Saturday, March 12, 2011

Paula discusses her favorite quote, from a book, about books

“A half-read book is a half-finished love affair” –David Mitchell

The first time I read this quote, I stopped in my tracks, went back to the top of the paragraph and read it again. This quote is the epitome of how I feel about books. I cannot not finish a book. I love this quote so much that I now have it hanging above my bookshelf. It fills me with happiness every time I glance at it.

I have always been the kind of person who can only read one book at a time, so I can’t really understand how some people can be half-way through three different books at one time. If we continue Mitchell’s love affair metaphor, I feel like if I am half-way through two different books, I am cheating on them! How dare I lead on one book while I’m involved with another? I must fully devote my time and attention to one story line at a time if I am truly treating my love affair with a book right.

For the most part in my reading experiences, this quote is a non-issue. It makes sense that if you start a book, you will finish it. But there are some books I really want to cheat on. There are some books that are just awful and they drag on. But alas, I am cursed with the inability to put a book down. My mindset is along the lines of, “if it got published, someone must have found something good about it, maybe I will too” I am always hoping that it will get better. Maybe the last hundred pages will redeem it and make it worth my time. I cannot put a book down because it feels unfair to the book. And maybe, no matter how god-awful the book is, I want to know what happens in the end. Sometimes this trait has served me well and the book treats me well. Other times (majority of the time) I am disappointed that I slogged my way through it. But no matter what I am incapable of changing my ways.

I am not sure why I read this way. I would certainly save a lot of time if I could stop a book in the middle. But I agree 100% with David Mitchell. A half-read book is a sad thing indeed. It’s a love affair that has not had the opportunity to be something wonderful, or as love affairs sometimes go, something awful. So until someone convinces me otherwise, I will continue to stick it out until the end. Thank you David Mitchell for so perfectly capturing my feelings about reading into one sentence.

How about you guys? Do you have the inability to put down books? Or are you OK with putting down a book if you aren't feeling it? How far do you get in a book before you put it down? Do you read multiple books at once? Also, do you have a quote, like this one, that shares your general feelings about books?


  1. I'm the same way. I vividly remember reading The Hobbit in 7th grade because it was a classic and I was determined to read them. I hated it and wanted to stop but I made myself finish it because I couldn't imagine leaving a book unread. I know that if I read The Hobbit again now at 23 I would enjoy it much more, but I'm so busy trying to not let my YA to-read list get overwhelming.

    But yes, I am a one book at a time reader. But as soon as I finish one, I have another ready, usually quite literally: I almost always have my next book sitting next to me when I get near the end of one book so I can just jump right in and not waste any time. When I was in elementary and junior high I would read multiple books at a time and instead of using a bookmark, I always just turned them over open to the page I was reading. My mom was always after me to stop leaving tented books all over the house! I couldn't read more than one at a time now, though.

  2. I love your post! I'm with you: I always read one book at a time, I can't focus on it otherwise and feel guilty like you :)
    As for putting a book down: I coudln't do it until recently. And I have to really dislike it to put it down. If I just don't care for it, I'll probably finish it as well, because I'm hoping it'll get better. Most of the time it doesn't. I also can't help but want to know how it ends. Even if I hate it. So now, I just skip ahead to the ending before putting it down ;)
    A quote that describes my feelings about books:
    "Every book has a soul, the soul of the person who wrote it and the soul of those who read it and dream about it."
    — Carlos Ruiz Zaf√≥n (The Angel's Game)

  3. I don't think I've ever purpously stopped reading a book: I have to let the...allure of it die, over time. I started one book in late November last year and found it dreary and dispiriting, and couldn't manage to read more than 5 or so pages a day. Then I skipped a day, and then I did it again...I'd return the book to the library, renew it, let the days slip by, say I was serious about returning to it, and so on. I just finished it last week. :)

    For me, a book is like a challenge, and I can't fathom climbing halfway up and stopping. I'm fine with FALLING, or sliding down, but I can't just stop and then retreat.

  4. I feel guilty now, because I am the sort of person who will read three books at the same time. It's just, when a new book arrves, and I'm in the middle of one that I'm having to pull and persuade myself and wade throuugh, I'm so excited by the new book that I just can't resist not startng it. I get far too eager about new books to leave them lying, unopened.
    I do, on occansion, not necessarily abandon a book, but just not open it for so long that when I go to read it I can't remember where I was anymore. When that happens it ends up on my 'to read' shelf, which has several books that I am half way through on. Just looking at that shelf makes me feel guilty and I tell myself that I WILL finish them all.
    The guilt goes through when I bury my nose in a lovely new book.

  5. The one time I stopped reading a book I felt sick after. I, like you, cannot let even a horrible book go.

    But I do read multiple books at once. Usually a fast fiction and a slow non-fiction. Just so I can switch it up when one bores me. That doesn't mean I don't love them both, I just need to multi-task with everything.

  6. I usually read several books at a time, because I like to have different plots to suit my mood. Often I read one fiction and one non-fiction book simultaneously, or one paperback and one hardcover (because I hate having a hardcover in my purse - too heavy!)

    It doesn't feel like cheating; it just helps me not get bored with a book if I'm having a hard time getting through it. It is still very difficult for me to give up on a book, but I do it occasionally.

    Daisy already posted my other favorite quote about books, so I'll leave this one: "If you truly love a book, you should sleep with it, write in it, read aloud from it, and fill its pages with muffin crumbs." --Anne Fadiman

  7. I do read multiple books at once. Frequently if I'm reading a long classic, I have to break it up with something shorter so I feel like I'm actually making progress. Usually it will be something very different, like a nonfiction book of essays. Also, I belong to several book groups, and if I need to finish something for a discussion I usually have to put one book down to finish another. Right now I've got four different books going and it's making me a little jumpy, I need to buckle down and finish one or the other.

  8. That is such a great quote! And I'm the same way, I feel like I'm cheating on my books if I'm reading more than one at a time! That, and I start getting confused on which characters are in which book ... nothing like picking up a book and wondering when a certain character will reappear, only to realize that you picked up the wrong book.

    Have a great weekend!

  9. It's all different. I usually do read multiple books at once. One before bed, one at work, one on the treadmill...but lately I've been trying to stick with one at a time.

    I've only abandoned a few books that I haven't liked, I usually stick them out to the end.

  10. Now that I have a child I will sadly put down a book if after a 100 or so pages I am not feeling time does get in the way sometimes, although in principle I totally agree with finishing all books ;)

  11. I will abandon a book if I really can't face finishing it, but most of the time I persevere, and sometimes I'm in luck and the book actually does get better!

    Yes, I do find it hard to put a book aside, but hey, I have so many other books to read, why spend my time with one that doesn't interest me at all?

  12. Awesome post. My feeling is if the author hasn't grabbed me by 100 pages at the outside, especially in the setting of a novel where I want to be invested in characters or stories by then, I have to put it down; there are too many good books out there. I give classics and nonfiction a lot more leeway. One remedy I use, though, is to read 5 or 6 books at once...I think I get through a lot more that way, and only occasionally feel the need to quit one.

  13. I finish most books that I start and I absolutely finish every book I review. But....sometimes a will not finish a book if it just doesn't agree with me. I also don't finish if they turn out to be too "mature" for me.

  14. I love your blog post! And totally agree with you on not being able to read more than one book at a time - it does fell like I'm cheating on one book at the same time as another - especially if I'm totally loving of them and totally hating the other - I'd rather end the 'relationship' with the one I'm not so crash-hot on ( usually suddenly and abruptly by simply putting it down and not bothering to pick it back up again), before choosing another book. I struggled with the idea of leaving books unfinished for most of my life, but then I think of all that wasted time I could be reading and discovering something I love, so I don't feel so bad about it anymore. Usually, I get a feel for the book within the first chapter or so - if I don't 'get' what it's about or what it's trying to say, then I stop reading it! My favourite quotes are these ones - Oscar Wilde: "The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame' -Oscar Wilde, and 'There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them' -Ray Bradbury. Thank you for your lovely post! :)

  15. I used to think the way you did, but it was amazing when I finally listened to Nancy Pearl - there are far too many books in this world for me to keep reading a bad one for any more time than I have to. Sometimes I push through and read it all, and rarely am I redeemed. Every once in a while the ending makes it all worth it, like Tomcat in Love by Tim O'Brien. I slogged through that book, but I just finished and I'm glad I did. I also read many books at once, because I like a little variety in my life. And sometimes you just sick of one and need to read another one. I chalk this up to being a literature major in college. Suddenly, you're reading three or four books for school and a book for fun, so it doesn't seem like "cheating" after that. But before college, I sort of felt that way. Now that I'm not reading as much for school, I've kept up the habit of having a bunch of books going. It is nice, but sometimes I like to just focus on one and put all the others to the side until I finish the one I'm focusing on.

  16. I think it really depends on the book. There's a mental rule that I try to follow when it comes to books. I read through either the first three chapters or the first 50 pages, depending on how the story goes. There are too many amazing books in the world, and I know that not everyone will like all of them. Why should I finish a book that I'm not enjoying? So I try to give all the books equal chance for my fascination to kick in. It would be nice to finish every book that I pick up, but then I might be stalling too long with an uninteresting book when I could be moving on to a fascinating title instead. :) It always depends on the book for me.

  17. I must admit that I am the type of person who can put a book down and, sometimes, not pick it up for quite a while. Some books I finish in a day, others, it may take me a few months. Right now I have started at least 3 books. Usually I do this because they are different types of books and it depends on my mood what I feel like reading. Sometimes though, the reason I put a book down and continue another is I don't like where the plot is heading and I want to put it off or it is taking too long.

    A favorite quote of mine that is at the bottom of my blog is: “The first time I read an excellent work, it is to me just as if I gained a new friend; and when I read over a book I have perused before, it resembles the meeting of an old one.” ~ Sir James Goldsmith

  18. Thanks for all the replies! It's so interesting to see how varied our reading styles are! I've heard of people giving a book about 100 pages before. That's a tempting idea for the next abysmal book I pick up. Maybe I'll read 100 pages and then read the ending in order to satisfy my curiosity!

    And I love all of the book quotes that are being shared. I have a few new ones that I adore :)

  19. My friend Lisa was dying of cancer when she told me that life is too short to read books you aren't enjoying. I was always the type of person to push through to the end, even if the book was miserable (complaining the whole way, of course). I remember actually flinging a book across the room once when I finally got to the ending and it hadn't redeemed itself! My husband asked me why I didn't stop earlier if I didn't like the book. I felt I had to keep going. Now that Lisa's gone, I no longer feel that way.

    If the book isn't lighting me up, I am on to the next one!


  20. I have a very hard time not finishing a book. I did eventually create a category on Goodreads to cover the books that I started but could not finish, or started and am in denial but probably will not finish. The book has to be pretty damn abysmal, but life is too short to force myself through something crappy.

  21. I used to feel like I always had to finish a book too, no matter how much I disliked it or how slow it was. But a couple of years ago, I became more comfortable stopping in the middle of a book. I felt my reading time was so limited, and I didn't want to waste it reading books I hated.

    I actually have my own quote that I go by (-:

    "Allowing yourself to stop reading a book - at page 25, 50, or even, less frequently, a few chapters from the end - is a rite of passage in a reader's life, the literary equivalent of a bar mitzvah or a communion, the moment at which you look at yourself and announce: Today I am an adult. I can make my own decisions."

    -Sara Nelson (So Many Books, So Little Time)


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