The Rush of an Unread Book

I lean forward and turn off the hot water, holding the book up with my left hand so it doesn’t get submerged into the freshly filled bathtub. The novel I balance above the steaming water is three inches thick and  I haven’t read it before. It’s an unpeeled story waiting in my hands, a complete world that exists as soon as I open the cover and flip to the first chapter. I make sure both sides of the shower curtain are pulled as tight as possible and a sigh of satisfaction escapes as I lean back into my aquatic reading room. In the new quiet, I think I can hear my heartbeat, a few extra noisy palpitations because it knows what’s going on. These kind of situations, the new book kind, can do that do me.

I don’t have to start a new book in the bathtub, I just know I’ll eventually wet a few pages there. Yesterday a new world began in the car, coffee at my side, stolen moments before the rest of the family arrived.

Because this sort of reckless, everything-else-must-wait, type of behavior doesn’t really work during the daytime as a home-school mama of 4, most of my rushes happen at night.  Instead of sleeping.

Some people who love books just as much as I do, know how to pace themselves.  Slow-release gratification.  Not too long ago I read about a man who has more than once simply not read the end of story because he doesn’t want it to be over.  So he just stops a few pages shy of the end.

I could never do that.  I want the whole story and I want it fast. It’s that pitch downward from the top of the roller-coaster, the stomach-dropping, speeding into who knows what.  It’s the acceleration of the motorcycle from o to 70, not the steady if still speedy pace of 65 mph.

Of course this method really works best with 300 page (or more) books.  A book that has some meat on it means so that I don’t have to hold back, knowing it will just stop an hour later.  The rush comes from knowing that I can sustain this world and sit in the same room with these characters for 6 to 8 hours straight, without any regrets about the pace. (For the record, I still read the short books the same way.)

Of course it’s deflating to coast to the final stop, and inevitably, there is no more story.  But, in fact,  there is still more, there is the second time I read it. I am definitely a re-reader. There is a different pace for re-reading, but I digress.

Does this behavior with books worry me?

Twice in the last year I’ve heard about an experiment done many years ago with some kids. The marshmallow experiment.  A child is given one marshmallow and told if he can wait a certain amount of time without eating the marshmallow (that is sitting right in front of him), he’ll get two.  The theory is this test reveals a certain rating of intelligence based on whether the child can wait for the bigger reward of getting the two marshmallows.  When I heard about it again recently, the scientist had interviewed some of the children in the stages following their childhood and found that those who could wait for the second marshmallow, had all around been more successful with their life.

I think I would have passed the marshmallow test.  I don’t really like marshmallows.

But what if the marshmallows were replaced with books? If they had placed a new (to me) book on the table, well, let’s hope I would have waited patiently for the second book as well.  But most likely, what those scientists would have seen on their sneaky little video screens is a woman reading a book that would eventually get wet in a bathtub.

What does this anxiousness for book gratification say about my intelligence or potential for a successful life?

At least, when my story is over, they’ll say, “she read a lot of books”, which I think, speaks volumes.


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