On not finishing books and other bookish sins

In July, I took part in #Middlemarchalong, a readalong of George Eliot’s famous 1872 novel, Middlemarch, hosted by Claire Fenby. Claire organised things so well with a discord chat, and weekly videos to discuss various topics of the book. It was really nice to feel connected to other readers and feeling this sense of community. But (there’s always one) I didn’t really care about Middlemarch. I painfully dragged myself along for the first 300 pages, only to realise I had only read a third of the bloody book. I started skimming some pages but felt very tempted to do that up until the very last page, read the last line, close the book and shout at the top of my lungs, ‘I have finished Middlemarch’. It seemed to me quite silly so instead, I just put the book back on my bookshelf.

I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t care for it. There are so many things that I do every day that leave me indifferent but that I must do, so I don’t want my reading for pleasure becoming the same sort of drudgery I take no pleasure in. So I simply did not finish the book. I know that a lot of people would never think of doing that because they need to feel closure and read till the end, or they feel a certain pressure to not give up on something. But when it comes to books I read for fun, I’m 100% a quitter. It doesn’t mean I’ll never go back to them, it’s just at the moment I started reading these books they were not what I needed.

Here’s a list of a few books I started but didn’t finish:

  • Dolly Alderton, Everything I Know About Love (2018)
  • Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (2015) – This one I know is to do with language skills, unfortunately!
  • Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)
  • Tracy Chevalier (ed.), Reader, I Married Him (2016)

Some of those I will never go back to because they were a bad reading experience for me, but some others I know I will reach for again at one point. I think that it’s okay to DNF a book if you’re not having much fun reading at a certain point in time – it doesn’t necessarily make it a bad book or you a bad reader.

That got me thinking, what about skim-reading? I don’t think a lot of people approve of that, either. But honestly, this is what got me through my master (although if I believed everyone else, they were reading the whole of the books and articles?). I think I got pretty good at this, but it definitely requires some practice. Once again, I think it’s okay and in some cases, a rather clever thing to do. I remember that one week I had to read Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop alongside two other novels (plus all the different academic books and articles). It did break my heart to skim it as I thought it was such a nice novel, but it certainly saved my brain! I do skim passages of books I read on my free time as well, sometimes. Because it gets a bit boring or I’m dying to know what happens next and skip the descriptions, etc. 

What I’m trying to say with this article is that everyone should be free to read the way they want to (and what they want!) – especially if it’s for fun, on your own time. Of course, if you work on a book this might not apply to you. Still, I used the example of my degree because we all did at uni and we still got great marks, I’m sure. There’s sometimes pressure to read certain things a certain way, and I’m here to say ‘No, thank you’! 

What about you, do you always try to finish a book you started or are you happy to put it aside if you’re not enjoying? What is something considered ‘sinful’ by some that you do with your books?

3 thoughts on “On not finishing books and other bookish sins

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