Wednesday, December 31, 2014

On Finishing Books and Not Finishing Books

Yesterday, our Top Ten Tuesday topic was our ten goals or resolutions for 2015.  I didn't contribute to the post here, but I wrote my own post on my blog.  Eight of my resolutions dealt with either reading or writing because those are two areas I really want to work on next year.  I want to read more and to read better, I want to finish some writing projects I've started, but I really want to start finishing the books I start.

I am a chronic abandoner.  Most of the time it's not a conscious decision, where I say, "I've given this book (insert criteria for leaving a book) and it's just not getting me, so I'm not finishing."  No, most of the time I'll start a book, really enjoy it, recommend it to some friends, and then start gravitating towards another book.  Usually, this happens as a result of going a couple of days without much reading, but often enough it's because I start thinking about a second book and just can't stop thinking about it, so reading the first book becomes a chore, meaning that I'll usually opt to not read rather than force myself to read something I don't want to read.  This means that in a given year, I start a lot of excellent books and read a ton of pages, but only wind up finishing around 25.  At the rate that my "books owned" list grows, I have little hope of ever finishing everything.  Not that the goal is to finish everything (there's just not enough time in the world to read all the books), but I would like to make a good dent, you know?

There are quite a few articles out there arguing both sides of the issue.

Why Finish Books? by Tim Park
Why You Feel Guilty for Leaving Books or Games Unfinished by Thorin Klosowski
Finish that Book! by Juliet Lapidos
Why I Finish Books by Nicole Perrin
More on Finishing Every Book You Read by Joanna Cabot
Finishing a Book You Don't Like:  Do You or Don't You? by Kira Walton

(Don't) Finish What You Started by Evan Gottlieb
On Not Finishing Books and a Blog Worth Following by David Dobbs
Now I Stop Reading a Book if I Don't Enjoy It, Do You? by Gretchen Rubin
Promiscuous Reading by Mark O'Connell

Everyone has their own reasons for finishing or not finishing.  Some say that you should finish out of respect of the work/author.  Some people just like to finish what they start.  On the other hand, some people don't want to be bored or pressured.  Typically non-finishers have a set criteria of reading so many pages or so many chapters and if the book isn't capturing them, it gets let go.  And I can totally see this if you are reading for reasons other than pleasure.

I've been reading The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller, which is a great book that I haven't finished yet.  The following quote really set in my mind the seeds for this resolution:

However, once you start to give up on books, you may lose the skill of finishing them – my early difficulties with The Master and Margarita and Middlemarch proved this. In addition, your opinion will automatically be worth less than that of someone who has taken the trouble to finish the book because, in at least one key respect, they know what they are talking about and you don’t.  (Miller, Andy (2014-12-09). The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life (pp. 140-141). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.)*

I don't want to lose the skill of finishing books.  I really like finishing a book.  I love how you turn to that last page and your chest gets all tight and then you digest the last word and you can breathe again.  Then you kind of sit in wonder and look at the world with new eyes.  Or maybe that's just me.  I agree that finishing books helps give the speaker a bit more credibility when they say they hated a book because they really worked at finishing it and didn't just dismiss it without knowing if there were any redeeming qualities.  Personally, I like to be able to give good reasons when I am discussing books, which frequently requires finishing the book in the first place.  Miller goes on to say that "you may erode your integrity to a point where you sincerely believe the difference between saying you have read a book and actually reading it is little more than semantics" (Miller, The Year of Reading Dangerously, p. 141).*

In 2015, I resolve to finish most books that I start, but not necessarily all of them.  

I'll break in here to say that by "start" I mean the books I spend a day or two reading a good chunk of, not one I just pick up and read the first few pages of when I'm trying to decide what to read next.  Part of my process of picking the next book usually entails grabbing several from my shelves and sampling the first few pages of each until one grabs me.  Sometimes it takes a couple of trips to the shelves.  And then sometimes I just KNOW what I want to read next.

I think for me it will mostly be a matter of focusing my attention and not letting my mind wander to all of the other books out there.  I am sure that at some point I will encounter a book that I find to be truly heinous and I'll have to decide what I am going to do about that.  Maybe give it 20% of the book and if I am just legitimately not feeling it, set it aside.  I say that because I firmly believe that some books are a matter of right place, right time, right mindset.  For instance, I'm currently reading a contemporary book that I just don't know how I feel about.  The premise is interesting.  I can relate to some of the thoughts and impulses of the protagonist.  But at times the book is kind of off-putting in how it unfolds and I don't know whether I like it or not.  At this point, I would say that it's not going to wind up on any of my favorites lists or even one I'll keep to reread, but it may surprise me.  So I push on.  On the other hand, I've started books and read a few pages and just didn't get sucked in.  I don't feel that I really owe these the effort of finishing right then, but admit that maybe later on I'll fall in love with them.

What about you?  What are your thoughts on finishing or not finishing the books you read?  If you are a finisher, how do you keep your focus when you aren't really feeling a book?  If you are not a finisher, what are your criteria for setting aside books?  Do you set them aside temporarily or forever?

*Can I just say that I LOVE how the Kindle app on my Mac automatically adds the citation for the quotes I'm using?!  I hate creating the proper citation.


  1. I have a problem with making myself finish a book that I've started even if I'm hating it! I'm trying to be more mindful and try to decide at various points in the book if I'm really enjoying it or not, because if I'm not then why push myself! I liked the point in that quote about how your opinion is worth more once you finish a book, which is important for someone who is going to write a review. I'm going to have to check out those links and do some reading up on the topic :)

  2. I totally agree with you! I feel so bad when I just let a book go around 50 pages if it's not for me, but then at the same time, I want to enjoy the read as well, so why suffer? Before DNFing a book, I always seem to just list reasons why I'm not able to finish it. I do agree with the fact that we write reviews for the people who'd like to pick up the book and read it—and what opinion does that give them when we haven't even read half of the book? Thank you so much for writing a great post—I never really thought of the topic so much, and I'll have to look into it. :)

  3. I do finish books, but I am also a chronic starter of new books. At any given time, I will have 2 dozen books started, and I don't finish all of them. I'm not quite sure why I do that. Something about the effort of focused attention required to continue and be absorbed in the middle of a story vs the lack of focused attention that is required to start something new. I want to read more about finishing vs not finishing, so I really appreciate your curated links on the topic!

  4. I used to ALWAYS read a book beginning to end, but lately I have decided that if I really hate what I'm reading, then I should just stop. If I continue, I just end up hating the book more rather than the other way around.

  5. I always finish books....I just have this hope that something will happen and it will turn around. I do, however, start skimming if I really don't like it.

    I see both sides of the issue. For me, I just have to keep reading. Call it my inner curiosity.

  6. Great post! I think it's a good idea to wait until your about 20% into the book and then decide. There's way too many books out there to waste your time on the one's you don't like!

    Ally @ The Scribbling Sprite

  7. First, Happy New Year! For the first time I have actually given myself permission not to finish a book, and its now happened four(!) times this month. As I mature, I guess I'm getting pickier....used to read everything but now I won't even give houseroom to " the fifty shades of whatever" phenomena, or outright horror and abuse. However, if I am reading for review I will note that in the GoodReads post.

  8. I try to read to about 50 percent of the book before i totally give up mostly cause some books are just slow to give you the action and it takes a bit to get the story going but if i am half way through and still rolling my eyes and not enjoying it then i usally bag it.

  9. Well, it depends. If I signed up for a book tour, I will finish the book, whether or not I'm enjoying it. I can't say that I'd never 'not finish' a book, though. I mean, there are good books, so-so books and books that make your skin crawl and your blood boil. Those in the last category may well get a pass from me.

  10. It is hard for me to quit on a book, but I do try to give myself permission to give it up. Often times if I do keep going I find it was worth it.

  11. Happy NYE - I love this post, I love your honesty about your reading. It inspires me to be okay with my reading style. Does this decision - to finish or not - every get any easier?
    This year I decided to read more books that were longer, non fiction and not read as many chicklit/romance. I succeeded and it was awesome. I'm not sure what my goals are this year - maybe give myself permission NOT to finish more books, that it's okay not to want to read books all my book friends LOVE (like "Wild").

  12. I generally finish all the books I read, but if I REALLY don't enjoy a book then I will DNF it. I once read a book and I hated the first 80 pages but then it got really good and it ended up being one of my favorite books ever, so I generally push through. But if I'm reading a book and the writing style irks me or I don't like the characters or there's too many profanities, I'd DNF it! :)

  13. I used to have the policy of NEVER quitting a book. But then I realize how much time I was wasting on bad books. I have too many books on my TBR list for that. Right now, I will give a book 50 pages or 3 chapters. The big sign I need to quit a book is if I would rather do the dishes than read. Ha

  14. I find that I just don't have a lot of free time to read so I don't force myself to finish something I'm not enjoying. If it gets put down and I find myself reading a page here and a page there, I'm obviosly not interested enough ... like they say, life's too short to read bad books! And sometimes it just might not be the right timing.

  15. I used to always finish a book I started, but lately I find myself doing what you do - starting a new book, even enjoying it, but then eventually putting it aside for something else for one reason or another. I still don't think I do it often enough to have to worry about it, but I guess I'd better watch out for it becoming a real problem!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  16. I'll give it a book a good go, but if it's something I have to force myself to read or go back to, then it's out. Life is too short to read books I don't like. I have discovered, however, that often I need to be in a particular mood to read a specific book. Sometimes a scheduled review date or an obligation to read affect how I might otherwise enjoy a book.

  17. I feel like you're inside my head. I'm notorious for picking up books and then abandoning them when they're perfectly good. Sometimes my mood will shift and I will start craving a contemporary novel instead of the fantasy novel I'm reading at the moment. Sometimes I'm just distracted my the shiny new books that come through my door or onto my Nook. I can't help it!

    In most cases, I'll pick the book back up. Even if it's a year later! But, not always. I recently decided to abandon Across the Universe by Beth Revis. I'm not entirely sure why because I remember devouring about half the book in one or two sittings. I just know it's a book that I wasn't going to revisit. I try to ignore my feelings about missing out on this one because I know it's a book that many people loved.

  18. I think there's a good argument for both sides of the finishing a book debate and when I was younger I'd force myself to plough through a book I didn't enjoy or had grown bored of just because I thought I should. I can't even remember those books, they blend into the fog of my memory to such an extent that the other day I started reading a book only to realise I had read it, finished it, and given it away before!

    That's all a long way of saying nowadays I have no problem putting down books I've lost interest in. Life is short and there's no end of books I really want to read. I don't want to waste those cosy hours curled up reading on books I don't love!

  19. I'm EXACTLY the same. 2014 was a really bad year for me abandoning books. It's just like you said, it's not because I don't like the book, I just can't stop thinking about another! I'm hoping to start 2015 by finishing some of the books I abandoned and break this habit!


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