It took several years, but I just finished reading Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the End of Revolution and I’m quite proud of myself.
Since I started reading the book – which was excellent, by the way, and which highlighted how Putin is no one for American leaders to emulate – I have changed jobs twice, moved three times, bought a house, got engaged and got married.
Oh, and we had a global pandemic. And Putin invaded Ukraine.
If the book had been 100 pages longer I might have been able to add fatherhood into the list. Another 200 pages might have seen me through retirement. Anything more than that and I might have had to finish from beyond the grave.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was an inadvertent violation of one of my primary reading goals: To think about something other than current affairs. Rude.
How long it took to read this book says more about my reading habits than it does about the book. I play the field, reading many books at a time. I’m also a binge reader, so I read obsessively for a while and then I get caught up on Netflix.
The Putin book, written by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, is not the longest I’ve ever finished – that distinction is held by Baker’s Days of Fire and then probably Bonfire of the Vanities and East of Eden. Though due to an inconvenient dust allergy, I read on an iPad, which really makes book length relative.
Usually, I finish books much quicker or I give up. So many times I wanted to quit, but I persevered, unlike when I attempted Infinite Jest (too slow, too dense), The Corrections (tiny print, too slow) and Master of the Senate (let a friend borrow it mid-read, but also too long).
When I say too long, I mean too long to get going. That’s why I’ve never read Moby Dick, which I’m told is a several-hundred page intro to a short story about a whale.
With Infinite Jest, I gave up after 100 pages. Many people assured me it was worth it after a few hundred pages, but my theory is that if it takes a few hundred pages to get going, it’s probably a few hundred pages too long.
My other much more pressing reason to read is because my brother and I are trying to read 1,000 books over our lifetimes and we’re in a fierce competition to see who gets there first. I was ahead of him by about 50 books when I started the Putin book. But I slacked off and he passed me by about 200! And he reads a lot of easy books about vampires or ghouls or whatever so he goes through them pretty quickly.
So I’m motivated to win and I’ve finished around 30 books in the past month. Many were simply completions of stalled efforts, like the Putin book and other gems like High Fidelity, Meditations, On the Wealth of Nations, Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America and Autumnal Tints, but many were new – As I Lay Dying, Down and Out in Paris and London and Hamlet.
As part of my open arrangement, I mingle with spiritual books as well, a group that has recently included: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, Not a Fan, The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy and Judges For You.
And I should mention I’m on a daily commitment to read the Bible over the course of a year. So that’ll be one more title by year end. Who says I can’t worship my savior and defeat my brother at the time?
And size does not matter here. My definition is anything over 20 pages and has a start and an end – except for Mount Analogue, which was published even though the author died before completion.
For my purposes, The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law or The Little Prince all count the same.
I don’t let politics get in the way. I enjoyed Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind Of Girl and Alexandra Petri’s Nothing Is Wrong And Here Is Why as much as I loved Matt Labash’s Fly Fishing With Darth Vader and PJ O’Rourke’s Parliament of Whores.
And I boldly read banned books, like Beloved, Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird – at the rate society is going, the only books that won’t be banned are Eat, Pray, Love and my Jeep’s owner’s manual.
I’m not too good for airport impulse buys like Angels & Demons and Deception Point, but hit the hard stuff as well, like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism.
I’ll even read bios and autobios from time to time, from Common to Claire McCaskill, to Tina Fey, to John Adams, to William F. Buckley, Dick Gregory, Ronald Reagan, Bill Russell, Tiffany Haddish and Amy Poehler. Okay, I basically read about politicians, comedians and entertainers. But it’s a lot of them.
As a kid I couldn’t put down Stephen King and Clive Barker books, often disobeying my mom by reading by nightlight past bedtime. As an adult, books remain my escape — and it works.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I get lost in a good book and temporarily forget about all of the things dividing our society. Books never lose their magic.
Follow Matt Fleming on Twitter @FlemingWords