Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Feeling the Need to Finish

Question for you, dear ISLF readers: Do you feel the need to finish novels you've started reading?

Once upon a time, I would've answered with an unequivocal "yes" and provided a laundry list of reasons why. Discipline is vital to writerly success. You can't rightly judge a story without reading it in its entirety. Sometimes dull narratives turn a corner, surprising with unexpected detail, and bailing too early can cause you to miss it. And all these points are true. Yet recently I've found myself abandoning more and more tales.

Why? There are just so many of them out there.

A wise person once said that of making many books there is no end. I would also add of novellas, magazines, short stories, movies and television series. I know that as I struggle through some turgid podcast during my daily drive time that other episodes are piling up in the queue, waiting for attentive ears. Does my willingness to punch "delete" indicate some kind of character flaw? Perhaps. Or maybe it's simply an acknowledgement of market conditions. Historically speaking, we have incredible access to fiction. Back in the day, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Every good book should be entertaining. A good book will be more; it must not be less." How much more does that apply to us, we who have free lending libraries and Kindles? Such bounty just may free us from always feeling the need to finish.

(Picture: CC 2006 by rachel sian)


Chestertonian Rambler said...

In terms of novels, I've fond that Amazon's free Kindle previews are often all I need to read. In today's publishing market, authors are virtually required to signal what sort of book they are writing up front, so if it hasn't caught my eye by then, I just don't mess with it.

The advantage of this is that since I've neither purchased nor checked out the books, I don't have to feel guilty about having not read them. Otherwise, they tend to stay on my to-read bookshelf for a year or so before I return them/sell them back to HPB. But mostly, I'm conservative enough in my reading habits that I want to finish the books I start. Either (a) the book is by an author who I want to understand, or (b) the book is popular enough that I feel it is an important indicator of the field/our culture.

dolorah said...

LOL; I've discovered a cheat around finishing novels I lose interest in: skimming through several pages and reading the last chapter.

If the ending doesn't make me go "shoot, I did miss something" then I call it finished :) There are, as you mention, just too many books to be read to waste energy on something I'm bored with.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I even put aside novels I am relatively enjoying when something new catches my eye. I am promiscuous in certain things.

Jim Murdoch said...

No, I’m quite good that way. In fact I can only think of a handful of book that I’ve stopped reading in the middle. There are loads where I’ve never got past page two but one really can’t count them. To engage me for a hundred or so pages and for me then to want to quite there has to be something that’s just not working. And I don’t mind working a bit when I read. I don’t think that all the heavy lifting should be done by the author—I’m willing to pull my weight—but if I feel that I’m doing all the work and getting very little in return then’s the time to think about packing it in. I’m also quite careful with the books I choose to read which is why I decline to review many of the books that are offered me.

Guilie Castillo said...

Agreed, Loren. I used to finish any book, as if I owed it to the author somehow, as if I couldn't form an opinion until the very last word had been read and digested. But you're right--it's an overrated practice. A few years ago I realized I won't have enough time in my life, even if I live to be a hundred and ten, to read every single book I want to read--and there's more coming every day. So now, my criteria is simple: is it wordy (too many adv/adj)? Chuck it. Does it have more than three spelling errors? Chuck it. Is it predictable? Chuck it. Is it purple prose? Yep--chuck it. And maybe I "chuck" a good many novels that might have a life-changing message somewhere in there... But so be it. I'm a grammar and spelling snob, yes. Also, I can't afford to let my own writing absorb wordiness and purple prose style. I struggle enough against it as it is :)

Loren Eaton said...


That Kindle preview idea is a really good one. I may have to steal it.

Loren Eaton said...


That's exactly what my wife does!

Loren Eaton said...


As far as vices go, that's a pretty mild one.

Loren Eaton said...


I try to select my novels carefully, but what I really find myself bailing on are short stories and audio fiction. The stories primarily because there as so many of them, and the audio ficiton because it can get really long really fast.

Loren Eaton said...


Correct spelling is a huge deal, and the poor proofing of many self-published titles is what often turns me off to that scene. I'd love to read more of them if they just didn't make so many mistakes.