‘This is splendidly written fare from the reliable Poulson, written with keen psychological insight.’ [Invisible]


The Book Stops Here

Long ago when I was doing an English degree I chose an option on American Literature that involved reading a novel every week for a seminar. One week it was Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. It is a long novel – around 600 pages of densely written prose – and though I tried very hard, I didn’t quite make it to the end and came in fifty pages short. In those days, I felt obliged to finish every book that I started and those fifty pages weighed on me. I don’t feel that obligation now and that’s been the case for quite a while. If I’m not enjoying a book or it fails to grip me, I have no compunction about abandoning it. I regard it as the writer’s job to keep me reading. There is one exception: I do try to finish the books that we choose for my book group, though even there occasionally I end up skipping.

And I have to admit that sometimes persevering with a book that I am not initially enjoying does pay off. One of the great things about doing an English degree was that I read some marvellous things that I might not otherwise have read – among them, Paradise Lost, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and, yes, Moby-Dick. But these days, I read for pleasure, particularly when it comes to crime fiction, and if there isn’t something – narrative pace, or character, or the quality of the writing – to keep me reading, I am ruthless and the book goes in the bag for the charity shop.

PS. I’ve just got my copy of Moby-Dick off the shelf and to my surprise there are underlinings right up until the last ten pages. Maybe I went back and finished it.

PPS. I really didn’t finish James Joyce’s Ulysses – and I am pretty sure that I never will.

I could not resist this book cover. Stephen Spielberg, eat your heart out.



  1. Margot Kinberg
    May 15, 2019

    I’ve gotten to the point in my life, Christine, where I am comfortable not finishing books if I’m not engaged in them. I do try to, because as you say, sometimes it does pay off. But I feel no guilt about it if I do stop. Life’s too short…

    • Christine Poulson
      May 15, 2019

      How lovely to hear from you, Margot! And yes, that is exactly it. When one is young, there seems to be all the time in the world for reading, but now . . . well, I don’t want to waste time reading something that I’m not enjoying.

  2. moira @clothes in books
    May 17, 2019

    I used always to finish books, no matter how little I was enjoying them, but like you am deciding I don’t have to, so do occasionally ditch them now. But – always unlikely to do that with a classic: I tend to read on, setting myself a target of so many pages a day, and sticking to it. So I have read Moby Dick – and quite liked the feeling of achievement, though intend never to read it again. Loved Ulysses, have read it several times! (Finally a book we disagree on!)

    • Christine Poulson
      May 19, 2019

      Interesting! I have got through quite a few classics in recent years by that method – Dante’s Inferno, Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy. But with a crime novel or a thriller, I am ruthless if it is not engaging me. You’ve almost persuaded me to have to have another go at Ulysses. It is many years since the last time.


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