I’ve started, so I’ll finish?
Certainly there was a time when I felt duty-bound to finish a book once I had started it. I am not quite sure when that stopped. Certainly I felt that way as a conscientious student doing an English degree. Once I had started something – Paradise Lost, War and Peace, all Shakespeare’s plays which I decided to read one summer – I was with it for the duration. There was another factor which was certainly in play during my twenties and on into my thirties and that was shortage of cash. I can remember long, lingering sessions in bookshops with enough money to buy one paperback, and one only. I was like a child in a sweet shop. There was much anxious dithering and at times I was almost paralysed by indecision. But in those early inpecunious days, a book was an investment, so it had to be right, and once I had bought it, I was damn well going to get my money’s worth. It is a great pleasure now – or it was until lockdown – to go into a bookshop, still my preferred way of buying a book, and know that I can afford to buy several. I still like to take my time about it.
However, I no longer feel compelled to finish a book when I’ve started it. I am older, and have less reading time left, so I don’t want to waste it on something I am not enjoying. A new book is still a treat, but I have a huge TBR pile – and some are e-books or purchases from charity shops. They didn’t cost very much and I have no compunction in tossing them aside. I used to feel that I owed it to the writer to keep reading, but now I feel the writer owes to me to hold my interest. I have to admit though that I am more likely to give a book the benefit of the doubt if I paid full price for a shiny new paperback or even a hardback. If I paid £1.99 from a charity shop I am less likely to hesitate.
So, fellow readers, are you completists, uneasy if you don’t finish what you started? Or are you like me, willing to flit from book to book. If so, how long do you give a book before deciding it’s not for you? 50 pages? Less? A chapter? Or maybe even just a few pages?
A confession: in spite of what I said at the beginning, in my early twenties, I failed to finish James Joyce’s Ulysses. Maybe one day . . .