On unfinished books

Camassia writes here about books she started but didn’t finish. I’m somewhat compulsive about finishing books–I actually feel guilty if I don’t. But I’ve come to the conclusion that this works to my detriment since you have to assume that there are way more good books in the world than I’ll ever get around to reading. So every minute spent plowing through something I’m just not enjoying is one less minute reading something I might really love. Maybe this is a hangover from school where you learn to force yourself to read things that you wouldn’t if left to your own devices. Is there a kind of “Eat your spinach” effect here? Do we read stuff we don’t like because we think it’s good for us? So, while there may be times when I’m retrospectively glad I finished a book that I didn’t like at the time, maybe I should give myself more “permission” to leave books unfinished.

I will add, though, that I do genuinely regret not finishing Crime and Punishment, not just because it’s a book that I feel like I “should” read, but because I imagine that I really would like it if I finished it. (The Brothers Karamazov is one of my all-time favorite books.) Maybe someday.

2 thoughts on “On unfinished books

  1. I’ve come to the same conclusion. I love reading when I allow my interests to dictate what I read next or give myself permission to put a book aside. It becomes a chore when I don’t. But I also try to challenge myself to maintain a balance. I don’t want to become any shallower than I already am.

  2. That does seem to be one of those great divides in reading habits. I remember back in the ’90s, after I’d been laid off my first office job, a friend asked me about some book I’d mentioned reading weeks before and I said I hadn’t finished it. He said, “What excuse do you have? You’re unemployed!” I was all, “Why do I need an excuse? I’m not in school!” I suppose that one cardinal feature of reading for pleasure, for me, is knowing I can bail out whenever I feel like it.

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