I wrote yesterday on an article that has been making the blog rounds, about the value (or not) of finishing every book you read. I fell into the ‘life is too short’ camp; I have no guilt at all abandoning a book that isn’t working for me. Many times, I will ‘respect art,’ as the article suggests, by devoting that time to another book. But I do have other hobbies to spend time on, and people I care about who need me. I just can’t spend the time on a book which is a slog.
I was delighted to see some comments on my post yesterday, and even more delighted when I got some feedback from readers who follow me on Teleread, but tend to never comment. My mom, for instance, is a tech-phobe who seems to feel like commenting is some sort of special skill. And the Beloved is an IT professional who knows how shaky online privacy is and never exposes himself unnecessarily. And what were their verdicts in the issue of finishing every book?
Well, it went both ways. My mother does finish every book. But she is also an odd duck in some ways in that she does not have strong literary preferences. If she asks me to shop for her, she’ll request Nora Roberts or Jodi Picoult type of books. But she is very much a situational reader in that she will read whatever happens to be around. So if a friend drops off a stack of books for her to borrow, she’ll work her way methodically through them and then see what else happens to be around.
The Beloved, on the other hand, was firmly in the ‘no’ camp. He thinks that forcing people to read bad books is what kills the love of reading for many people when they are children. He hated being forced to read ‘bad’ books when he was in school. He understands my argument that the study of literature is like the study of history in some ways; it is the job of the public school system to expose students to the major works because some of them will not go on to study literature further and so they need to come out of high school with an overview of the high points. But I think he wishes that so many of these high points do not have to be so unbearably dull.
And more to the point, for him, was this: as humans, we have been blessed with free will and we should feel free to avail ourselves of it whenever we wish to. In other words: life is too short to read bad books. As I said!
I agree with you, life is too short to waste on something your not getting anything out of (and you could extend this beyond books).
When I was younger I use to finish every book I started, no matter how dull for me. It was a matter of having invested “x” amount of time in something and not wanting to have nothing to show for it–if I read the whole book then I figured that I had accomplished something. Now, I think this is absolutely ridiculous! Why throw good money after bad?
Nowadays, if something can’t hold my attention and I’m about 20% of the way through the book, I chuck it. By the way this goes for audio books too, which I listen to frequently.
I think reading is a very personal thing and the only person who should decide whether I finish a book is me. I think an article suggesting we should always finish a book is a bit presumptuous but not unreasonably so. I think an article suggesting we should stop reading a book we aren’t enjoying is equally presumptuous.
As you said, we have free will. We can all make up our own minds about that. Free will doesn’t mean doing what you say or what that other blogger says. It means doing what I want to do.
A retired professor of English Literature said her rule was to give a book 100 pages minus the reader’s ago. I suppose that makes sense: the young have more time ahead. I was never that exact on when or when not to finish a book – I just give up when I feel liking throwing in the towel.
I will give a book 50 pages to hook me. Yes, life is too short, and in this day and age, we have so many opportunities to find stories that resonate with us. Also, I don’t buy the “respect art” argument. Sure, I respect people for putting their souls into any form of creation, but enjoyment of art is a subjective experience. Just because someone chooses to create something doesn’t mean that I must experience very moment of their creation. To show respect IMO simply means that I shouldn’t willfully subvert their attempt to create.
Agreed! Life is too short to read bad books. However, some of the books we may have viewed as “bad” when we were in school were not necessarily poorly written. We just didn’t enjoy the content at that particular age.