The Persuasion of Procrastination

Why do I always do this? Whenever I have a deadline to read a book I leave it until the last minute. This is where I am currently at with reading Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ for Classically Challenged and yet we are meant to be having the discussion on the novel on Sunday (well, when we will be having as I am determined to have finished it by then), oops. I shouldn’t be surprised though as reading to deadlines is something I always, just about, manage to do and yet I repeat this offense for book group reading, library books that someone else puts on hold and more. Why though, and is it actually detrimental to the book in question?

With book groups I think the main reason I leave it until last minute is the fact that I want the book fresh in my mind. I want to make sure that I don’t suddenly forget a characters name, a vital plot point, the prose style etc. In reality I actually probably forget at least one of these of feel that everyone else has understood the book so much better than I did in the first place I should simply stay schtum and not say anything too stupid or obvious. Interestingly I think that if I read them in advance my initial love/indifference/hatred for the book would have time to dissipate and settle and actually I might feel differently from the thoughts I had at the start. There would also be less pressure and less of me reading the final few pages as fast as I can as the bus turns down the street to the book group venue.

In the case of ‘Persuasion’ there might actually be a bit more to it than simply wanting to have read it in time to remember it. Realistically I like to have read a book, made notes along the way, started a review just after I finish it and then give it a week or so to settle, go back and edit what I wrote and then post my book thoughts/review. I think however with ‘Persuasion’ I have been putting it off, I genuinely believe subconsciously at first, because I think I am just a bit scared/intimidated/cynical about it.

When I first got the book, along with the other Classically Challenged titles, I was really excited. ‘Look at all these canon novels I am going to read’ was rather deliciously running through my head. Then I picked it up and was greeted by this…

“Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed. This was the page at which the favourite volume always opened:

“ELLIOT OF KELLYNCH HALL.

“Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester, by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, November 5, 1789; Mary, born November 20, 1791.”

Precisely such had the paragraph originally stood from the printer’s hands; but Sir Walter had improved it by adding, for the information of himself and his family, these words, after the date of Mary’s birth– “Married, December 16, 1810, Charles, son and heir of Charles Musgrove, Esq. of Uppercross, in the county of Somerset,” and by inserting most accurately the day of the month on which he had lost his wife.”

My initial thoughts were ‘oh dear, how boring is that’, followed by ‘ooh Jane Austen is as big a fan of the comma over the full stop as I am’, because it reads like an encyclopaedia entry and whilst I like to know random things the style is just a bit yawn-some. Sorry but it is true. And so, and I think this is because I actually want to like these authors and these books (I am not taking part in Classically Challenged so I can tear these authors apart laughing with delight that I knew I was right about them all along), I have put off reading it. When I went to Gran’s I ‘forgot’ to pack it, when I have had time to read I have somehow picked up something else, when I packed for Iceland alas Jane didn’t make it in my luggage. Now with days to go I am going to have to be very strict and simply sit and read it (though as you will have noticed I have now sat down and written this instead) and nothing else until it is done.

Before I go (more procrastination) though I wondered if you ever get nervous or intimidated when starting a book, and if so why do you and how do you deal with it. Austen lovers, and you recommended I start with this book, please tell me ‘Persuasion’ gets better? Oh and finally, do any of you find you leave reading a book you know you have to read by a certain date, until the last minute? Library books, challenges, book club books, whatever. Let me know.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “The Persuasion of Procrastination

  1. It definitely depends on the book; if it’s one I’m anxious to read, I’ll dive right in. If I think I might not like it, I tend to leave it to the last week before book club. Which, actually doesn’t make sense, I should read it first to get it over with! :-)

    In terms of “Persuasion,” I was somewhat surprised that was the majority pick. I love Austen, but I think starting with “P&P” and “Emma” would have been better selections. They’re funny and entertaining! “Persuasion” is a bit on the dramatic side.

  2. Jane Austen died while writing Persuasion, so while she had finished the novel she hadn’t had a chance to do the extensive editing and rewriting she did on her other novels. Because of this, Persuasion is the least polished and (I think) the least fun of all her novels. If you read the first chapter of sense and sensibility, it’s completely different in tone and ease of reading.

    After starting to reread it inspired by this blog, i have decided that Persuasion is defintely my least favourite Austen.

  3. I think Persuasion gets so much better but then I’m an existing Austen fan, not sure this was the best book to start reading from. My first Austen read was Emma which was so much fun.

  4. I really enjoyed Persuasion and was so glad that your challenge prompted me to read it. Reading this now that I’m older makes me realize how much I probably missed in P&P and S&S when I read them years ago. I followed the plot but not the social commentary. I think I need to go back and reread them. But I do agree that Persuasion is not where I would tell a non-Austen fan to start.

  5. Laura Caldwell

    I absolutely love Persuasion! The only other Austin I have read is P & P. It was ok. I have heard that Austin fans either love P & P or Persuasion. Since I had read it already, this time I listened to the free audio book from LibriVox. It was excellent! Wonderful reader. You might try listening to at least the beginning to get into the book.

  6. Shukriyya

    I love the title of this post, Simon!

    I hadn’t heard that people are only supposed to love either P&P or Persuasion, I’m fond of both! Sometimes it’s not that easy to get into a book, but I hope that you’ll enjoy the novel once you’ve read a few chapters.

    (I hope the italicizing works, I don’t see a preview option.)

  7. Dear me, I had forgotten how dreadful the opening of Persuasion is. It gets better Simon, especially once you move beyond Mr. Elliott. Really, truly!

  8. I have never read Austen myself although I have tried once or twice but quickly decided the writing style not to my liking. Loved all the BBC adaptations though. So good luck! In relation to your final question re deadlines for book group titles I like you tend to leave it to the last week to ensure it is fresh. However this often creates panic especially if it is a substantial tome and one I am particularly not enjoying. If this is the case to make it seem less daunting I do a little arithmetic and calculate how many pages left and then divide by the days remaining and then I know how many pages I need to read each day to be finished on time. I then allow a couple of days at the end for some ruminating. Sounds a bit like homework does’nt it? As much as I love being part of a two book groups I sometimes think I should take a year off and just read what I want to read :)

  9. sharkell

    It does get better Simon. I read it a couple of weeks ago, inspired by you and AJ, and was also put off by the first few pages. But, it’s worth pushing through. Your comment about putting things off was so timely given I was up late last night finishing a book for book club that is on tonight!! We all do it. I don’t like reading to a time limit either and feel like you need to be in the right place to read a particular book. I find I’m also reading books at the last minute. Best of luck!

  10. Ruthiella

    While I am firmly in the P&P camp, I do sympathize. I don’t think your dilemma related only to Jane Austen or Persuasion necessarily; for many readers, there are simply some books that are a bit harder to start than others. I think I tried Foucault’s Pendulum three times before I read it all the way through and I know I started The White Tiger twice. Both books ended up becoming favorites.

    I am a pathological procrastinator in most aspects of my life (seriously, I need help). But when it comes to book group reads, I am usually way, way early; weeks before it is actually due sometimes. However, if my job required me to read books, I would probably procrastinate and read them at the last minute.

  11. I’ve loved every Austen I’ve tried, but yes, I often find them difficult to get into at first! There’s sometimes a lot of “set up” before the story, and while I second the notion that another of her novels might have been a better first, I did enjoy Persuasion so would encourage you to try for just a few more chapters at least!

  12. I can definitely relate! Though I am a champion of procrastination, I am also what my husband calls “The Optimizer”, meaning I like to optimize all sorts of things to be perfectly right, perfectly timed, etc. So, like you, I want my book group reads to be fresh in my mind for the discussions, so I try to optimize exactly when to start the book so I will finish in time. But all sorts of things get in the way, of course! For once, I did finish this week’s book group book on time with no rushing, but only because it was just 124 pages long (The Buddha in the Attic). My other group is reading Middlemarch for mid-November, and I fear I will be rushing that one, since it is 800 pages and I haven’t even requested it from the library yet!

    And yes, writing a blog post is always good for some extra procrastination!

    Sue

    Book By Book

  13. Lily Pond

    My BLUF (bottom line upfront): With so many outstanding books to read, if a book “does not capture my rapture” I feel no guilt in shelving the book. One notable novel that I shelved was Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund. Hope everyone enjoys their reads.

  14. Kate G

    Persuasion is my first Austen and I had the same thoughts as you, Simon! The first page was a killer (actually, maybe more than the first page), but now that I have hung in there I am so glad I decided to join you and AJ…Luckily, I have read three of your choices, so I get a break on the reading part, but I can’t wait to hear what you both have to say about all the books! By the way, I am the biggest procrastinator when it comes to scheduling my reading! I think I
    I have enough time to read a book club selection and then I find everything (laundry, dinner, kids) ignored until I finish. Especially appalling as I am very annoyed when others show up to book club not having finished the book.

  15. I am always reading right up to the last minute before my book group starts. For October we were supposed to read Dickens’ Little Dorrit and I mistakenly thought it was for September thank goodness, which meant that I’d read it well ahead of time. :-) otherwise I would never have finished it.

    As for Austen, I’m probably alone in loving the beginning of Persuasion. Yes it’s a bit tedious but so is Sir Eliot and that’s the point. If you imagine this is the kind of father poor Anne has had to put up with! With Austen you have to give in to her style and not be too eager to be driven forward. She is often most languid when she is mocking her characters. The opening is a parody, poking fun at a pompous snobby man in a pompous snobby way. The tone changes when you get further in. I always read bits of Austen aloud, like a faintly deprecating voice over and I find this helps with the most verbose bits. Btw there is a great audio book of this from Naxos that really captures the narrators tone if you’re looking for a bit of light relief. :-) keep going!

  16. Oh, it gets so much better! As with many good books you need to fight through the set-up chapter to really get to the good stuff. I promise it will improve!

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