Recently, I did something that I can only remember doing once before – I didn’t finish a book I was reading.
I know for many, that’s not a big deal. But as I said, I only remember doing it once before. I’ve read entire 800 page cookbooks cover to cover – literally. I’ve trudged through epic novels because, as difficult as they were, I was at least interested in the story line. But this last one, it was a critically acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize finalist, but I just couldn’t get through it.
I haven’t donated or dropped the book into a free library yet. I just keep thinking I might want to pick it up again and finish it because I can’t not finish a book. It’s not something I do. If I’m finding a book difficult to get through, I can usually accept that the story line or writing isn’t to my liking; or that I just don’t “get it”, and find a way to finish it.
I’ve also been known to get a few paragraphs into a book, maybe even through the first chapter, and then decide I’m not going to read the book – to me that’s quite different than investing hours of my time, getting 2/3rds through and just not finishing it. But all I could come up with for continuing to read this one was that it was critically acclaimed award winner. And that wasn’t enough this time.
Again, not finishing a book may seem like a simple thing, and it’s not really a big deal, in the grand scheme of things. But it has been weighing on me. Silly, I know. I mean, it’s just a book, right? So I’ve been trying to figure out what about this particular book, or me right now, has made me just give up on it. Why can I not get through this one book?
I’ve read some terrible self published stuff – that even I could tell needed an editor. I’ve read through some books about faith or politics that I don’t agree with. I’ve read through stories that were so bizarre I couldn’t figure out what I was reading. But I kept going, because all of them contained information. Sometimes it was a different point of view, or different popular cultural references. Sometimes is was something culturally significant and I therefore wanted to understand the significance or history behind it’s popularity and importance. But there was something, or some reason, in the back of my subconscious prodding me along to finish the other books that I found to be difficult to get through.
The only other time I can remember not finishing a book, I got to the last chapter or two but could no longer keep track of the plot, the twists, or the absurd happenings and I unceremoniously chucked the book over the my shoulder while riding an exercise bike at that gym. No one was hurt in the page pummeling, but I did get quite a few funny looks from the other gym members. I even went so far as to throw the book into the garbage after I finished my exercising. Something else I can’t recall doing often, if ever, with a book.
The thing that’s so unusual about me not finishing a book is that I love words and books. I’ll read ingredient information on condiment packets in take out containers because they’re there. I was a voracious reader when I was younger – life and bifocals have slowed me down over the years, but I still enjoy reading. There are stacks of books around the house, in various stages of being read. I still subscribe to print magazines. I love libraries and book stores. I love the feel of different types of pages – the slick glossy ones, the gossamer ones in giant tomes, the rough pulpy ones that look as if you could simply pick the letters up off the pages. I love e-pubs and the possibility of hundreds of books being contained in a single book-sized device.
Yet, at the same time, I realize that I won’t ever read every single book out there. I know I don’t like all of them and I try to only pick up the ones that I might enjoy, even when I’m reading them for their cultural or historical significance. I know there are some amazing works of literature for which entire fields of study have developed, yet I probably won’t read them. I can accept that.
So why the nagging in my sub-conscience about not finishing this book? Why does something so seemingly trivial bother me so?
Because it makes me feel like a quitter. How silly is that?
I simply quit. I just didn’t want to read it anymore. It didn’t hold my interest, it wasn’t bettering my life in anyway – it wasn’t harming it either, but that’s not the point. Maybe, to use two current catch phrases, the book simply didn’t spark joy or add value to my life. And that’s good, right? I figured out what many people are spending a lot of time, money, and resources trying to figure out for themselves. I figured out what needed to go to increase my enjoyment and contentment in life.
But that doesn’t seem quite right, either. It still just feels like quitting. With so much happening in my life right now, I often feel like I just want to quit. It’s not that life’s terrible right now, far from it, it’s just that I’m overwhelmed with a lot of minor, overall trivial, things.
Aren’t we overwhelmed all at some point? Well, right now, I’m at that point.
Again, it isn’t any one thing, and nothing so terrible that I can lament, and complain about how terrible life is treating me. It”s just some nondescript doldrums. So being able to quit something, something as trivial as reading a book that didn’t “spark joy” feels like a weight lifting. It was a simple thing, but it let me feel in control of something. Even if that something was simply what I spent my free time reading.
The story line of a book won’t change if I don’t finish the book. It will end, just the same as it does now. Book endings don’t depend on the reader in any way (unless it’s a “choose your own story”). It doesn’t matter that I don’t know what the last sentence is or how things were resolved. There isn’t going to be a gap in my life because I don’t know how one book ends. I don’t know how millions of books end, but that doesn’t seem to bother me.
So that’s what I’m going to do, it’s time to drop that unfinished book into the donate box. Someone else (actually lots of people, as it is critically acclaimed, after all), might enjoy it more than I have and I can move onto a book I’d enjoy reading. I can start something new. Quitting isn’t always quitting, sometimes it’s starting something new.