Literary Cad

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It always starts off so well.

We spend every minute together, take MUNI every place together. The thought of another doesn't even enter my mind. But then doubts begin to creep in.

I start to wonder if this is really the one. Though it's exciting at the beginning, after a while, I'm not sure what I ever saw in it. Others look tempting. Then I do it again -- dump this one for another.

I'm talking, of course, about books.

After years of starting books, compelled to finish, like it or not, I've discovered something. They repealed that law it's mandatory to finish every book you start. It's OK to abandon recreational reading material.


My personal literary life is just that -- personal -- not some endless English class assignment, a lifetime list of required reading. College was a long time ago, and I'm in my middle-aged trashy novel phase. I'm reading what I feel like, and if a book's not working for me, once I've gone for a test read, I'm not staying. There are no paperback police holding a gun to my head until I reach the end, no matter how bored I've been the last hundred pages.

In a world of limited time and energy, we have to make choices, since no one can read everything. Life is just too short to read what you don't like. And I'm liking my newfound literary liberation. Sorry, James Joyce, about dumping Ulysses halfway through, but Jackie Collins and Stephen King are my new best friends.

My old best friends are appalled. They pick books guaranteed to improve their minds, and feel guilty if they don't stick it out to the bitter end. They find my casual reading around caddish and sleazy.

So call me a reader of easy virtue, a publication polygamist, a hardcover harlot.

And maybe I have commitment issues.

But nowadays with my reading, if it's over, breaking up ISN'T hard to do. Plenty of fish in the sea. Plenty of books in the library.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches at Robert Louis Stevenson School in San Francisco.