The other day I happened to stumble upon an article in The Atlantic in which the author maintains that if you start a book, you must, by all means, finish it. She goes on to chide those (like myself) who are so uninspired after 50 pages that we give up on reading the book altogether:
To drop a novel after a few chapters is, then, to disregard what makes it a formal work of art rather than a heap of papers that reside in a desk drawer. Today, books and authors need all the help they can get; if you care about literature as an artistic endeavor and the people who create it, then you should do so fully. If you consider yourself a literary person, you shouldn’t just embrace the intellectual cachet that starting books gives you.
I completely disagree with this. If you are reading for pleasure (reading that is completely outside of a class assignment, and I’ll assume that you are) then the reading experience should be, in some way, pleasurable to you. If you aren’t having fun, you shouldn’t be reading it.
When I was younger I used to follow this policy, finishing every single book I picked up whether I wanted to or not. Then I stopped my nightly ritual of pleasure reading for over a year, because it just became another tedious chore. After slogging my way through many an unimpressive chick lit novel, I began to ask myself: why am I doing this? To prove something to myself? There is nothing I have to prove to myself as a reader, I do this activity simply because I want to. If the reading experience isn’t entertaining for you, as in, inspiring your life, or doesn’t prompt you to put your pencil to paper in any kind of thoughtful response–then why waste your time on books you don’t like? Books are like people, and life is far too short for crap.
There are plenty of reasons I’ve abandoned my intentions of finishing a book. Bad writing is one. Uninspiring character narration (think: Ferris Bueller’s history teacher), slow plot development is another. No plot at all, or gaping plot holes. Plot twists that lack any credibility and refuse to allow me to suspend disbelief. Too much going on in the plot, or a plot with too many “blank” spaces. If I have to read a paragraph three and four times to “get” it, reading it will get old really quick. Sometimes I can’t finish a book because the character’s behavior is so objectionable that I simply do not care to muck my brain up to read it any further. Sapphire’s novel The Kid comes to mind here, if anyone cares to read 300+ pages of graphic descriptions of rape scenes and the thoughts of an adolescent sex offender, please be my guest…
We all know some books start off slow, then pick up steam later in the reading. While this may be true, if the “steam” doesn’t begin in the first 50-75 pages, I reserve the right to put it down. I’ve left many books unfinished in my lifetime and before I leave this earth I’m sure I will leave many more in this fashion. It’s fine. I owe no one any apologies for my act and you don’t owe anyone (or yourself) any apologies, either.
One thought on “Ode to Unfinished Books”
I agree! Reading should be a joyful experience. And reading fifty pages of a book to determine whether or not you want to complete the journey seems more than fair.