So Many Books, So Little Time: Unfinished Business in 2020
When do you allow yourself to "walk away" from a book you are not enjoying? At 50 pages? 100? When you have read "your age?" Never? In this essay, first published on TAPinto in January 2020, I grant you permission to put that book down.
Do you think that books have abandonment issues?
Do they feel discarded, rejected, forsaken.
Of course they don’t. But then why do so many of us act like they do?
If you are anything like me, then you find it difficult to walk away from a book, even when you are not enjoying it thoroughly.
If it’s clearly not the books feelings we are concerned with, then does leaving a book point to a shortfall in ourselves? A lack of commitment?
Maybe everyone is raving about a certain book and you just don’t get it, but think you should keep trying. Or you feel that your life will be improved once you ingest the tidbits of this book. It could be deemed a classic by those “in the know.” Perhaps you bought it, so you feel you need to finish it so that you don’t feel you are throwing out your money.
Did you invent your own personal gauge? “I’ll give it 100 pages,” you tell yourself. I once even heard a harsher sentence by giving it your age. So if you are 40, that’s only 40 pages until you grant yourself permission to jump ship.
And what do you do about adding the title to your Goodreads list? Do you keep it as “want to read” or mark it read? Is it fair to rate it if you didn’t finish?
(I solved this Goodreads dilemma years ago by actually creating an additional category called “abandoned.” Alas, not many books grace the shelves.)
There is actually a name for this syndrome--it’s called “Unfinished Book Guilt.” Back in 2013, The Atlantic ran an article on it “The Quiet Shame of the Half-Book Reader,” by Jen Doll.
In it, she says, “There's not enough time in life to feel bad about a book you're reading!”
“But reading is not about the chore of finishing a book,” Doll writes. “It's about pleasure, regardless of the type of pleasure we expect from reading (some want a challenge, some want a good story, some want to look smart). Even so, sometimes it's difficult to let ourselves go and just read for fun, and maybe it's more difficult to actively cut the cord, step away, admit that it's not going so well and your best bet is to move on.”
So I ask, what’s next? Walking out of a movie? Not watching a final season of a TV series? Or (gasp) leaving a Broadway show at intermission or a baseball game at the seventh-inning stretch? Not giving a date a second chance?
I channel my inner Scarlett and say, “fiddle dee dee.”
I hereby grant you permission to jump ship. Abdicate. Get out of Dodge. Whenever you feel like it.
I say, let 2020 be the start of book freedom! No more guilt when abandoning a book.
Although someday, I may write my own book. It will be filled with little essays about things of very little importance. Like this topic.
And at that point, my story just may change.