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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