It’s a curly question for avid readers. For years I slogged my way through every book I started regardless of my enjoyment level. It was thanks, mostly, to my favourite high school English teacher who said that’s the way good people read. She was right about a lot of things so I persevered. But last year I stopped finishing books I wasn’t enjoying. And I’ve never felt better about my reading.
It’s been roughly a year and I’ve stopped reading 15 books before the end (out of a total of 83 books started during that time). Not only do I enjoy my reading more, because I stop reading when I’m not enjoying, but I’ve been far more adventurous with the authors and genres I’ve tried. It no longer matters if I try something and don’t like it: I don’t have to finish it. I’ve found loads of great books I probably wouldn’t have tried in the old days.
Also, and quite perversely, knowing I can quit has, on a couple of occasions, been enough to get me through a rough spot and go on to finish a book and really enjoy it. I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo earlier this year the first few pages completely failed to gab my attention. Knowing I could stop whenever I liked made me quite relaxed and willing to read a few more pages (at around page 40 or so I was hooked). In the old days I’d have been gritting my teeth and avoiding the book all together because I didn’t want to face reading 480 pages of something I wasn’t enjoying. Of course I’ve always, or at least since I left Mrs Mac’s class, been able to stop reading whenever I liked but I never believed that and never did it until I made a conscious decision to read for pure pleasure.
Generally, once I’ve decided not to finish a book I don’t go back to it. I take it back to the library, add it to my bookmooch inventory or give it away. This week though I’ve decided not to finish Batya Gur’s Literary Murder: A Critical Case but, for reasons I can’t quite put into words, I’m keeping the book and will try it again in a year or three. Perhaps it’s because I really, really wanted to like this book (it’s set in Israel which is just about my favourite place on earth that’s not my home) but whatever the reason I’m happy with this decision too.
So while I’m grateful to Mrs Mac for the wonderful things she taught me I’ve decided that not finishing a book doesn’t make me a bad person, just a happy reader.