For anyone who reads voraciously, or even passively, this question is bound to arise at some point or another.
Maybe you picked up a book on the recommendation of a friend. Maybe the friend even lent you the book. Maybe it’s the book that everyone is raving about at book club and on the blogs you follow. Maybe it’s a literary or contemporary classic. Maybe it’s a book you’ve seen everywhere and finally decided to spend your precious birthday gift card on it.
However the book landed on your coffee table, it’s there (maybe even right now). The bookmark is stuck somewhere in the single-digit chapters, and no matter how much downtime you have, you never seem to have enough time to finish it.
We’ve all been there. Several times, in fact.
Do you have to finish it?
My firm belief: No.
I think that we’re taught as children that we have to read because 1) it will make us smart, and we have to finish any book we start because 2) there will be a test and 3) not finishing what you start makes you a loser. Let me tackle these fallacies one by one.
Reading makes you smart.
Okay, I, of all people, am not going to argue against the power or the benefits of reading. Reading can open a person’s mind to different places and perspectives. Reading certain books can fundamentally change the way a person thinks. However, I believe, it’s more a matter of quality of content over vessel of delivery.
I love reading because I love stories. This also makes me a sucker for Netflix series, movies and intelligent magazines and blog posts. And I love all manner of stories – my Netflix cue is a confusion of half-hour sitcom reruns, food documentaries, comedians and drama series. I’m not going to argue that an hour spent watching Friends reruns is better for my mind than spending that time reading War and Peace. However, I’m also not going to argue that an hour spent reading Lauren Graham’s memoir has left me intellectually ahead than if I would have spent the hour watching a PBS documentary. In my mind, it’s important to consume content from varying points of view and for people to continue learning about whatever they’re interested in. And it doesn’t matter so much to me whether that comes in the form of the History Channel, hobby magazines, podcasts or dense biographies.
I strongly believe in the power of lifetime learning, but I also strongly believe that everyone needs to enjoy how they’re learning, or they’re not going to do it. So, I don’t believe that reading, specifically (especially after you’ve achieved a proficient reading level) necessarily ‘makes you smart.’ However, continued curiosity and always taking in new information from new perspectives will.
All of this is to say: Don’t feel pressured to finish the book simply because you want to be smarter. If you don’t enjoy it you won’t remember any of it anyway.
There will be a test.
There will be no cosmic test that will demand that you prove that you’ve read the entire book. There may be a book club (but who hasn’t shown up to book club at least once without finishing the book?) or there may be some cultural references that you miss because you never figured out which hunk Bella chose. But, on the whole, there will not be a test.
In fact, I’m going to venture a guess that no one will care if you finish a book that you start. Most of the time, it will have no bearing on anyone else’s life. Finish a book, don’t finish a book. It’s entirely up to you. You don’t feel guilty about watching one or two episodes of a new TV show and not finishing the whole series because you aren’t enjoying it, right? So why doesn’t this logic apply to reading?
Don’t like it? Let it go. There will not be any consequences. (Unless you’re literally reading it for a test or something. Then there will be consequences, but then this entire post doesn’t really apply anyway.)
Not finishing what you start makes you a loser.
This one bothers me most of all. My generation was taught to never ever, ever, ever, ever give up.
I’m here to say: It’s okay to give up sometimes.
Emphasis on sometimes. I believe that it’s okay to give up on one dream if it conflicts with another dream that you want more. And I believe that it’s okay to give up on things that you’re doing for fun that you’re not enjoying anymore (as long as you see your commitments through, but that’s another blog post altogether).
So, if you’re reading a book for enjoyment, and you’re not getting any enjoyment out of it, let it go. If you’re looking to learn something, but the writing style is too dry to engage you, let it go. If you’re looking for a laugh but don’t think the author’s funny, let it go. Pull an Elsa, throw it into the air, and start again.
I will likely only have time to read 2,800 more books until I die. And the older I get, the less books I’ll have left that I’ll be able to read. You will only be able to read a certain amount of books in your lifetime. Why spend up one of those books on one you don’t enjoy? I’m not worried about being a loser because I gave up on a book, I worry about losing an experience because I’m tied up with another one that I don’t necessarily want.
We started this blog with its unique rating scale because we believe that reading is wonderful and fun. But we also believe that books can be like people: everyone is going to get along better with some people over others. We hope that, if you understand what it is about books that you like, our rating system will help you identify books that might be a good match for you. So, give yourself permission to not finish a book you don’t love. And spend your time on the ones that are going to change your life because they resonate with you.