Once upon a time, it was a source of pride for me that a book had to be rather grim to stop me from ploughing through. At the age of thirteen, Twilight and The DaVinci Code were two of a mere handful I had cast aside, never to look at again. It may not seem unusual to you that a teenager would have a selection of unfinished books but for me, who devoured every novel I could get my hands on, it was no small achievement for a book to be that poor.
For some reason, I had it in my head that I should read as much as I could, even if I didn’t like it. Perhaps it was the writer in me, curious about what worked and what didn’t. Maybe I just felt that it was unfair to complain about a book if I hadn’t done it the courtesy of actually reading it first, who knows? But then came the Kindle App on my phone, the first and last Elsie Dinsmore book I ever picked up, and the gradual constricting of time which happens as you get older.
It all culminated in my reading resolution for this year: I am not aiming for a certain number of books. I’m not aiming to read more (I may even read less). The goal is to read better.
Reader, you don’t have to finish that book and here are four reasons why.
YOU ONLY HAVE SO MUCH TIME
The truth is that time is finite and there are so many demands on what little we have that we can’t afford to waste it. As you get older, the demands will change but they will also increase. I spent a significant amount of my teenage years reading and the majority of it was either mediocre or poor work — not because that was all that was available (though it is hard to find quality books in that age range) but because once I started books, I felt obliged to finish them.
You only have so much time. If you aren’t enjoying a book by the time you get a few chapters in, don’t feel that you have to finish it. If you read at an average speed (200 words per minute) it will take you eight and a half hours to read an average-length fantasy novel (100,000 words) or five hours to read the average romance or historical fiction novel (60,000 words). That’s a lot of time you could be using for other things, whether housework or reading something you’re invested in.
Don’t let your guilt about not finishing a book make you lose time. There’s nothing shameful in putting a novel (or a work of non-fiction) down and saying it wasn’t for you.
YOU AREN’T ENJOYING IT
Fangirling has done the reading community something of a disservice. It’s not wrong to get excited about a book but the obsessive nature of many fandoms can lead to the average reader feeling guilty about not liking whichever book is in the limelight.
It took time for me to reconcile the fact that I didn’t like the Hunger Games or Red Queen (for very similar reasons, come to think of it — don’t @ me) because so many people were gushing about it.
The truth is that your interests may not be in the mainstream releases and that’s not a problem. It can make it difficult to find the books you like and to find others who share that enjoyment but it isn’t wrong in and of itself. Don’t force yourself to read a book that doesn’t interest you (at best, or you hate it at worst) because everyone else has read it.
Confession time: I’ve never read Harry Potter, nor will I. Other books I’m not about to read are Six of Crows, The Selection, Game of Thrones, or the Mortal Instruments books. They don’t interest me. Don’t feel bad when you aren’t taken with the books (or kinds of books) that everyone around you loves and certainly don’t read them if they’re not interesting.
This partly comes back to the time thing. You only have so much time and reading fiction is supposed to be an enjoyable activity. There are books you won’t enjoy but you will be required to read for school or university but when it comes to leisure reading, don’t be ashamed to put a book down if you aren’t enjoying it.
IT’S NOT YOUR TASTE
Just because you don’t enjoy a book doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. There are books out there that you have to admit are well-crafted but not the sort of thing you read. For example, H. P. Lovecraft was the master of creepiness but I’m not a fan of horror. Patrick Rothfuss is excellent at worldbuilding but you might find his story pacing too slow for your liking. Everyone is different.
Branching out into genres and styles you don’t normally read is healthy and often we discover things we would never have known we enjoyed, but if you try something new and don’t like it, you don’t have to finish it, no matter what anyone else says. You don’t have to like a book just because it’s well written or someone you respect recommended it to you.
This also goes for books you picked up on a whim. There are two kinds: ones you picked up which sold themselves honestly, and the ones that lied. When you pick up a book because you fancy trying it and it is what the cover suggested, it’s still ok to shelf it because you don’t like it after all. The ones that sell themselves as one thing and turn out to be something completely different, you’re allowed to throw darts at for wasting your time.
It’s good to try new things but it’s also ok to admit that you don’t like them. You don’t have to finish a book if it’s not to your taste, at least you can say you gave it a fair chance.
IT’S JUST A REALLY BAD BOOK
Here’s where we all feel awkward and guilty for admitting it (author solidarity and all that), but there are some genuinely awful books out there and some of them have even won awards. A book not being to your taste is one thing, a book being poor quality is a hwole other issue.
There are different kinds of poor though. The first is all-round poor. Sometimes, if I stumble across these, I finish them because there’s the comedic element but also this morbid fascination with whether it can get any worse (inevitably it does). If a book has little to no plot, flat characters, and stilted dialogue, don’t ever feel bad about putting it down. There are people out there who should have a restraining order on them that keeps them far away from any writing implements. You don’t need to finish those books.
Another kind of poor comes with weaknesses in a particular area. Take Ready Player One for instance. The worldbuilding was excellent, the concept was intriguing, but the characters were immensely unlikeable and the whole thing was a 1980s nostalgia trip indulged in by the author (with the occasional irrelevant rant about religion and other things). The incredible world he came up with was wasted and the plot flimsy at best. It can be hard to put down books that you want to like but you’re better off ditching it for a book you will like. Disclosure: I did finish Ready Player One and I sometimes wonder why.
Lastly there are books that are very good books in most aspects of craft, enjoyable books. But their fatal flaw is in their presentation. A hideous cover can be covered in brown paper and redesigned (not that I’m speaking from experience. . .) but a wonderful story poorly presented can only harm itself.
I read a number of books last year (traditional and indie published) that were riddled with typos and the formatting was unclear or inconsistent. These sound like pretty minor mistakes, but when you are reading a book, you don’t want to be pulled out of the story a few times every page to try and work out what the writer meant to say. Writers don’t have to have good grammar but they do need an editor — or at least a proofreader. I work for a publisher so I know that our proofreaders don’t catch everything but we’re talking a couple of understandable typos in one 300 page book, not several in 300 words, and nothing as obvious as using completely the wrong word.
But before I go off on one about the importance of reading over your work, the point is that you’re not a bad person for giving up on a good book because it’s not finished. If you want people to read your book, do them the courtesy of taking a little more time to polish it.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO FINISH THAT BOOK
Reading is a joy. We read to learn, to relax, and to escape but we only have a limited amount of time. It can be so easy to feel guilty about abandoning a book part-way through but there are legitimate reasons to do so. If you’re not enjoying it or it’s not to your taste, don’t feel pressured into reading something because everyone else raves about it, many of the best books (I’ve found) are the obscure or forgotten ones.
Sure, try new things, dip your toes in the waters of an unfamiliar genre, take recommendations from a friend or fellow book worm, but ultimately, read what you love no matter what anyone tells you otherwise.
- What reasons would you have for not finishing a book?
- What are some books you didn’t like but persevered through?