Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Do you finish all the books you start?
I've heard excellent cases for both sides of this one. To be honest, I was conditioned not to read every word during my time at Uni when I was studying English, and we were given way more books in the syllabus than we could possibly read. It seemed impossible to cram in one per week, when we were talking about novels the size of Little Dorrit, Bleak House or Middlemarch. The staff surely knew we'd focus on our essay topics and skim through the rest, but was it a good habit they were molding us into? Here are some pros and cons for both sides.
I Finish Every Book
These are the people who grit their teeth and plow through no matter what. They believe being faithful in small commitments proves them more likely to be faithful in larger ones. Quitting in small matters, such as reading a book, makes them more likely to be quitters in life.
One lady wrote that she can't count the numbers of times she was bored at the beginning of a novel and wowed by the end. Sticking to a book, in her opinion, is its own reward. She reminded me of times I've loaned books to people who I'm sure would have enjoyed the story if they'd only persevered.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, "I've only abandoned three books that I can remember, preferring to soldier on through unmemorable chapters than to let an unfinished plot clutter my thoughts." He'd probably be aghast by this superficial skimming era we find ourselves in, and perhaps he'd have a point. What can be more shallow than making snap judgments about any given book based on first impressions?
I Don't Bother Finishing Every Book
These people may be aware of statistics. Google says there are nearly 130 million books in circulation in the world, and 4500 are published in the USA alone, daily. A person who commits to completing 50 books in a Goodreads challenge each year, would have to read for a century to tap into 0.00004% of them.
As the years are short and fly by so fast, and there are many books we'd enjoy far more just waiting to be discovered, what is the point of slogging on with a book which isn't engaging us? It simply wastes the precious time we could be spending on those which could be a far better fit.
My Point of View
I probably side more with the non-finishers. I believe in giving books a fair, fifty page trial, but by then, you've probably developed a fair idea of whether you should keep going. I've stuck to books I've been forced to study. In more recent years, I also try to stick to books I've committed to review for blogging programmes such as Net Galley. This has been enough to show me that the first third of any given book is usually enough to help form an accurate, overall impression.
If it's a novel, and the characters are flat and the plot creeps along like a tortoise, it probably won't get much better. I've read a lot of books in my lifetime, and generally find that if I'm going to like them, I'll be engaged from the start ninety percent of the time.
Many of us used to complain about having to read books we hate at school, just so we can churn out boring essays about them. Some of these school novels left us with bad after-tastes about perfectly good authors for years. Well, the good news is that in most cases, nobody is forcing us stick with unenjoyable books any more. I'd encourage more people to appreciate and use the freedom of no longer being in school.
If you need somebody to give you permission to quit a book you're finding tedious, maybe I can be that person. Although the books may feel like people, they are only books. It's not as hard as breaking up with somebody you're dating. If it's not making you look forward to your next spare moment when you can pick it up, then drop it. If you don't daydream about it and want to rave about it and shout about it from the rooftops, it probably doesn't matter if you don't finish it. I don't agree with Tolkien about letting unfinished plots clutter my thoughts. If I'm finding them hard going, I'm more than happy to let them disappear from my thoughts completely.
So take it back to the library, donate it to a Goodwill shop, delete it from your kindle and get on with something good.