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Bookish Thoughts

Finishing the book

By July 10, 20133 Comments

behind the curtainOne of the latest things buzzing around the book world on the internet is this infographic from Goodreads that sums up why people don’t finish reading books. Interestingly, it also demonstrates that a whole lot of people do, in fact, finish books. Good news for those of us attempting to write them.

This is a conversation I’ve had often with my reading friends–once you start, do you have to finish? Until a few years ago, I was a pretty religious finisher of books. If I started it, by god, I was going to finish it. Then one of two things happened.

Theory one is that I became a serious writer. There are moments when I wonder if writing yourself isn’t a bit like pulling the curtain back and revealing the great and wonderful Oz is really just a pathetic old man. Only, I guess in this metaphor, I am the pathetic old man behind the curtain.

Novels have guts. Innards. Smelly insides. When you try to create one, you come to realize this. There are tricks. There are skills. There is ugliness.

On the one hand, knowing how hard it is to write a novel gives you a whole new level of appreciation for the people who pull it off. It also might make you much less tolerant when people don’t pull it off. What frustrates me most is the very good idea with a really strong start that just falls apart somewhere in the middle. I know how easily that can happen. It’s just disheartening when it does. And those are the books I’m less likely to finish reading.

Theory two has nothing to do with writing. It’s just age. The infographic quotes the rule that you should abandon a book after 100 minus your age number of pages. Say, just for the sake of argument, that you’re 39. You should abandon a book after 61 pages. But if you’re 25, you abandon the book after 75 pages. Why? Because you are running out of time to read books! Why waste it on something you don’t really want to be reading?

This, I believe, is the better explanation for what I call “The Pile of Books I Will Never Read But Cannot Quite Bring Myself to Admit” that sits next to my bed. Ask my husband. It’s kind of chaos, and I’m somewhat reluctant to think too much on what this pile says about my inner emotional landscape. I’d take a picture, but it might hurt the feelings of some of the authors involved. I will say that War and Peace is in that pile. Sorry, Tolstoy.

What’s especially interesting about the infographic to me is why people stop reading a book. Number 1 reason–it’s slow and boring. Weak writing is number 2. There’s a good lesson for the pathetic old man behind the curtain.

Do you feel compelled to finish reading a book once you’ve started? What makes you stop or keep going? Are you like my friend, who reads the ending first (it’s horrifying, I know)?


  • Emily Crowe says:

    I tend to give a book 50-75 pages. If I don’t have a compelling reason to continue (people whose taste I trust love it, or I have to read it for work, etc) I put it down.

    Being a bookseller has made me realize more than anything that not every book is right for everybody AND that I can sometimes read just 50 pages of those books and still be able to talk to customers about it in a positive way.

    I’ve been thinking of you since this morning–I was looking at my PGW Fall ‘2013 catalog and skimming through some of the smaller imprint publishers they distibute when I ran across an old, familiar name: Kiese Laymon. Are y’all still friends? I ordered a copy for the store and asked my rep to send me a copy to read.

  • sup says:

    im a bit of a compulsive finisher, even while knowing it’s probably not a good idea because the combined effort of plodding through pages that im not even enjoying leaves a really bad taste and a bad memory of the book too. plus, there’s only so much more time to read the good stuff! what’s heartening is that i seem to be getting over myself on this count, though painfully slowly.

    still havent broken out of reading in a linear fashion though (even for stuff that’s clearly not necessary to be cover to cover in one breath). which also makes it a toughie to do the much romanticised thing of dipping into books.

    but yeah, to me reading does feel similar to taking a long breath and diving under, and i only feel comfortable emerging when it’s done. sometimes there are pearls to be found and sometimes just a lot of gasping and spluttering

    • Robyn Ryle says:

      Love that metaphor…diving under and sometimes coming up with pearls, but sometimes just drowning. I guess in that sense, I find myself a lot lately dipping my toe in and then deciding the water’s not quite right!

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