As a reading junkie, I grew up finishing every book I picked up. I might leave chores or projects half-done, but when it came to books, I’d read every word. Even if I lost interest, I wouldn’t admit it. Guilt made me soldier on to “The End.”
Now, I have lots going on: family, travel, writing, household. I still read a lot, but sometimes I’ll start a book and realize it’s not for me. My inner sixth-grade bookworm whispers, “You have to read it to the end.”
But if I don’t enjoy a novel, why force myself to read the whole thing? Or what if I got a book for some purpose, like research, and it doesn’t have what I need?
I’m learning to give myself permission to drop a book I find uninteresting or unhelpful.
In 2009, I got a copy of Moby Dick because it was a favorite of one of my Lit profs. It started with interminable background information and descriptions, interrupted by 17 pages of scientific information about whales. In all, I read 37 chapters, during which almost nothing happened. Nine years later, I’ve never read another word of it.
Evidently I’m not in the literary elite. I’ll live.
More recently, I snagged a novel by an author someone recommended. A quarter of the way in, I acknowledged none of the characters interested me… and quit reading.
Guilt, schmilt. I felt free, baby!
Right now I’m preparing to work on a biography project that I’m pretty excited about, so I bought a couple of biographies to study as examples.
The author of one biography is a big fan of the subject, and “wrote himself into” the story. While a rather fun read, the book is more about the author’s treks to interview family members and former colleagues than it is about the subject himself. Because my project is historical in nature, it will need a sober, more objective approach. I dropped the book as an example after a few chapters.
Note, there’s nothing wrong with any of these books. With the biography, I even benefited from the parts I read. Seeing what won’t work for my project provided some good insight as to what will work.
As near as I can figure, leaving a book unfinished takes as much resolve as reading it through. But my life is full enough right now. Reading irrelevant books, or those I start and simply don’t like, would be a waste of time.
Your turn: If you’re a book lover, do you easily give up on a disappointing book? Or do you feel obligated to finish it? I welcome your comments in the “Leave a Reply” box below.
Thanks for reading,