Reading books: Finishing what you’ve started vs. Not wasting your time

Posted: March 6, 2013 in Books & Reading
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We’ve all been there. You’re about a quarter of the way through a book and it’s just dragging. I mean, the characters are okay, and the potential is high, but there’s just something off. You just don’t care.

So, you set the book aside.

But do you ever pick it back up?

If you’re like me, you do. I have a strong inability to let anything go. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes that’s a bad thing. A very, very bad thing.

I would probably be able to read more books if I didn’t feel like I had to finish everything I started. Part of it is the fact that I spent money on the book. I don’t like letting things go to waste. The other part is that, well, how do I know it won’t end well?

Kind of like Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. The movie was kind of boring two-thirds of the way through, but that final act was strong enough that I went out and bought the DVD when it was released.

And that’s happened to me with books as well. Unlike most people, I suffered through The Casual Vacancy and came out the other side with a positive review of the novel.

Sometimes, I think, we don’t necessarily have to enjoy the book in order to read it. Sometimes we should read things we don’t like in order to find out why. And then there are those rare instances where we may end up liking the story after all.

But I can see why some people wouldn’t want to waste their time. Reading is supposed to be enjoyable. It’s supposed to take you to another land. Why travel to that new place if you hate it? It’s like someone vacationing in the arctic for the winter just for the heck of it.

But I’m what my friend likes to call a completist. I have to finish what I’ve started.

What about you? Do you finish every book you’ve started, or do you put it down if it’s not good enough? What’s your reasoning?

  1. Jae says:

    I think I give a book about 3 or 4 chapters to impress me. If it’s been torture the whole time, I give it up. Life is simply too short to be wasting on a book you’re hating to read (and I don’t mean hating the subject matter, I mean you think the writing is awful or boring). I realized in my teenage years that even if all I did every day all day was read or watch movies there was no way I would be able to read or watch everything I wanted to watch, let alone what I don’t. Time is too precious for me.

    On the 3 or 4 chapters rule, if say, Chapter 3 picks back up, then I reset to 3 or 4 chapters more. Sometimes if the writing is boring, but the story is good, I’ll skim read to finish. But no, I don’t finish everything I start when it comes to reading. Great thought-provoking post, thanks!

    • Karen Rought says:

      Thanks for commenting! This is the answer that I see most often, and it definitely makes sense. Why bother reading something you don’t like when there are hundreds of books you can read that you will like?

  2. Julie Glover says:

    I used to finish almost everything. I’ve become far more ruthless. There’s just only so much time to read books, so why waste it reading something I don’t like? Sometimes it’s not that the book isn’t good; it just isn’t my thing. Nothing personal to the author. I’d just rather being reading something else.

  3. there are only a handful of books that i have never finished. one still eyeballs me from the bookshelf to this day saying, “c’mon! you know you want to try again!” but for that particular book i just can’t. i really need to donate it to a library so someone else with more appreciation for that particular writer can enjoy it.

    i do think you can learn something from reading not so good books, although i haven’t read too many of those lately. it is funny you mention the casual vacancy, because i am actually struggling with that one right now. so disappointing! however i do see the potential for the story and i’m willing to stick with it longer than i would have for an author i wasn’t familiar with. (please don’t let me down, jo!)

    • Karen Rought says:

      Is it strange there are about two books I have never finished, and both of them I feel guilty about? I definitely have the “it’s staring at me from my bookshelf” problem too. I don’t know why it bothers me so much!

      If you’re anything like me, you’ll find the story of TCV is infinitely less interesting than the implications of it. The story is nothing to write home about, but what she’s trying to say through her words is what kept me reading. That’s where the value lies. I hope you’re able to finish it!

      • oh, i’ll finish it; i may just take a couple of months to do it and i may read a few other books in between. i just wish it felt as effortless as her other works. i am so aware of her writing in this one it just stops me. i find myself sighing heavily ALOT while reading. sad to say that was never the case before.

  4. If the book turns out to be rubbish, sure, I’ll abandon it. Time’s precious – don’t want to waste it on something I don’t like.

    That said, I *am* wading through John Rateliff’s ‘The History of the Hobbit’ at the moment, which is heavy going and a bit obsessively analysed in places…but kind of interesting.

    • Karen Rought says:

      It’s probably best to just weigh options. A book might be tough to get through, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit. Something like that sounds like it could drag, but be worth it in the end.

  5. Caroline says:

    Normally, I’m similar to your belief because I feel I need to finish what I started. Although, I’m dredging to finish my current book club book. You’re right, there’s too many great books so we should enjoy what we read.

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