Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Do you finish every book you start?




I've heard excellent cases for both sides of this one. To be honest, I was conditioned not to read every word during my time at Uni when I was studying English, and we were given way more books in the syllabus than we could possibly read. It seemed impossible to cram in one per week, when we were talking about novels the size of Little Dorrit, Bleak House or Middlemarch. The staff surely knew we'd focus on our essay topics and skim through the rest, but was it a good habit they were molding us into? Here are some pros and cons for both sides.


I Finish Every Book

These are the people who grit their teeth and plow through no matter what. They believe being faithful in small commitments proves them more likely to be faithful in larger ones. Quitting in small matters, such as reading a book, makes them more likely to be quitters in life.

One lady wrote that she can't count the numbers of times she was bored at the beginning of a novel and wowed by the end. Sticking to a book, in her opinion, is its own reward. She reminded me of times I've loaned books to people who I'm sure would have enjoyed the story if they'd only persevered.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, "I've only abandoned three books that I can remember, preferring to soldier on through unmemorable chapters than to let an unfinished plot clutter my thoughts." He'd probably be aghast by this superficial skimming era we find ourselves in, and perhaps he'd have a point. What can be more shallow than making snap judgments about any given book based on first impressions?

I Don't Bother Finishing Every Book

These people may be aware of statistics. Google says there are nearly 130 million books in circulation in the world, and 4500 are published in the USA alone, daily. A person who commits to completing 50 books in a Goodreads challenge each year, would have to read for a century to tap into 0.00004% of them.

As the years are short and fly by so fast, and there are many books we'd enjoy far more just waiting to be discovered, what is the point of slogging on with a book which isn't engaging us? It simply wastes the precious time we could be spending on those which could be a far better fit.

My Point of View

I probably side more with the non-finishers. I believe in giving books a fair, fifty page trial, but by then, you've probably developed a fair idea of whether you should keep going. I've stuck to books I've been forced to study. In more recent years, I also try to stick to books I've committed to review for blogging programmes such as Net Galley. This has been enough to show me that the first third of any given book is usually enough to help form an accurate, overall impression.

If it's a novel, and the characters are flat and the plot creeps along like a tortoise, it probably won't get much better. I've read a lot of books in my lifetime, and generally find that if I'm going to like them, I'll be engaged from the start ninety percent of the time.

Many of us used to complain about having to read books we hate at school, just so we can churn out boring essays about them. Some of these school novels left us with bad after-tastes about perfectly good authors for years. Well, the good news is that in most cases, nobody is forcing us stick with unenjoyable books any more. I'd encourage more people to appreciate and use the freedom of no longer being in school.

If you need somebody to give you permission to quit a book you're finding tedious, maybe I can be that person. Although the books may feel like people, they are only books. It's not as hard as breaking up with somebody you're dating. If it's not making you look forward to your next spare moment when you can pick it up, then drop it. If you don't daydream about it and want to rave about it and shout about it from the rooftops, it probably doesn't matter if you don't finish it. I don't agree with Tolkien about letting unfinished plots clutter my thoughts. If I'm finding them hard going, I'm more than happy to let them disappear from my thoughts completely.

So take it back to the library, donate it to a Goodwill shop, delete it from your kindle and get on with something good.

Paula Vince is a South Australian author of contemporary, inspirational fiction. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons, and loves to use her environment as settings for her stories. Her novel, 'Picking up the Pieces' won the religious fiction section of the International Book Awards in 2011, and 'Best Forgotten' was winner of the CALEB prize the same year. She is also one of the four authors of 'The Greenfield Legacy', Australia's first and only collaborated Christian novel. Her most recent novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published April 2014. For more of Paula's reflections, you may like to visit her book review blog, The Vince Review.

14 comments:

  1. Hi Paula. Thanks for a great post. I sit more towards the finishing every book I read side --- at least when it comes to fiction and with my bookcub I encounter books I would never have chosen to read. I like finishing what I started (the result of my bull dog Curtis genes). I have time and again been wowed by books with a slow start and even when the book hovers more around 3 than 5, I've learnt something valuable about other people and how they see the world and stretched myself. And I'm with Tolkien, I'm compelled to see how something once started, ends.

    That said there are a handful of books that I didn't persist with - like Vanity Fair (far too laborious with pages of authorial intrusion, though maybe I could just skip those) or skimmed to get the gist and find out how it ended - case in point, the latest book club read - read first four or five chapters, got mired in unpleasantness, hated the tone and ran out of time so googled the intriguing bit of history the story was based on, skimmed and read the last chapter (pretty much where I though it was going), no regrets & only the second one in 7 years of book club I didn't finish. And the other one I might revisit someday lol.

    In the end, it's what suits us as readers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jenny, and good on you for plowing through all those books. It's good to hear you warmed to them in many cases. I like the reasoning you give that it helps us see the world in a totally different way to our norm, which is one of those things reading is about. I find I can't muster the heart to persevere when I just can't latch on to plot or characters. Maybe even after 20 plus years, it's still my post-Uni self reminding me, 'Hey, I'm not going to be graded on this.' :)

      Delete
  2. An entertaining read, Paula--I laughed out loud at your comment re quitting reading a book: 'It's not as hard as breaking up with somebody you're dating.' I'm probably in the same category as you in that I have put books aside or thrown them in the bin or deleted them from my Tablet if I don't like the tone of them or feel they are not well written and that I am wasting my time continuing. However, it's more often the ones I get for free, one way or another, that end up being dispensed with rather than ones I have paid good money for. So I guess I am some sort of miser at heart and want to get my money's worth, even if it kills me to do so!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jo-Anne, yes, I can understand and relate to that :) After a couple of disappointments, I've been looking out for books from the library to give them a test start, before going out to buy them. But how satisfying it is to clear them from the kindle, or donate them to the Goodwill shop in the end, if they fall into that category.

      Delete
  3. I think I can count on one hand the books that I have quit reading part-way through. There are some books that I wish I hadn't finished (or even started for that matter) - but most of them were required school reading (the public school system has a lot to answer for). These days I have even put books in the recycle bin because I thought the only thing that should be done with them is make them into something else (sadly they were Christian fiction books).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Beth, yes, we feel obligated to push on with books on study courses, for obvious reasons. I well remember the days, even though I know a few people who seem to have managed to fudge their way through without actually reading them. And sadly, I think we've all come across the type of novel you mention for recycling :)

      Delete
  4. I use to finish every book I started, but now I don't. Initially it happened by accident. I started reading a book but the book was so dull, I forgot I was even reading it! It was only months later when I found the book with a book mark that I realised that I had started reading it. I find this is particularly easy to do with ebooks.

    However, I do make a extra effort to finish book club books. The meeting is rather dull if you don't know what people are talking about or if no one has finished it.

    There have also been times when I have skipped ahead or read the last chapter, to see if it's worth persisting.

    There really are no rules when it comes to reading a book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Susan, your comment about such a dull book you forgot you were reading it makes me smile. That's surely the ultimate test :) Like you, I tend to skip ahead too, just for a quick glimpse, even though some people are shocked when I say it. To me, it's a good incentive whether or not to persevere.

      Delete
  5. I read most books but there are some I haven't. One being an American war book set in my favourite era but the author used to much swearing. If the English officer had died early I would have continued but he didn't. In America they have no problem with the word but in England and Australia I was swearing and slang and even now I do not use it.

    A couple others it was the subject. One I just couldn't continue reading dealt with a dying person at the same time I thought I was losing mum She lasted a few more years but it was to close to home.

    The others are the ones that just don't grab me. The ones where I just can't get into the story partly due to the way it is written and partly due to it just not being my type of books. This will often happen more with Chick Lit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jenny, those are understandable reasons for not continuing. I've put aside some 'too close to home' types too, because I know it won't be worth the way it'll surely play on my mind later on. And sometimes they just don't grab us, which is a good enough reason for not continuing, in my opinion.

      Delete
  6. Hmm.. you've put up some good arguements, but I'm afraid I'm mostly in the 'must finish' camp, simply because I feel I always learn something from a book, even if it's simply 'how not to write'! One book I never finished which sticks vividly in my memory is Austin's Emma. I just couldn't do it. She infuriated me too much so that by the time I guessed the ending 30 pgs in, I put it down.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I enjoyed Emma, but Vanity Fair? Horrible. And don't get me started on Wuthering Heights ...

      Delete
  7. I agree that if an author doesn't grab you in the first few chapters where they know they should, what hope is there for the rest of it?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm a little like you - I used to finish every book I started (it was what I had to read, and I had to read something!).

    But Kindle and NetGalley means I have access to more books than I can ever read, so I'm now a lot more particular about what I choose to finish. I've learned that if I persevere with a book I'm not enjoying, I'll only hate it more by the end.

    If it's a book I've requested for review, I'll usually finish it, unless the first fifty pages annoy me so much that I'd rather drown my Kindle than keep reading. In that case, I give up and review accordingly.

    I have even less patience for other books - even those I've bought. There are several I've bought as 99c specials this year that I've started and not finished. The covers and book descriptions were great and the reviews glowing, but they didn't connect with me.

    ReplyDelete