The accomplishment of finishing a book is something to be savored. Finally turning the last page of a thousand-page novel somehow seems like a much greater feat than adding another book to the shelf. But what happens now?
What happens to the people, the places, the problems we were so intrinsically bound to for however many pages? Do they disappear? Do we secretly harbor them in our imaginations, sustaining them for as long as they continue to entertain us? Or do we let them dwindle with the cracking of the next book cover? And does this make us fickle readers?
Admittedly, it is sometimes easier for me to jump right into the next novel or short story without taking that contemplative moment after finishing my current literary endeavor. Not everything I read enthralls me to the point of not being able to move on from it. The residual feelings are just not that sticky. This doesn’t necessarily make me a fickle reader, per se, but it does suggest a certain complacence about the characters I’ve just spent three hundred or so pages trying to get to know. Isn’t there something realistic about that interaction?
Then there are those books that leave me bored and dissatisfied with all that come after them. The places become real to me; the characters are people I’ve known all my life. These are the ones with the ability to hold my imagination hostage. It becomes impossible to extricate myself from the literary reality I crave and the literal reality I live. After completing books of this caliber, I acknowledge a sense of guilt at moving on too quickly. There is a certain period of reverence that generally follows a completion like this.
Does moving on make me fickle? Of course not. It has to be done if I’m ever to make progress. But there is something discomforting, something unsettling about the attempt to move forward too quickly. Dare I suggest that it might be something akin to committing literary infidelity?
A good book should be allowed to incubate until its full meaning comes to you. A good book deserves a certain amount of respect for its accomplishment in its reader, whatever accomplishment that may be. It deserves the chance to completely evolve in our minds so that when we finally say “The End,” we can mean it.