Did any of you catch the recent article at The Atlantic online Finish That Book!? The article’s author, Juliet Lapidos, argues that we should finish reading every book we start. To that I say no way lady. I spent half my life believing I had to finish every book I began reading and don’t even want to try to calculate how many hours of unhappiness slogging through a book I was not enjoying has caused me. I can, however, tell you that it did not make me a better person in any way in spite of Lapidos’ belief that it does.
Lapidos thinks that too many people give up on books too soon. She has had personal experience in which she has kept reading a book she did not like only to find that by the end of it she liked it very much. I dunno, to me this sounds like the bookish equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome. If you have spent a large chunk of time reading 700 pages of a book you did not like, of course by the time you are done with it you will be looking for a way to justify all that time and effort because you don’t want to admit that yeah, you should have given up on page 35 after all.
Lapidos gives a number of reasons why one should never give up on a book. They are:
- Pleasure. Because you never know when it might get good.
- Fortitude. Finishing a book you don’t like makes you stronger by building up your ability to “endure intellectual anguish.”
- Respect. The author worked really hard to write that book and it is only right to respect their efforts and see it through to the end no matter what.
The only time you should ever stop reading a book is if it is utter trash. But then you should avoid reading trash entirely anyway so really this is a non-issue. Right.
Lapidos takes a reading-as-broccoli approach. Books are not broccoli. Want to kill a love of reading in someone? Tell them to read a book because it is good for them.
I know a book might get good eventually. Or it might not. Sometimes I am not willing to find out. Sometimes there is just enough of something about a book that makes me willing to stick with it in spite of my misgivings. And sometimes I am glad I kept going and sometimes I am not.
I don’t think there is any merit to being able to endure intellectual anguish. What’s the point of making yourself miserable? Is there some special award that comes with cash and chocolate I don’t know about?
As for respect, sure writing a book is hard but that doesn’t mean a person deserves respect. An author needs to earn my respect, I don’t give it automatically just because they spent five lonely years writing a novel. That was their choice, though now and then I wonder if it perhaps may not have been a sign of insanity and a cry for help.
I know there are plenty of readers who slog their way to the end of a book because they feel guilty for giving up on it. I have felt that guilt too and can totally relate. But as I have gotten older and realized I have gained very little benefit from that guilt, I have managed to cut myself some slack and give up on books I am not enjoying. If Lapidos prefers to read until the bitter end that’s no skin off my teeth, she can do what she wants to with her books. She just shouldn’t be telling me what I should do with mine.