AutoTopic: Do You Feel Obligated To Finish All Books You Start Reading?

I liked this AutoTopicGenerator suggestion because it is right up my alley.  I love to read, and am generally happy with anything between the back of the cereal box to some pretty far-out stuff, both fiction and nonfiction. Obviously that statement speaks to my tinker-toy approach to an engineering world, but that’s not addressing the topic.

The short answer is:  YES, dammit!  The why (not asked, technically, but pretty important nonetheless) is not a True/False or Multiple Guess answer.  Yes, I know, I hated story problems and essay questions too.  Who would have thought I’d wind up doing a blog?  Again, I digress…

Of course it is important to finish a book once you start!  And never, never dog-ear the pages!  What do you think bookmarks are for?  Anyway, I’d suggest that if you put one down then you are insulting the poor schmuck who spent all that time and effort creating it.  I mean really, why in the hell did you buy the book in the first place?  Don’t get me wrong, because I’m not laying this out as an absolute standard here.  I’ve picked up a couple of works by British academics that even my dull mind couldn’t successfully bludgeon into submission.  In this use case, we find our corollary rule:  One is allowed to abandon the book if the author has made it bamboo-under-your-nails painful to read.

I think an additional note here is also important, and this is purely personal.  By whatever combination of genes, nurturing, and self-elected life direction, I am what you could call a “Type 5-A” personality, with borderline OCD issues.  So given that it should come as no surprise that I will plug along through some of the most dense and obtuse shit out there in the literary world before even acknowledging a tie, let alone defeat.  I can recall two books in 42 years I’ve set down, never to return to, and said, “Dear Lord, either fix that poor jackwagon or snatch him up now, because he can’t write!” In order to avoid this statistic from climbing, I generally avoid Shakespeare. Someone needs to revise his shit into more modern English, sorry.

I currently have several works “in progress” on my shelves, notably the copy of The Iliad that my sister gave me.  In this example, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m waiting for my brain to mature to the point where I can exercise enough patience to finish that work. I also blame the translator.

Jury is still out on that possibility (the mature brain part, not the book being finished part).


85 Responses to “AutoTopic: Do You Feel Obligated To Finish All Books You Start Reading?”

  1. Agreed that it is necessary, no matter how bad the book is, to finish reading a book. Currently, I’m reading a book that isn’t so good but I’m just trying to get it over with because I know if I stop now, I will feel like I “gave up” and that something is still on my “to-do list”. It’s sad but I need the satisfaction of knowing I finished every book I read.

  2. I always dog-ear the pages of my books! I didn’t realize I was committing such a cardinal sin 😉 I usually dog-ear the pages that have a good quote/line/passage that I want to go back to and read again…. once I’m done with a book it might have like 20-30 folded over pages. Don’t hate me.

  3. I used to feel a bit guilty if I didn’t finish a book, but not anymore. There are too many other books waiting to be read. Sometimes, I pick up a book that I abandoned some years before and it now holds my interest.

    Looks like you’ll be setting a record for number of days on FP! I laugh every morning when I log on and see your post is still there. I’m laughing with you, not at you. You are laughing, right?

  4. Thank god you criticized Shakespeare. I dislike the fact Stratford upon Avon solely exists as a town to pay homage to him. They did away with corporal punishment in schools but they still force kids to read Shakespeare. It makes no sense, I’d have taken a cane to the back of the legs if it meant I needn’t have read any.

  5. I used to feel the same way. Then I read too much crap. And it is totally the author’s fault (and his editor and publisher) for pushing unreadable hooey on us.

    That said, I’ve finished plenty of bad books, usually as parts of series. But when it gets to that point, I won’t go back for the next book.
    Although I recently read the 3 book set of Genesis of Shanarra, and was pleasantly surprised by it, having given up on that world over a dozen books ago.
    For the non-fiction, unless the author is an idiot with an unsupported, illogical premise, I can usually plow my way through it. Even if I don’t understand it…which happens a lot too…

  6. mkultra76 Says:

    Oh, I dog ear my pages and make sure that the first thing I do is bust the spine on it so that it will lay flat on a picnic table. Horrible, I know. As far as Shakespeare is concerned, my belief is that Shakespeare was meant to be “experienced”–as in seen and heard on a stage. It’s tons more interesting that way. I love Shakespeare’s work, but I cannot stand reading it.

  7. In my younger years, if I started a book, I finished it. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. It didn’t matter if I had borrowed the book from a friend, received it as a gift, checked it out of the library, or purchased it for myself: once started, I read through to the sometimes bitter end.

    That is no longer the case. If an author hasn’t hooked me in the first 25-50 pages, I close the cover and turn my attention to another book . . . without regret

    * Unlike turning away (mid-sentence) from a tedious speaker, returning an unappealing book to the shelf unread is not rude.

    * Unless someone is holding a gun to my head, or I’m being compensated for my time, I see no reason to keep turning pages that offer me nothing in return.

    * No longer a dewy-eyed optimist, I refuse to believe that tedious writing, ill-formed characters, and laborious story lines will transform themselves if I forge ahead.

    * Slogging through swamp water to reach a distant destination holds little appeal. I no longer expect to be surprised by a satisfactory ending after a dismal start.

    * Why should a book (we are not enjoying) be more deserving of our time and attention than the book (we will adore) that’s still waiting on the shelf for us to find?

    * An imaginary obligation to its author (Just because we happened to pick it up first) seems a poor justification for finishing what we’ve started.

    In reading, like life, the journey matters more (to me) than the destination. I refuse to plod along a rocky road riddled with potholes solely to satisfy my curiosity about an unseen destination which may not be worth the trek.

    Reading either benefits the reader, or no one. Every book out there wants to be read, but we can’t read them all. It pays to be selective and be dictated solely by our own preferences.

    So, NO, I do NOT feel obligated to finish reading books I’ve started.

  8. Ok, so you know I just HAD to make a point of dog earing every single page in GGnS simply because you said not to. I hoping to God this pisses you off on some cosmic level.

  9. When I read books with actual paper in them, I always finished the book. I have become abusive since getting my Kindle. I have about 25 books on there so far. I have finished two and am reading four.

    I may go back to paper.

    Great post.

  10. I did a post a while ago titled “Putting the book down” where I talked about this as well. I generally finish most of the books that I read, an author has to be really pissing me off to make me put the book down before I’m finished with it. That said, there are times when I really wish that I could make myself put bad books down sooner than I do. I’m always willing to give new authors a chance, but if I’m not enjoying the book, why should I keep slogging through it when there are so many other books out that that I could be enjoying?

  11. GAWD! I HATE OCD sometimes! I have this curse too, which has led me to finish many books I just wanted to burn. Sticking my head in a hot oven would be preferable to some of the books I’ve had to finish…

  12. whiteladyinthehood Says:

    aaahhh…the power of a good book. Such a simple and wonderful thing. I prefer paper – love turning the pages – but use a bookmark! I have set one or two aside and thought – ICK, what was I thinking?Most of the time I do feel ‘obligated’ to finish..funny thing…Most of the time I can read the first few pages and know I will love it or put it back. Dont laugh too hard but I love Stephen King..I would buy menus if I knew he wrote them.
    I figured you were FP’d for so long because they were wanting you to go viral? I think thats the industry term. lol. Been keeping my fingers crossed for you. Oh, and Hate Shakespeare.

  13. I, like you, do NOT dog ear a book. I use anything else to mark my place. If I was truly advanced, I would memorize the page number. As for Shakespeare, I can still quote the soliloquy from Hamlet and a portion from Macbeth. Loved them both…still do. Sorry, you find them appallingly painful, but I totally understand. My teens are still grappling with getting through them…Coles notes versions are what they are using.

  14. savorthefolly Says:

    It’s been a LONG time since I finished a book. I think it has something to do with my children. I will, however, be reading “Talking to your children about sex” from cover to cover as the elder one is starting to ask questions and I don’t want to scar her in a moment of panic by blurting out, “OKAY OKAY I ADMIT IT YOUR DADDY AND I HAVE SEX!……oh wait, I’m sorry, what was your question?”

  15. Becoming Bitter Says:

    Lol @ Autotopic. Thanks for the tip about making another blog. I didn’t know since I’m a new recruit. WP is acting effed up these days or maybe it’s just me. I’m a little OCD myself and I agree books should be treated with respect. I will read anything, but my preference is science fiction. Now to actually answer the question… I do feel obligated to finish books I start (unless I think its full of crap).

  16. I will not finish a book with a QUICKNESS in addition to dog-earing the pages. Call me what you want but I don’t have time to finish a book that hasn’t gripped me in the first 65 pages (unless I’m told to plow through because it will get better like “The…Dragon Tattoo.” Don’t tell my husband, but I looked at the back of the package that came in the mail while he was at work and it said, “BOOKMARKS” so I know I’m getting one for Christmas, so I’ll stop dog-earing then.

  17. If a book hasn’t hooked me by the first 400 pages, then I just can’t finish it. And using a dog-ear is cruel. That’s why I use a rabbit’s foot.

  18. My rule of thumb has always been ‘if it catches me by the equivalent of double my age, I’ll keep reading.’

  19. I have a little ADHD brain working on these books so generally if it doesn’t grab me in the first 10 pages it’s a goner. I do try and read everything I purchase. Most of the time I spend a few minutes in Barnes and Noble reading the first few pages so I don’t buy something I can’t or won’t finish. I have yet to decide whether that is stealing or not.

  20. John Erickson Says:

    Don’t worry, the brain DOES expand to allow you to read things you currently can’t. I tried a 1,000+ page book on the Civil War from the South’s view, aptly titled “The Lost Cause”. I tried in my early teens, my late teens, and my early twenties to read it and failed, though I finally succeeded in my early thirties.
    Though I haven’t read a book in years – I mine both magazines and the Net for info. Can’t afford cut down trees no more, ‘cept to heat my home.
    Don’t worry, you’ll get Shakespeare eventually. It just needs a bit more …. civilising …. than you have received so far. 😉

  21. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest – Do Not Want. Just couldn’t do it anymore. I not only stopped reading that book, I divorced it and took the house.

  22. I always try to finish anything I start, that’s just me. I really have to say that I appreciate your noting just how very wrong it is to dog ear a book. My spouse recently ran into the room upon hearing me scream “Bastards!” “What’s wrong/” he asked looking very concerned. A bit chagrined I replied, “Someone dog eared this library book.” “Oh” he said looking a little let down, “I thought something had happened.”

  23. I only ever dog-ear the pages that leave an impression on me…better then highlighting, right?
    By the way….you’re still freakin Freshly Pressed! how’d you pull that off? The WordPress God’s must be shining down on you.

  24. You must get different auto-topics from me. This is another one I’ll definitely steal. I have trouble not finishing a book, but sometimes I just can’t finish it. More later in a blog. 😀

  25. Haha! Yes someone needs to slip Shakespeare a note or something. It’s 2011, stop being all uppity with the language.

  26. I’m currently about halfway through a dozen books. I’d like to finish all of them eventually, but new stuff keeps coming out!

  27. Nope. If a book is really bad or boring then I will just stop reading at some point.

    Books are no different to films, games or TV shows in that regard. There is no point in wasting time forcing myself to finish a book when there will be other, better ones waiting out there.

  28. I was thinking about this last night and I remember a time when I would never leave a book unfinished. Then I met J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring. It did me in. I’ve tried several times to make it through, but each time I get hung-up on the 500 pages devoted to that bloody little Hobbit’s birthday. If we could reduce that to two pages with Frodo giving a nice “Happy F’in Birthday, Uncle Bilbo. We’d love to stay, but see we need to see a volcano about a ring. Cheerio and all that you whiney little has-been.” Then chop chop onto the adventure, I’d feel differently. The movie inspired me to try again and I made it past the birthday only to put the book down again and glare at it. You win book, you win. (I just lost major geek cred among my geek friends.)

    After that, I find I can drop books left and right. I give them about 50 pages to find their pace and if it’s not amusing me by then, it’s banished into the Half Price Book resell pile for someone more patient than me to read.

    Aside – I also don’t dog ear and cracked spines make me nuts.

    • Dammit! You just spoiled the ending for me! Kidding. JRRT’s works are amazingly impenetrable considering how nerdily popular they are. No offense (or offence, if you prefer), but I’ve noted a higher number of Brit authors who write this way than other ones. I’m sure Ms. Stephenson will verbally assault me now…

    • I think Tolkien is something you read at a certain age or can never read at all. I loved it in high school but I can’t imagine slogging through it now, with the detailed descriptions, the songs, the fake history. The funny thing is that’s exactly what I loved about it in high school. It’s the same with harry potter.

  29. Rachel Smith Says:

    I have somewhere around 5 or 6 books that I have began, shoved a bookmark into, sat down, and not returned to. I do intend to finish them one day. I feel they at least deserve that. And I have found that sometimes when I do push through a tough beginning I end up loving the book in the end. But when I have other, more enjoyable books beckoning me from the shelf it is hard to pick back up that one that didn’t hold my interest. Ya know? But thanks to this post of yours I feel compelled to go grab one of those half-read suckers and finish! My books and their authors thank you 🙂

    • Life is always tough for an avid reader!

      By the way I noticed your blog isn’t linked to your posting name. Easily fixed:

      Dashboard > Users > Personal Settings. Scroll down to the website box and enter the full address of your blog. Save changes.


      • Hmm. Well it had my site address there, but I redid it anyway. Then again, Freshly Pressed seems to be stuck on me right now. WP maintenance team must be on vacation.

    • I’m the same way. I’m about to re-engage one on the Catholic Church and the Jews… dense stuff, but filled with interesting facts.

  30. Dog-ears… The horror…
    Mostly I try to continue, but sometimes it hurts way more to read on. Then I give the book some dog-ears because it deserves it :).

  31. Rants – Sorry, I was talking to Rachel Smith about the website comment thing!

    John Erickson has the same issue actually (assuming he has a blog).

  32. Gotta finish, each and every time that happens to me. Sometimes it REALLY drags out tho.
    P.S. How do you get an auto suggestion? 🙂

  33. I literally read the entirety of The Iliad in one night ten years ago. Suck it up, Rants.

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