Colorado to teach homesteader children for a year. Sounds fun, right? Alas, I made it about 100 pages before setting it aside.

I just want to reiterate that 98.7% of the time, me not finishing a nonfiction book has nothing to do with the quality of the book, and such is the case here. It’s well-written and has a pretty interesting topic. I just can’t sustain attention. What is it I need? Being inside the character’s head, maybe? The emotional stimulus I get from fiction? I have no idea, but it is frustrating.

I really wanted to keep reading, but I started to do that thing where I’d see the book on my nightstand and I’d feel that little niggling reluctance. Then I’d start wishing I was reading something that had lasers or dragons or tortured love in it. Once that happens, I can’t keep track of dates, or the sociopolitical background of the early 1900s, or what I just read in the last paragraph.

I’m not giving up on this book though – I’m going to put it away and let it breathe for a bit, then come back to it when I’m in the right headspace. I still think there’s a lot I could learn from this book. Here’s to second chances down the road!

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7 Responses to “So, that nonfiction goal I had…”

  1. Rebecca February 29, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    You’re definitely not alone in this 100-or-so-page nonfiction phenomenon. There have been several nonfiction memoir-type books I’ve read that start out great and I can’t read them fast enough, and then about 100 pages in, they just bog down. As a writer, I think I’m less forgiving than you–the sagging middle is a common problem for new writers in fiction, and I think it’s a problem in nonfiction, too, but for some reason, more acceptable. I get frustrated at the writer and editor. If the writing could be engaging in the first 100 pages, then perhaps the next 100+ need another round of edits to get them up to snuff. Or maybe you don’t need those pages.

    Or maybe I’m not the intended audience, but I feel that’s less likely, if I enjoyed the first part.

    Anyway, reading is meant to be fun, and unless you’re doing research, it’s a form of entertainment. If the book has stopped entertaining, I don’t see a reason in pushing myself to finish. There’s plenty of other things in life that I have to force myself to do (cleaning the bathtub, anyone?).

  2. Amanda February 29, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    I agree, I’ve never been one to force myself to finish a book I’m not enjoying – life is too short and, like you said, too full of dirty bathtubs.

    I’m just puzzled by my inability to stay focused on nonfiction – all the ones I’ve successfully read or loved have been travel- or food-related. Are those subjects easier to read episodically, or do I just love those subjects more?

    • Rebecca February 29, 2012 at 9:56 am #

      I’d say it’s probably what interests you more.

  3. mydestiny2011 February 29, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    Reblogged this on MyDestiny2011 and commented:
    Thank you for this great post!

  4. Eva February 29, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    This is going to sound facetious, but have you tried going with v slim nonfiction? It might work better to keep your attention! Have you read Nick Hornby’s books about books? There are three of them, each a collection of columns he wrote for the New Believer, and they’re funny. 🙂 Ex Libris & Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction are two more short bookish options. If you want, I could brainstorm up a few more that are around the 150 page mark! Any topics you’re more interested in?

    P.S. I got Walking the Literary Labyrinth via ILL yesterday! Can’t wait to read it. 🙂

    • Amanda February 29, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

      Eva, you’re going to love Walking the Literary Labyrinth! At least, I think you are, judging from what I’ve gleaned from reading your blog the past couple years. 🙂

      I’ve never tried Nick Hornby, but he’s funny, right? That might jumpstart my interest. I read Ex Libris and loved it, and I do love the New Directions travelogues, which are pretty short. You’re right, I think I need to ease into this resolution a little bit by starting with slimmer works. That way, I’ll get that sense of accomplishment when I finish one, which will motivate me! Is it odd that I think Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction is too perfect for me, given that I have zero attention span right now?

      • Eva February 29, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

        Yep! He’s v funny. And each column is short, so the chapters are only arnd 3 pages long. 🙂

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