Reading Pet Peeve #1: Long Chapters

One big pet peeve I have as a reader: I have a strong aversion to ending reading sessions mid-chapter. If I start a chapter, I want to be able to finish it. If I’m feeling pressed for time and doubt I’ll be able to read a whole chapter, I veer toward not beginning that chapter at all.

This strikes me as a little strident, but there we are.

Putting down a book mid-chapter leaves me feeling unsettled. I like a completed task. I like closure. A half-read chapter feels like putting leftovers in the fridge before covering them in saran wrap (ahem, you know who you are). They get crusty and stale and stinky, or else they stink up the rest of the fridge (tuna salad: enough said).

What I read - Brown Girl Dreaming
So far one of my favorite reads of 2016

This realization came to me while reading Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming. The book is divided into five sections, each filled with short poems, some only a page long. When I began reading Woodson’s memoir, I was having trouble settling into a book. I’d begun and put down so many that I began to worry I might never get through a book cover to cover ever again.

What worked so well for me: Reading Brown Girl Dreaming allowed me to read in very short increments – even as few as 10 minutes at a time – and still achieve the feeling of closure I crave. I could read one poem, or five or ten, and still feel immersed in a beautiful moment of connection, of clarity, of inspiration.

If I start a chapter, I want to be able to finish that chapter.Her language and images, clarity and insights are so exquisite that I found myself reading in longer and longer increments. I couldn’t wait to pick the book up again and didn’t want to put it down simply because I’d come to the end of a poem or section.

Reading Brown Girl Dreaming hasn’t resolved my craving for reading whole chapters at a stretch. But it did remind me of two qualities that keep me reading so I’m less likely to fret over chapter length and just sit myself down to read: eloquent, sensory language and a narrative that opens my heart and makes me think.

What keeps you reading?

6 Replies to “Reading Pet Peeve #1: Long Chapters”

  1. This really got me thinking. I also generally prefer short chapters, or at least ones of a reasonable length….and yet, I feel like ultimately it depends on the book. I prefer a chapter that ends well – either makes me want to go on reading, or just closes in a nice way, rather than it necessarily being short. I think what keeps me reading is rhythm, whether it’s the inherent rhythm of the author’s voice, or just a well-paced story.

    Weirdly enough, some of the books I consider the most beautiful or powerful have not been so easy to read, because I linger too long on different lines or paragraphs, enjoying them or untangling them – I often find it a lot easier to get through books I only moderately like, although that’s not ALWAYS the case.

    1. That is such a great point, Alysa. The books I can blow through in a day or two aren’t necessarily the most powerful, beautiful or rewarding. I love Dickens’s novels, but they’re definitely not quick or easy reads. On the other hand, I’ve some profound children’s books, for example the works of Kate DiCamillo. So as you say, it’s not always the case.

  2. I think we share a brain, Sally. I also love shorter chapters because I feel like I’m making SO MUCH PROGRESS. And when it’s hard to get my attention span in order, that helps so so much.

    1. Oooh, major compliment! Short chapter are the best for when I’m feeling scattered. I’m reading “Reading Lolita in Tehran” now (has been sitting on my e-reader for a long time), and she has loads of short chapters – loving it.

  3. I completely agree. I, too, will not start another chapter if I think it’s going to take a while longer. If the chapter is short, then I don’t feel as many qualms about starting it. Also, shorter chapters make me feel like I’m making progress and I feel I fly through the book, where as with longer chapters I feel like I’ve been reading for-ever.

    1. Thank you, Becca! I’m finding that short chapters actually keep me reading longer because I’ll think, “oh well, one more chapter won’t hurt…they’re so short.” Next thing I know, I’ve read 75 pages!

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