On Progress Bars and Persistence


I recently bought a Kindle Paperwhite after years of saying I probably wouldn’t replace my Kindle until it broke. The old one still works just fine, but I found myself with a sizable gift card balance burning a hole in my digital pocket thanks to a bonus from work, so I gave in to gadget lust and upgraded.

So far I love it. It appears Amazon has fixed the previous generation’s issues with backlighting, and I have to say that the reading light is indispensable. The contrast is so much better, and the page turns feel more responsive. I thought I’d miss the hardware page-turn buttons, but I’ve gotten used to swiping and/or tapping in no time at all. My favorite feature, though, is displaying your progress as the estimated time left in the chapter or the entire book.

As I’ve mentioned several times before, I’ve been ever-so-slowly reading Anna Karenina since late last year. Most of that time I only read a chapter or two when I picked it up, and generally felt like I wasn’t making any progress because the overall percent read never changed, and the version I have doesn’t support page numbers. The “location” numbers are essentially meaningless, so it was always pretty easy to get disheartened after reading for what felt like a long time.

However, I’ve managed to make a huge amount of progress in the last few days, and I would definitely chalk it up to the estimated time remaining feature. I’ve got it set to display the estimated time left in the book, and for whatever reason just seeing a reassuringly small amount of time remaining – around five and a half hours as of this writing – is all I need to keep pushing through and making progress.

It doesn’t matter whether the number is entirely accurate; I’m sure the Paperwhite is still getting used to my reading speed, although it was pretty close when I read most of Fangirl in one marathon session. All that really matters is that I can see myself making progress in a measure that makes sense to me. I think that measure of tangible progress is one thing I miss the most when I read a digital book. There’s nothing quite like holding the weight of a thousand pages in your left hand as you finally wrap up the tail end of a book in your right. For whatever reason, measuring my progress in time comes closer to that sensation than measuring progress with a percentage.

When is it time to give up on finishing a book?

pages fluttering

People who read for fun (or read at all) each have their own individual way of dealing with a book they can’t quite manage to finish. Some folks stubbornly insist on finishing every book they start, even if it’s a grueling death march towards an unsatisfying end. It’s possible I am biased against this methodology, because I tend to give up on books after a chapter or two if I’m not getting into them.

The problem is that there are occasionally books that I really want to finish for some reason, but I never want to have to force myself to read something. I feel like that’s against my personal reading for fun beliefs system, a religion I founded and observe by regularly updating my progress on Goodreads.

So, a quandary: what happens when I come across a book that I’d really like to finish, that I might even enjoy in short bursts, but that I just don’t find myself picking up to read? What if I manage to read a huge chunk of the book – more than the maximum fifty pages I give most books – but it’s still not clicking for me?

I try not to drop books when I’ve made it too far into them, but it has happened before. I made it 100 pages into Dan Wells’ Partials and just could not bring myself to care about what was happening. I’m pretty sure I read a good chunk of Cinder by Marissa Meyer before I gave it up as a lost cause.

The only books I’m more likely to force myself to finish are review copies, because someone was nice enough to give me a free book and I should repay the favor. Even still, if a review copy isn’t a quick read and I already know I don’t like it after a chapter or two, it’s probably best that I go ahead and skip writing about how much I hated it.

I’ve been known to put down books and try again later when I’m in the right mood. This happened three times with White Noise, which I eventually finished out of sheer stubbornness. Sometimes I’ll stop reading a book in print and try again later as an audiobook. This worked with Heist Society, which didn’t grab me when I first tried to read it but came alive thanks to an excellent narrator.

Right now, though, the book I’m thinking about most is Anna Karenina. I started reading that sucker in December of 2012, and somehow it’s nine months later and I’m only halfway through. I feel like I’ve invested way too much time in the book to give up on finishing it, but it’s also just taking so damn long to read! I keep imagining I’ll sit down for a marathon reading session and make some good progress, but every time I try, I make maybe 1% of progress and wander off to do something else. I’d like to finish the book before I die of old age, if possible.

Will I ever finish Anna Karenina? I think at this point I may have to throw myself a little party if I make it to the last page.

What I’m Reading Right Now

ReadingMy life has been in a bit of upheaval recently, and it’s definitely impacted my reading habits. First off, I moved from Austin to Los Angeles at the end of June. The months leading up to the move were pretty stressful as I obsessed over every little detail and generally drove myself crazy. I did fit in some reading during that time, but it mostly consisted of listening to audiobooks.

Now that I’m more settled here in LA, it feels like I haven’t been reading as much as I used to. The nature of my work has changed such that I don’t end up listening to as many audiobooks while I’m working. I haven’t been going for walks like I used to in my neighborhood back in Austin (but I was already bad about that before I moved), and when it comes to the printed word, I’ve been working on several books for a pretty long time.

Anna Karenina is the worst offender by far. I started that in December of 2012 and only pick it up to read about once a month. I’m maybe 400 pages into that 1000+ page tome, and I’d still like to finish it if I can. I don’t normally read that far into a book without finishing it. I’m also still “reading” a short story collection that I started in March and last read in April.

More recently, I started Neil Gaiman’s newest book, which is short and should be a quick read, but I just haven’t been making time to pick it up. Of course, I read an entire book by Lisa Lutz in the middle of reading the Gaiman, so maybe it’s just me.

There is also the fact that I’ve been reading a lot of screenplays recently. Reading so many scripts has been taking up a lot of my free time when I’m not devoting it to playing video games, but reading scripts just doesn’t feel the same as reading a good book.

Either way, I’ll be done with the scripts soon and I think I’ll be able to devote more time to reading for fun. As for my huge audiobook collection, if listening to them is the only thing that will get me outside for a walk, then maybe that’s for the best. I just need to find a good part of my new neighborhood to take a walk.