This is a guest post by Jessica Woodbury. Her professional life has taken her to prisons, classrooms, strip clubs, and her living room couch. Jessica is a lapsed lawyer who now spends too much time oversharing on the internet. She’s a single mom to 2 small children living in the Northeast. She has a soft spot for crime novels and unreliable narrators. Follow her on Twitter @jessicaesquire.
I used to be a finisher. It was something I didn’t have to think about, it’s just how things were. If I started a book, I finished it. (Okay, maybe I didn’t finish Lord Jim in college, but I still feel bad about it.)
When I was a finisher I thought it made me a reader of principle, though I’d never made a conscious decision to be a finisher. It’s just how I read and I didn’t give it a lot of thought. If you’d asked me why I was a finisher, I would’ve told you it was because I loved reading, because I cared about stories, because I wanted to get to the end, because I respected the book and the work the author put into it. They were all perfectly good reasons. But one day I just couldn’t be a finisher any more.
I’m also a talker. If I’m reading a book that makes me feel something, I need to talk about it. This can require a lot of patience from my friends. The problem was that when I read a book that I didn’t like, I had to talk about it even more. I had to vent about how much the book bothered me, all the tics in the author’s writing that annoyed me, the character flaws, the plot holes, and the ending I spent so long getting to that was just terrible.
It started to take a toll. People would ask me, “Then why are you reading it?”
And they kept asking.
Eventually I realized a few important things. I was hate-reading. No ending ever redeemed a book I didn’t enjoy. I could only read so many books.
So I made a change. I started putting a book aside if I wasn’t enjoying it. It wasn’t an easy change. I would often be more than halfway through a book before I would finally pull the plug, which only made me feel worse because I’d invested so much time.
But after I got used to it, after I got through months of books without reading anything I disliked, I found it liberating.
Books don’t have feelings. Obviously I knew they were inanimate objects, but it was hard to really acknowledge it when books stirred up such strong feelings in me. I looked at each book as a relationship, one I would see through until it had run its course. Books were like a high school boyfriend, to be handled delicately.
Now I’m as loose as I’ve ever been with books. In fact, now that I’ve started reviewing books I often quit a book after just a few pages. I know I may not be giving it a fair shake, but these days I’m looking for something that will grab me, hold me tightly, and make me feel something new. Now books are guys on match.com. If they don’t lead with a strong opener, I’ll move on to something else.
I’m reading blind, opening each book ready for any possibility. I read books without reviews or recommendations. I often read not noticing the title or the author. I just let the book show me what it is page by page and decide if this is something that speaks to me.
I don’t think I’ll be this way with books forever. I expect my reading habits will shift again as my own needs and desires change over time. Just like how I used to read led mostly by ambition but now I read for my own pleasure, though that pleasure can come in a variety of forms. Changing my style and becoming a quitter hasn’t made me love reading any less. I’ve found that I’m reading a wider variety of books, opening myself up to more genres. Finishing every book meant playing it safe and sticking to what I expected to like. This haphazard style loosens me up and I find it suits me.
You can be a quitter, or you can be a finisher. It doesn’t matter much to me as long as you’re a reader.