May 31, 2013 in Book Reviews
There are only a handful of books in my life that I did not finish. One was Pet Sematary by Stephen King, a book so scary I knew I had to put it down almost as soon as I started or risk never sleeping through the night again. (With a cover like that, it’s a wonder I even picked up the book in the first place.)
Another was Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I was introduced to it by John Cusack’s character Jonathan in the romantic movie Serendipity. In a movie driven by the idea that fate will unite two people who are meant to be together no matter what, I thought the fact that this book was a key plot point meant I would be swept away by it. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I could not get through it, no matter how hard I tried, and even more importantly, I did not want to get through it.
A third book I didn’t finish was a chick lit novel (I love that genre!) that was so poorly written with a female protagonist that was so unlikable that my only regret is that I didn’t stop reading it sooner.
For me, not finishing a book is a rare event brought on by extreme circumstances.
So when someone recently suggested that I stopped reading Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (read my review here) because I was struggling with it, I was flabbergasted.
Not finish Cold Mountain? But it was a good book, albeit slow, and I did want to see what happened in the end. Besides…I started it, didn’t I? What other possible outcome could there be after starting a book than to finish it?
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recently posted a link to this list of the Ten Rights of Readers (see below), and there, listed as #3 was the right not finish a book. (Click here to see the illustrated version.)
I thought I felt the earth shift a little beneath my feet. I had the right to not finish a book I wasn’t enjoying 100%? That just felt…weird.
I’m glad I finished Cold Mountain. It was a quality read and I’m a better person for it. What if I had just given up because it was slow? I would have missed out on a beautifully written journey of love in the face of every obstacle imaginable. What if Inman, the main character in Cold Mountain, had given up on his journey to happiness? Or worse: what if my kids start thinking it’s ok to set books down because they don’t immediately grab their attention in the first two pages? I’m horrified just imagining what they’ll miss out on.
How many fantastic books have I had the privilege to read after recommendations that went like this: “Just get through the first 100 pages, and then it really gets good.”
I do think it’s ok not to finish a book, but it shouldn’t become a habit, and there should be a concrete reason why you stopped. For example, “too scary” is a valid reason. This is not:
ME: Why aren’t you reading this?
MY CHILD: It’s boring.
ME: (picking up the book) You’re on page 2!
MY CHILD: I can already tell.
ME: Keep reading. This is one of the best books ever.
MY CHILD: That’s your opinion.
ME: That’s everyone’s opinion! It’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, for heaven’s sake. Keep reading!
Now, about Rule # 1 on the list, the right not to read…I have a problem with that!
The Rights of the Reader
by Daniel Pennac
1) The right not to read.
2) The right to skip.
3) The right not to finish a book.
4) The right to read it again.
5) The right to read anything.
6) The right to mistake a book for real life.
7) The right to read anywhere.
The right to dip in.
9) The right to read out loud.
10) The right to be quiet.