When to shelve a book before the end

Doesn't everyone have a pile of books waiting to be read?

I used to feel a sense of obligation when I started a new novel. Unless I quit reading during the first chapter, I’d slog through to the end even if I wasn’t enjoying it.  Instead of sharing beautiful writing and funny prose out loud (to whoever happened to be in the room), I’d make cracks about sentence structure, sappy characters and pedantic plotting.

I think my compulsion to complete every book stemmed from an overdeveloped sense of responsibility – that I have to start the things I finish.

No more.  About a year ago I realized this reading approach is a lot like holding onto a losing investment. Just because I’d invested hours in a book, didn’t mean I needed to waste more of my time if it wasn’t working for me.  I don’t get paid to read, after all.

Now that I’ve given myself permission to stop midway, I actually read more books overall and the books I complete, I enjoy.  When I felt a compulsion to finish every book, if I was in the midst of a less-than-gripping novel, I’d use my limited leisure time in other ways – like  organizing the file cabinet.  That was a sign to shelve the book.  Here are a few other reasons to stop reading before “The End.”

  • You get an urge to do housework instead of read.
  • You find yourself mocking the protagonist.
  • You begin writing your own novel on the grounds that if this thing got published, anything is publishable.
  • You fall asleep before you’ve turned a page.
  • You find a layer of dust on your current read – it’s been that long since you picked it up.
  • You find an explanation of tax law more interesting than the novel on your nightstand.
  • You can’t remember the plot or characters when you pick up the book, even though you read at least a chapter within the last 24 hours.

This November I started four different books and finished two of them.  I made it to the midpoint of the other two before returning them to the library.  Now, if I’d made myself finish what I started, the way parents used to make their kids clean their plates, I wouldn’t have had the page-turning pleasure of reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern in three days.  That’s the book I started after shelving the other two.  And that’s the way reading should be – enthralling fun that makes you want to read even more.

What makes you stop reading?

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  • Jen

    I struggle with this! For some reason I often feel guilty if I don’t finish a book. Working on this, though. If you’re not enjoying a book, why waste your time? Too much else to do!

  • I still feel guilty whenever I stop reading part-way through, but the feeling passes as soon as I start a new book.

  • Jill, I’m trying to pick up more books at work (CHS Library) and just read a couple of chapters or so just to see what they are like. Like you Jill, this goes against my “gotta finish what I start” mentality. I’m gradually getting over it, but it’s taking a LONG time.

  • Great post! This is so true of me, too. I feel like I have to finish a book once started. Right now, I have a book that I keep going back to in between other books just because I feel like I should finish it. It’s the fourth in a series and I really liked the first three, which makes me feel even more obligated to finish this one! But it’s painful!!