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Unfinished books: When can you put a book down?

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DevraDoWrite can’t put a book down, even if she doesn’t like it very much.

I have trouble giving up on a book, especially if I spent money to buy it. Sometimes, if I “can’t get into it,” I put it aside for awhile and try again later. Sometimes it’s just my mood, or level of concentration that makes reading difficult.
Sometimes, however, a book is simply not very good, or not meant for my tastes, and I should just give up. But all too often, a combination of guilt and the fear that I will miss something keeps me going.

I used to suffer from this same compulsion. No longer. Though I suppose it depends upon how much energy I’ve already put into a book: If I manage to get halfway through something I’m not particularly interested in, I’ll probably stay to the bitter end. Anything less and I’ll just put the thing down.

As for books that I “can’t get into” at the time, I’ve discovered that these often turn out to be favorite literary experiences. For example, I had avoided in college reading Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier and it sat for years by my bedside. One day, when I was sick in bed, I picked it up and read the whole thing in the space of a weekend. I had a similar experience with David Copperfield. For whatever reason, for years I would pick up the book and read the first paragraph and immediately put it down. I remember the paragraph well:

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.

I’m not sure what it was about that paragraph that put me off, especially since I already loved Dickens, but it just did. Then one day, I picked it up and read it nonstop.

Currently sitting by my bed awaiting the mood: Pepys’ Diary, which, I discover, someone has been putting up online.

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About Rachel

  • I’m currently struggling through Jonathan Franzen. It is well written, but mostly dull. It is due back at the library in a few days so I force myself to keep reading, hoping something happens. Books I own are much easier, because I always feel I can go back to them later. But usually don’t