Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Half-Read Books

What kind of reader are you? There are many ways to answer this question, but for me, the two words I'd use are slow and persistent. Slow in that I don't read particularly quickly because I like to savor what I'm enjoying. Persistent in that I will push on to the very last page, even if I'm not particularly connecting with the characters or thrilled with the story.

In today's Guardian books blog Suzanne Munshower has written a piece entitled In Praise of Books Half-Read. It begins:
Some folks feel the need to finish any book once started; that this is something "owed" to the author. Some also won't walk out on a bad film because it's been paid for, or send back a plate of pricey dog food in this week's hot restaurant for fear of "looking bad". But if a close personal friend didn't write the book, take you to the cinema, or cook the meal, why care?
Yup, that's me, dead-on. I suppose I'm persistent because I'm an inveterate optimist. I believe something good might come out of the experience if I stick with it. And so I do.

However, I reached the end of Munshower's article and had a revelation. Here's what she said.
There is, after all, no accounting for taste – as a friend who saw the film Mouse Hunt on my recommendation has never let me forget.

There is, however, accounting for time, and time spent in reading an unappealing book can never be regained.
Once again I'm reminded of the terrific post by Julius Lester entitled How Many Books Can One Read? In essence it's an eloquent summary of the notion "so many books, so little time."

I think both Munshower and Lester are right. Time is too precious and there many books out there waiting to be read. If a book doesn't work for me (or you), why stick with it?


  1. I'm like you, Tricia. I rarely walk away from a book, though there are two James Michner titles I just couldn't finish (one fifty pages from the end!).

    There are so many things worth reading. Maybe I need to change my perspective some.

  2. I've only just started, in the last couple of years, to not feel the need to finish a book. It's interesting that you bring it up today because I wrote a post at my blog on this very subject that I've scheduled to post tomorrow.

    Thanks for the links.

  3. If I don't like a book, I cheat-- it only takes me about 10 minutes to whisk briskly through 100 pages of a book I don't like, and then I can achieve closure.

    Before I get to this point, I might well have read the end 2 or even 3 times. I often check the ending to see if I'm going to be surprised :) If I don't like the end, I might not even bother to skim.

    And I am about to post a related post too, on when can one give up on a book one hasn't read...

  4. I don't usually pick up a book lightly. I've read reviews and it's been on one list or another of mine before I actually buy it or get it from the library. So I usually know what I'm getting into. If I do take a risk, it's usually a library book and I don't feel the pressure to finish it if it's not grabbing me. Some books are just slower than others and I usually deal with those by rotating between three or four books to give myself breaks. I loved One Hundred Years of Solitude, but it took me about that long to read iy--yet I might read a Elmore Leonard novel in one sitting.

  5. I've thrown down many a book and moved on. But some books I liked even less I kept reading.
    That's something that intrigues me: The Worst Book You Ever Finished.

    For me, I think it is Bram Stoker's Lair of the White Worm.

  6. Billy Bud, without a doubt. Hated it.