Guilt over not finishing a book is something that comes to all of us for a variety of reasons. Maybe you are an extremely committed person and hate to leave things half-way done. Maybe you are hoping that the ending of the book will be so great that all that it put you through will be worth it. Maybe you even feel that you have to somehow honor all the work that went into the book and at least try to finish it, even it you hate it at the end. Or, maybe it’s something as simple as the fact that you spent money on the book and–God as your witness–you will read it.
Whatever the reason is that you are holding onto your unfinished reads, I’m just here to tell you: It’s okay to abandon books. In fact, for all the reasons you may have for finishing a book, you might have an even better one for not finishing it.
Reading is fun. Reading is wonderful, actually. Reading out of some sort of obligation kind of sucks, though. Forcing yourself to slug through a couple of hundred pages that hold absolutely none of your interest is not only extremely boring but can also put you off reading altogether. Personally I’m one of those people who, if I’m really into a book, can finish it in one or two sittings depending on the length of it. Needless to say, I can read pretty fast, but when I’m not enjoying a book it can take me weeks or even months to finish. And not only that, having the fact that I need to finish said book in the back of my mind all the time also eats into my overall enjoyment for reading, and I just stop reading anything and everything for a while.
Sometimes, not being into a book has nothing to do with the book itself and more to do with your mood and how you are feeling at the moment. As a personal example, the first time I tried reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt, I was not into it. I thought it was slow and boring, I could not keep the characters straight, and I could barely make sense of the plot. It took me about two weeks to read forty pages of it; that’s how bad it was going. So, I left it alone and, about seven months later, I decided to pick it back up. This time around I flew through it, and it is now one of my favorite books ever.
If I had forced myself to finish this book that first time, I probably would’ve hated it and missed out on the wonderful experience that reading that book ended up being for me. That’s something you definitely don’t want to do. It’s okay to give yourself permission to stop reading a book if you are not enjoying it; maybe you will pick it up again later and love it. Maybe you won’t ever open it again, but instead you dedicated that time to reading other books you actually like.
Sometimes, books are just not for you. This has nothing or little to do with the actual quality of the book but everything to do with what you actually like to read. You wouldn’t purposefully eat food you don’t like (at least I think you wouldn’t if given the choice), so why force yourself into reading something you are not enjoying? Even if you can’t exactly pinpoint what it is that you don’t like, you have to trust yourself. I’ve read over 500 books over my life, so at this point I have a pretty clear idea of the things I like and the things I don’t. Usually, if I’m around 100 pages into a book and cannot still find anything I like, I give it up and say “it’s just isn’t for me.” All books are not for everyone. It doesn’t matter how acclaimed or popular a book is; if you don’t like it- you don’t like it and that’s that. You don’t to give yourself or others an excuse to give up on it.
If not reading a book feels like a waste, consider giving it away to a friend who you think will like it, selling it to a second hand shop, or donating it. That book will end up going to other people who might actually appreciate the work that went into it, and if that book ends up being loved by someone else it was not a waste at all.
In short, this rant can be summarized into this: Don’t waste your time reading things you hate when you could be reading things you love. Your own reading is about you and not anyone else. Do what makes you happy. If pushing yourself to finish every single book you start is what makes you happy, well, there’s nothing I can do about that. But give it a try sometime. Get rid of that book that’s been sitting for years on your nightstand. If you find the experience somewhat relieving then that should tell you something about what should do the next time you start to hate a book. If you find it worse than forcing yourself through the book then at least you can say you tried!
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