A friend of mine always used to say how much he admired me for always finishing a book I had started. I was never quite sure where he had picked this up; I don’t recall claiming such a record although there was a time when I thought it important to make every effort to get to the end, especially if I had spent my hard earned cash and my time on the book.
More recently though I find myself abandoning a book halfway through. This is not a good thing. The failure of which I am most ashamed is Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. I was enjoying it, I was half way through, I had no sense of becoming bored but one day I found that it had slipped somehow to the bottom of the pile and I had started something else.
I think that may be the key – something new to read, in this case the excellent .
Sometimes I return to the book that I have failed at. I bet you there are thousands of people like me who have not finished Joyce’s Ulysses but who have tried several times
probably dwarfed only by those defeated by Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. I can at least claim a victory of sorts there because I did struggle to the end even if I didn’t understand it all.
Popular science is fertile ground for failure. I love Richard Dawkins’ books on evolution but I do find they can sag a bit in the middle and the same is true of even the most populist explanations of cosmology.
The other factor is weight. You can’t take a hardback copy of Ulysses or Bleak House into the bath so there is a great temptation to pick up some light paperback reading and that’s a slippery slope.
So how big an effort should we make to finish a book? It’s supposed to be for pleasure so if you’re not enjoying it – dump it. What about the books we have eventually enjoyed through perseverance though? I loved A S Byatt’s Possession but it did for some unknown reason take me three goes to get past the middle section.
Likewise I persevered with Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and Tess of the Durbervilles and count myself better off for having done so. On the other hand I suspect I will never know how The Siege of Krishnapur ends.
I would love to know what books other people have failed at and whether they regret the failure.