It’s January and time to set those reading goals for 2018. (What? You don’t do that?) How many books would you like to read this year? What would you like to learn, experience, revisit or discover? There are so many books and so little time! Which brings us round to the question — what might hold you back from reading widely all year long? Could it be some of your basic beliefs about reading, such as the need to always finish a book?
Is it ‘cheating’ not to finish every book you start?
We want to empower readers to explore widely. The library’s USP is this special no-risk proposition to trying something new: it costs you nothing but a bit of your time; if you don’t like it you can just stop reading and return it, and the book will still be there to borrow again another day, if you ever decide you want to have another go. Still, there are strong feelings out there on this whole business of Not Finishing the Book. We thought we’d meet here to talk it out. We’ve assembled a group of willing library staff to debate this topic.
We would love you all to join in with your thoughts and comments below so that we can keep this debate going…
Emily: Is it ‘cheating’ not to finish a book you start? In a few short words, for me, no! There are so many amazing books published each year that if the latest book you’ve picked up doesn’t grab you after a while, move on to the next one! The question for me is ‘how long do I give it before I give up?’ There have been a few that I have almost given up on recently but I stuck with them and actually, they turned out to be entertaining (The Girl in the Green Dress by Cath Staincliffe comes to mind) so I do try to give a book its fair chance – 50 or so pages – but if it’s not grabbing me by then, then, sorry, NEXT!
Carla: Agreed, Emily! I have found a blessed sense of FREEDOM since I let go of the need to finish every book I start. To be fair, I didn’t hang on to that need very long, but there was a phase of my reading life when I took great pride in being able to say I had finished reading any number of dull books. Okay, let’s change ‘dull’ to ‘worthy’. Yes, I often come out very well in those ‘How many of these books have you read?’ quizzes, but no one ever asks ‘How many of these books have you read and thoroughly enjoyed vs how many have you read and finished with a similar sense of relief that you might have when you stop hitting yourself in the head with a hammer?’ No, they don’t ask that!
Interesting question you’ve posed, how far do you read in order to feel you’ve given a book a fair chance? And a similar question, how far do you read in order to get to the ‘I’ve started so I might as well finish’ point? For me, I can and will abandon a book after a few pages. And I can and will abandon a book more than three-quarters through or even later! If I don’t care about a story, I don’t care about it. Reading more isn’t going to make me care. And if I’ve lost interest, I’ve lost interest, no biggie.
That said, I’ve finished books that didn’t exactly set my soul alight, but I kept on reading them even though I didn’t know why. So, yeah, I’ve read books I didn’t like and I finished them. There has to be some ineffable something that keeps me reading, beyond the dogged determination to do it, though.
Stephanie: I would have sworn that I was a staunch ‘read it until the bitter end’ type of girl but upon reflection I realise that the vast majority of my reading is done electronically and so I am constantly reading the first few chapters of a book before I decide whether to read the whole thing, which is essentially part reading books. However, in my defence, when I read a print book, I always finish it, even though I often wish I could just give up and move on, it’s more like a compulsion for me so if anyone is planning on starting a therapy group to liberate us from this wasted and unrewarding reading time, then I’m all in! I think this topic would lead on nicely to the other elephant in the room – reading the ending before you have read the book. Shocking, I know, but I have heard tell that this happens…
Whilst I have my own read it to the end compulsion, I would never advocate this philosophy to anyone else, I regularly tell my son that if a book is boring he should find another one as there’s no point in reading something that is not enjoyable…
Mark: I would certainly agree that it’s not cheating to not finish a book you start, however from a personal point of view I do have a few traits that may just be particular to me. I am more reluctant to dump a book if it’s part of a series that I’ve been reading or by an author whose earlier books I’ve really enjoyed. There are authors who as a teenager I thought were great and enjoyed ploughing my way through numerous trilogies but when they have after a number of years gone back to writing more books in the series which I’ve dutifully set down to read have left me cold and It’s times like this when I feel that I’m letting my younger self down. I have also in the past read certain books because they have been so well reviewed that I carried on to the bitter end (The Amber Spyglass being a prime example) in the belief that it will be worth the effort.
Another slight concern I have about not seeing a book through to the end is that when I was studying English at University there were a number of books that I would never have sought out or stuck with which ended up being worth the effort. A good example of a book I would have never chosen would be Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell – I ended up really enjoying it…
Angie: Actually, since working in a library it’s become harder for me to finish a book I’m actively not enjoying, simply because I’m surrounded by temptation at every turn! The analogy of being a kid in a sweet shop definitely applies to me! And I have zero qualms about reading the end. I started reading ‘Under the Dome’ by Stephen King, realised I didn’t care about any of the characters or what happened to them, but wanted to know what the ‘dome’ of the title was so I did the deed and read the final two chapters. The end was rubbish and I felt vindicated in my decision not to read it fully!
I used to be a bit like Mark, I was very loyal to my core authors when I was younger (Stephen King especially), but these days it tends to be a case of so many books, too little time.
Sometimes though, I give up on a book with the intention of coming back to it another time. Sometimes I can see it has potential, but that I don’t have the time (or the head space) to devote to it, and, in fact, I want to read an easier, less taxing book 🙂
Isn’t the end of a Stephen King novel always the worst bit? I used to be strict with myself and always finish books, because after 100 pages I’d consider myself pot-committed and go all-in even if what I had in my hand was dross. This was a much easier rule to stick to when I was at university and had no life but laying on pillows all day reading whatever. Then a friend recommended The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho (Warning SPOILERS ahead) so I read it and then had a re-think. If I’d stopped and given up after getting so far, I could have imagined a good ending instead of ‘the treasure was at home all along’ which I’d say ranks just below ‘it was all a dream’ in the hit parade of unsatisfying conclusions. I thought back and realised how much the book had irritated me but also how stubborn I had been in ploughing on, to my own detriment. I would never read a book, enjoy the first 100 pages and then think to myself, ‘This is really good, I’m enjoying this book immensely, better stop reading it in case it takes a turn for the worse.’ So why do the inverse and force yourself to complete something you hate?
To read or not to read? That is our question! What kind of a reader are you? Do you always read to the end or do you, like some of us just call time and move on to the next one? Let’s start a conversation and see what we can discover.