“Read the books you love, tell people about the authors you like, and don’t worry about it.”
– Neil Gaiman
I sometimes wonder if when one closes a book in the middle of a chapter, the characters within it—perhaps in the middle of a conversation, a huge, momentous fight, a critical heart-to-heart, or maybe a good shag—get annoyed with us, frozen mid-action while forced to wait for our return.
Do they know, too, if I’ve given up on the book? Do they get offended that their story wasn’t interesting or entertaining enough to me to follow through to the end?
There are many committed readers who belong to the philosophy that a book started must be a book finished, regardless of how much one has grown to hate it or become bored by it along the way. I understand the impetus behind it: giving up on a bit like deciding to go on a cross-country road trip, getting to Iowa, becoming (rightfully) very bored, and then deciding to head back. Sometimes it’s just a matter of principle, too: as if to abandon a book, one has essentially given up, revealing weakness of character. But I am also inclined, as a frequent abandoner of books, to think that such a philosophy is fundamentally backwards, and completely misses the point of reading and literature.
While it’s certainly true that there are several books I would never have finished and come to enjoy had I not persevered to the bitter end despite a fiery desire to re-shelf it (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philospher’s Stone, for instance), I have largely committed myself to the idea that life is too short to read books I hate. Just because a book got written does not mean that I have to read it. Just because I started a book does not mean I have to finish it. That seems like a no-brainer, I think, but it’s difficult idea to follow through on, especially when a book comes critically acclaimed or it’s what all the cool kids are reading. I like to look at books I don’t like as if they were lutefisk, a true abomination in Scandinavian cuisine. I don’t make myself choke down lutefisk, and I’m not going to make myself choke down a novel that I don’t like just because I started it. But I am going to try it. I’m going to give it a fair go. I will give sample the lutefiction and hope for the best.
I compare books to food a lot because I’m a firm believer that we should enjoy books the same way we enjoy food. We should read what makes us happy, indulge in junk food books, read some fruit and veg books from time to time just because they’re good for you, but more than anything, we shouldn’t feel required to finish a book as long as we’ve tried it and given it a fair shot.
So while I suppose that I still feel a little bad (and a little crazy) about whether the characters of a book are offended that I have up on them, I get over it quickly. Someone else will pick up the book and give their story a chance. Also, as people are always keen to inform me, these characters are fictional, not real life.