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Books on Ventilators: My Irrational Fear of Letting a Good Story Pass On

Have you ever read a book you enjoyed so much, you delayed finishing it, even to an absurd extreme? I’m reading a book like that now, The Dragon’s Tooth, by one of my favorite living authors, N.D. Wilson. It’s not really a life-changing book (as his Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl is), but sometimes that’s better. It’s a really fun, true-hearted book. And that’s what I need right now. But do I need to end it?

My full reading attention is not on The Dragon’s Tooth right now. We recently had a lovely baby girl. Well, I suppose it was mostly my wife who had her. But I was there, cutting cords like a very minor celebrity at the grand opening of a new human. (I had other responsibilities as well.) I’ll spare you the litany of excuses as to why I haven’t finished this book. But, for now, the last fifty pages hang out there like an unresolved note. A little tense, but playfully inviting. Promising. I love that it’s out there, waiting to be read. I don’t feel a great need to rush in and end it. But this isn’t exactly novel for me.

I realize this is something I sometimes do. I am comfortable, at times, with not finishing some of my favorite books right away. I want the experience to extend, to freeze time in the grand, cooperative world of the author’s words and my imaginary visions. I find myself not wanting this union to end, forestalling the time when we once again break up into our various confederacies. Stay with me, Dear Story, just a little while longer.

I hate spoilers. I will employ the irritating “La-la-la! I can’t hear you!” method of disrupting a person’s blabbing revelations of a book they wish to discuss in more detail than is appropriate in mixed company. (Mixed between the Have-enjoyeds and As-of-yet-have-not-enjoyeds –groups that should only be mixed under careful, sterile, laboratory conditions.) But hey, if you’re like me, and you sometimes don’t finish what you started, then no worries.

Another Human Bean: “Have you read The Dragon’s Tooth by N.D. Wilson?”
Sam Smith: “Yeah, I love that book.”
Another Human Bean: “Don’t spoil the ending for me.”
Sam Smith: “Don’t worry.”

But really, there are very few books that fit into this category. The Dragon’s Tooth is excellent, but another part of my delay in finishing it is that the sequel is coming out soon. I’m shortening my inter-series wait every day I don’t finish the book.
But seriously.

There’s one book in my library which I have read twice, and recommended to probably fifty people. But there’s something I haven’t told those fifty people. A small qualifier to my statement that I’ve “read the book.”

I haven’t been able to read the last few pages. The book moved me, very deeply moved me. When I first read it, it got to me (masculine disguise language for you-know-what) multiple times. I felt like I couldn’t handle whatever she was going to say at the end. She had me in her heart, or I had her in mine, and she wasn’t even a scientifically “real” person. But she was and is real. Hannah Coulter is real.

Am I crazy? Maybe this reveals an unwillingness to accept reality and the different stages of life, like the aging of children, the death of grandparents. I’ll ‘fess up to that.

Maybe I’m a coward, unwilling to forgo the guidance of the author, saying, “Hold my hand a little longer, won’t you?”

Lewis said, “We read to know we’re not alone.” And we’re not, but we can feel like it when we read, “The End.” Then it’s back to our own story, which is shaped by the one we just finished. We are all we have ever read, and more. Not alone, but sometimes lonely.

I know the end is never really an end, but that we’re left to our own imagined ever-afters.

I need to grow up and finish reading Hannah Coulter. I need to go to her deathbed and hear her last words. Maybe, as with Jacob, there’s an arms-crossed blessing to be had. But I think I’ll remain convinced that finishing a wonderful book, or a fantastic series, is one of the happiest sad things we do.

Do you do this? Or, do you have any other reading quirks? I’ll read your comments to (hopefully) know I’m not alone.

(Image above: Joel Courtney –he of Super 8– in a still from The Dragon’s Tooth book trailer.)

(This was originally posted in The Rabbit Room.)

4 Comments

  1. YES, yes, yes. First, beautiful essay… thank you again for sharing.

    I am, right now, delaying to finish the second book of the Hunger Games series. Literally 60 pages from the end… I don’t know if it’s because I just needed a mental/emotional break from it, or if I just don’t want it to end!

    I also delayed finishing Hanna Coulter a few years ago, but eventually got up the nerve. It is a beautiful (and my favorite) book, and she’s maybe the only character I’ve ever read that really, truly changed me. She’s part of who I am…

    Again, love reading your work. Thank you, thank you!

  2. Someone I know always reads the end of the book first, to determine whether or not it’s worth reading. That would ruin it for me! Although it feels bittersweet when a great book ends, I’m too interested in the story to delay reading it. Isn’t the ending then somewhat of a anticlimax, since you’re no longer quite as fully absorbed by the story?

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