For the whole of my reading life, I forced myself to finish every book I cracked open.  Until the day I was plodding through Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine and not knowing what it was about.  Was I being unfair to Louise to leave at the half-way point?  I doubt she’d care.  After all, she won the National Book Critics Circle Award, not me.

There is no accounting for taste ~ we don’t all share the same passions in literature.  But there is accounting for time, and time spent in reading an unappealing book is forever lost.  And, yes, it feels too much like school. You know, the books you had to read as opposed to the kind you couldn’t wait to re-read.  So here’s the big-mamou question ~ why read to the end just to hurl the book across the room?

It used to go against my nature to terminate a relationship with a book. I felt like a quitter for giving up a novel half-way. Love Medicine changed all that.  Yes, I stopped midway through this multigenerational story that spans decades, lives, marriages, loves, and deaths.  I abandoned the Kapshaws and the Larmartines, turned my back on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, and ignored the intricate and looping family tree.  It was an agonizing decision, fraught with guilt, but when I finally did it ~ It. Felt. So. Good.

Clinical psychologists say we feel guilt whenever we quit. It goes against how we are built and so we experience anxiety around unfinished activities.

Stopping midway was stressful. But only that first time. Really. Bailing on a book is fiercely liberating.  Especially one that’s as fizzle-prone as low-carb Pepsi and makes you want to take refuge in Green Eggs and Ham.

Some people even brag about doing it. Goodreads members ranked the most initiated but unfinished books of all time.  Top of the list: Catch 22, Joseph Heller’s American Classic.

According to the Goodreads website, about 20% of the books read by its 18 million members are left unfinished.  Here are the ones most dropped in midstream this year:

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire



Pandigital eReader

In the age of the e-reader, dropping a book has never been easier.  You don’t even have to get up to grab another off the shelf. Just pull up a new one in seconds, dip in and out, go back later… or not.

Are you an inveterate unfinisher?

How many pages did you read before you put that last book down?

C’mon.  Name names.

Toni 7/12/13

16 thoughts on “GUILT COMPLEX

  1. The Liar’s Club. I just couldn’t do it; it was too close to home; with every page of abuse it was like I was back at #399 hoping not to be noticed. I think I told the book group that I didn’t finish it. What I should have said is that I read the first 20 pages a few times, hoping to get a running start that would help me just flip through to the end, sort of like building up a head of steam when you’ve got to bike up a mountain. But finally I did the “threw it across the room” thing by hiding it behind the first row of books on our multi-layered book shelves, hoping with this action to stop the effect it had on my head and heart.
    There are more books that I’ve left part way through, but this is the only one that I quit on because I just couldn’t take it.


    1. Patty, I remember that book. It was hard to read, but I have to admit, harder to put down. The proverbial train wreck scenario, I couldn’t look away. And am thankful to this day I didn’t live that life.


  2. I hear you! The first time I decided not to finish a book, guilt followed me around for days. I do the same thing with movies … I have yet to walk out of one, no matter how much I am suffering. For whatever reason, I never give up hope there will be redemption before the end … and sometimes there just isn’t. Since I began writing 8 years ago, reading time is precious and rare (as you say …) so I too have learned to be a book bailer when I find myself struggling. The writer in me knows I can’t please everyone but the reader in me kept trying!


  3. Only this year have I stopped reading books that no longer captivated. Now, I no longer remember their names. Progress.


    1. I don’t remember names either, unless the book was highly touted and so does NOT live up to the hype. Did you notice that with ebooks, you really only see the cover once? Another helpful clue bites the dust. 🙂


  4. I have never felt guilty about not finishing a book that I didn’t like. I am an adult and as you said do not have to read a book I don’t like since I am no longer in school. Reading should be fun and entertaining especially at this stage of our lives.


  5. I still can not do it. No book goes unfinished no matter how long it takes. My husband is always telling me, “if you don’t like it just stop reading it”. He does it all the time. He probably has at least 6 half finished books laying around. For me, I am always just so sure that it will redeem itself in the end, I have to continue. If I am struggling with a book I often coerce myself with, “well you can’t read that other book you really want to read until you finish this one.” I need a book fairy to come in the night and remove it from my possession. I promise not to go buy it again. 😉


  6. I agree with you. I love reading books, books and more books. It makes me feel like a big time loser when I quit halfway through. So I make it a point to finish, leave it for some time then get back to it. To make sure of this, I do not start another book until I reach the end


    1. I did read The Corrections but avoided Freedom. Oprah absolved Franzen even though he called her picks schmaltzy and one- dimensional. And then she picked Freedom. O is famously forgiving. Me, not so much. Toni


  7. I read Great Expectations in 7th grade, although it was too advanced for me and boring and depressing, because it was an assignment.
    I read Ethan Frome as a high school freshman–same problems, same reasons.
    I’ve read several others that were boring and depressing, because I wanted to, and was disappointed and threw the book.
    I read The Help because my sister loved it. Couldn’t throw it, as it was her copy.
    But I stopped, and felt no guilt, when it came to Atlas Shrugged, in the middle of the maiden voyage of that ______ train. Sorry can’t give the pg. no, as I did throw it, also.

    I shrugged.


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