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
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.