Do you have to finish books you start?

This started out as a comment on a poll over at GoodReads. It got too wordy and I figured it would be better to turn it into a post.

I used to refuse to quit reading after starting a book, which led to reading some things better left unread, to say the least—Piers Anthony’s Pornucopia, given to me1I’d noticed an ad for the book in the back of Aboriginal magazine and shown it to him, thinking it was hilarious. He ordered copies for both of us. I think Anthony self-published that one. When an author as well-known as Anthony has to self-publish a book, it should tell you something. And self-publishing, back in the mid-80s, got no respect. by a dear friend, Jim Gosnell. 2Jim, if you’re out there, I’ve lost your number and haven’t found a trace of an email address for you. Please contact me!

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

No, I am not kidding. Now I know about fetishes that I would never have imagined. I’m reasonably certain that Anthony found a list of such things, then went through that list and incorporated them into the plot. Anybody who knows me well will understand that sex doesn’t offend me, but it was the opposite of sexy, and so far from erotica that I’m not sure the man even understands the meaning of the word. It wasn’t entertaining in any way. The plot was fairly predictable for anyone who’d ever read Anthony, and I don’t happen to enjoy his work (largely due to such predictability). In any case, that sort of an experience will, I promise you, cure anyone of a driving need to finish every book she starts.

These days, whether or not I finish a book I start depends on a combination of factors:

  1. Just how bad is it?
  2. Is the writing bad, or the editing?
  3. How bored am I?
  4. Do I have access to any other reading material?
  5. Do I have anything else at all that I can do? Am I somehow trapped in a featureless room with nothing but this book?

There’s a certain level of “bad” that is like a train wreck. It’s hard to put down. I think the literary train wreck I encountered was Adrienne Barbeau’s Vampyres of Hollywood around 2008. (I was given a copy in return for a review.) It’s hard to match that level of writing. I’m hoping I don’t find another author who has managed it.

I can’t remember the last time I was bored enough to put up with bad writing or bad editing. I’ve not found myself trapped anywhere with no reading material in many years, thanks to the Kindle app on my phone.

All of this to say that I don’t finish most bad books anymore. I don’t finish boring books or books that just don’t suit my mood at the moment. Heck, Neal Stephenson wrote one of my favorite books of all time (Snow Crash), and I didn’t finish his most recent book (Termination Shock) because the foreshadowing triggered my claustrophobia. I shouldn’t have finished Dana Stabenow’s Everything Under the Heavens, but I kept thinking it had to get better. (It moved slowly and I found the main character to be utterly unlikeable, then it ended on a cliffhanger!)

I’m curious about my readers, though. Do you feel an obligation to finish the books you start?

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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One thought on “Do you have to finish books you start?

  1. At this point I do not feel that obligation. It used to be a book had to be actively bad for me to stop reading it, but in the last few years there have been a few I’ve put down to do something else and not been invested enough to continue, even after a hundred pages. Laziness and declining attention span, or is it the recognition of the abundance of books available to me?

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