A Brief History of NOT Finishing Books
Some readers take pride in finishing books, no matter what. Even though I’ve never been much of a book finisher, I used to pretend. I’d carry thick, classic, crusty, hard-bound novels like War and Peace or Les Miserables. I could get away with pretending because I had a collection of Classics Illustrated comic books that gave me all the important information. I knew all the names and basic details from each book because of the comics, and nobody in public school cared about theme or symbolism until late in high school. Everybody thought I was smarter than I really was. It was a good gig.
Now it’s possible to (kind of) tell if readers have actually finished a book, and it’s all Amazon’s fault. It’s bad enough that Amazon is trying to use drones to deliver products, but now Amazon is also ruining my pseudo-literary scam. In Amazon’s defense, It might not be intentional. It all started because Amazon keeps track of sentences that readers highlight on the Kindle. That by itself might be harmless. But some professor from Wisconsin has figured out a way to use the highlighting to determine where a reader stops reading.
The system, The Hawking Index, was inspired by Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time, a book that a lot of people bought but very few really read. I never bought A Brief History of Time. I like history, and I like brief books, but I remember scanning the first couple pages years ago and thinking, “This is really boring.” I don’t care how short the book is; if it’s boring, I don’t buy it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get included in the Hawking Index because I didn’t even buy the book that inspired the index of books that people don’t finish. Too bad there’s no way to track people who didn’t even buy the book before not finishing it.
The Hawking Index (or the professor who figured it out) measures highlighted text in the Kindle and how far into the book that the last highlighted text is. Then it matches the number of highlighted text with the page numbers and… I’m going to stop there. If I go into more details, you might stop reading. I don’t want people to stop reading my article about people who stop reading books.
According to the Index, the most unfinished book right now is Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton. People who don’t like Hillary Clinton probably find satisfaction with that, but this doesn’t hurt her. Hillary Clinton already has her huge book advance, so she won’t financially suffer if nobody finishes her book. She probably didn’t even write it (I think James Patterson wrote it for her), so why would she care if people don’t finish it? Clinton couldn’t even be bothered with thinking of a good title. Even George W. Bush came up with a better book title (Decision Points), and he was supposed to be the dumb one. If I were a politician writing a memoir, I’d want to have a better title than George Bush’s book. Since the only part of the memoir people seem to read is the title, it had better be good.
The novel that seems to get finished most frequently is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. This would be a great way to promote a book: A novel that 98.5% of readers finish! I originally had no intention of reading The Goldfinch, but now I’m curious. I don’t care if a book is a bestseller. I tend to naturally dislike books that are bestsellers, but a book that gets finished 98.5% of the time? That’s… astounding! I don’t care if this index is nonscientific and for entertainment purposes only (like football spreads), but 98.5% is mindboggling. I almost have to read The Goldfinch. In fact, I think I’ll start The Goldfinch and NOT finish it just to be in that stubborn 1.5% that hasn’t gotten to the end. But I might end up liking it. I read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn just to criticize it, but then I enjoyed it and had to admit to another book critic that… I… was… wrong.
According to Amazon, the second most-highlighted text is the first sentence from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It’s a great sentence, but why does anybody highlight the first sentence of a novel? It’s the first sentence. Even the most incompetent of readers should know where to find it again. If it had been on page 158 (or even on page 2), I could understand highlighting. I know that the first page on a Kindle is more difficult to find than the first page of a real book, but still, it’s the first page. Highlighting the first sentence of a book seems to defeat the purpose of highlighting. It’s almost as bad as highlighting everything.
I’m an expert on not finishing books. Nobody else doesn’t finish books better than me. I don’t finish more books than anybody else I know. I haven’t finished reading so many books, that I can’t keep track of all of them. My Kindle is filled with free book samples, and I haven’t finished reading those yet! Even better, I don’t highlight. So if I purchase a book and don’t finish it, Amazon would never know, and I can still show off all my books on my phone and pretend that I’ve read them all. But showing off books on your phone/Kindle is lame. Book shelves are much cooler.
But enough about me! Do you highlight when you read? Do you finish most books that you start? Do you lie about finishing books you haven’t read? Would you lose respect for somebody if you found out they hadn’t read everything on their bookshelves (or on their phones/Kindles)?
It’s brief, and it’s not about history, so it’s very easy to finish.