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3 Reasons To Finish Books That You Don’t Like

September 3, 2019

If it’s unabridged, there’s no shame in NOT finishing a classic novel.

Should you finish reading a book, even if you don’t like it?  It’s an internal debate that many book readers have.  If a tedious or overwritten book is assigned reading or required for a job, most people will read it.  When there’s money or a grade involved, book readers have no qualms about finishing a book.  But books for personal pleasure are a different matter.

When I first started reading, I took pride in finishing every book I started.  In elementary school, I finished Harold and the Purple Crayon, even though Harold was getting out of control.  In middle school, I finished The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, even though I was being mocked for carrying big books around the school (they were WAR books, I explained, so that made it cool).

In high school, I finished Noble House, despite having to read a bunch of Willa Cather books in my English class.  In college, I finished reading The Mists of Avalon, even after my girlfriend broke up with me for calling it a “woman’s book.”  When I found out later how abusive the author had been to her family, I kind of regretted reading the book… and it also kind of explained my ex-girlfriend’s weird behavior.  I was probably lucky she had broken up with me.

Anyway, somewhere along the way, I lost my passion for finishing books.  I became more critical of books I read and I began noticing how much time it took to read some of them.  I finished Sarum by Richard Rutherford, but I gave up on Russka.  I stopped reading a Colleen McCullough Rome book within the first hundred pages (I almost got kicked out of my family’s Thanksgiving dinner for that) because I already knew what was going to happen (and the book was waaaaayyyy too long).

Now that I’m older, I don’t finish books if I don’t want to.  Maybe I should finish most books that I begin.  Maybe I’m too casual about which books I finish and which books I set aside.  Either way, here are…

3 REASONS TO FINISH A BOOK, EVEN IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT

  1. You get a Sense of Accomplishment.

When I was in junior high, I read a bunch of classics like The Iliad and The Three Musketeers and (an abridged) Les Miserables because I’d read the classic comics and could tell what was going on in the books, even if I didn’t understand all the language.  Still, I felt proud that I had read unabridged versions of these classics (I didn’t figure out that the Les Miserables was abridged until later).  I felt that sense of accomplishment.

Then high school teachers began assigning books.  Oddly enough, the sense of accomplishment vanished when I was forced to read novels.  I probably would have enjoyed Of Mice and Men and Brave New World if they hadn’t been assigned.  There is little sense of accomplishment when the reading is forced.  I was happy with my good grades, though.

Once I graduated and started my profession (which has nothing to do with reading or writing), I chose to read for fun rather than for accomplishment.  But I remember what that feeling is like.  Finishing a book just for that sense of accomplishment might be worth it for some readers.

  1. You can actually judge a book if you finish it.

You don’t really know if an entire book sucks until you’ve read the whole thing.  Years ago, I gave up on a novel called The Passage by Justin Cronin about halfway through it.  I heard later that the ending was pretty good and that I had missed out on a good ending simply because I was too eager to give up on the book.  Maybe I should have finished it, but I still know a huge portion of it sucks.  That’s enough for me.

Even so, if two people disagree about the quality of a book but only one person has finished it, the reader who has finished the book has the more valid opinion.  The quitter can still have an opinion, though.  For another example, I haven’t read all of Moby Dick from beginning to end.  I have read a lot of sections of Moby Dick.  I can have an opinion about why readers don’t like it or don’t want to finish it.  But if a reader has actually read Moby Dick from beginning to end (and understands it), then I recognize his/her opinion is more valid (in some ways) than mine.

  1. You finish what you start!!!!!!

I grew up in a household where we were taught to finish what we started.  I learned that you don’t leave a job unfinished or halfass…errr…  halfhearted.  You give 100%, or you give nothing.  You eat all the food on your plate.  You stay awake during church.  You complete all your homework.  And you finish every book you start.  Once that’s ingrained, it doesn’t go away… until your parents aren’t looking.

To this day, I eat all the food on my plate (but I get to choose the food now), I stay awake in church (when I go), I make sure all my work gets completed (so I get paid). But finish every book I start?  Not anymore.

*****

What do you think?  Should you finish reading every book that you start reading?  What books did you finish, despite getting no enjoyment from them?

6 Comments
  1. I generally try to finish books even if I hate them, although if they are too long, I might not. I did somehow finish Ulysses by James Joyce but the only thing I got out of it was a sense of accomplishment. I generally hated the books we had to read in school because they were all terrible or depressing. I liked Brave New World, but I didn’t have to read it for school which is why I think I enjoyed it.

    • Ulysses is above and beyond the call of any reading duty we might have. I don’t think anybody has made a classic comic (or graphic novel) version of it.

      • I pity the poor person who had to adapt that to a graphic novel, but I’d read it, only to find out what the heck is going on.

  2. I’ve reached the age where I don’t remember as much about a book after I’ve read it as I used to, which is all the more reason not to finish them. I’m glad you gave up on The Passage, too. That thing was going nowhere. I’m curious how a book that was going nowhere can have a good ending.

    • I think The Passage had two sequels too. Or maybe it was the first book in a trilogy. I don’t remember. I used to know, though.

      I think I’m reaching the same age as you.

  3. I’m impressed you got through Sarum. I’m not sure how far I got – not very – but it was so tedious I couldn’t continue. In general, I no longer finish books (or movies) if I’m not enjoying myself. How far I let myself get before giving up depends on how painful it is to read (or watch). Just recently, though, my sister recommended Where’d You Go, Bernadette. She and I have pretty similar tastes and she’s recommended many books I’ve liked, so I expected good things. I was wrong. It started out ok but fizzled after a while and never really improved, even at the end. Lesson learned.

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