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You Don’t Need To Finish That Book (No, Really)

Susie Rodarme

Staff Writer

Susie Rodarme is obsessed with small press literary fiction and tea. Other notable skills: chainmaille weaving, using Photoshop semi-correctly, and drinking gin.

“You’re so novel! What a good idea!
You can keep your time to yourself;
you don’t need readingdate insurance!
You can read any bookgo out with whoever you want to!
Every bookboy, every bookboy in the whole world could be yours!”
– Nada Surf, “Popular”

I have some fairly blasphemous-seeming views on reading. I agree with Rioters Rebecca and Amanda that books are not sacred objects and you can totally tear books up to craft with them. I appalled some people by suggesting that you can totally skip the first book in the Dark Tower series (or any series! Or any books of any series, really!) if it’s holding you back from reading the rest of the books.

I may seem like a total reading maverick, but I used to have a lot of reading rules. (Trust me, as an Aspie, rules have historically been my freakin’ jam.) One of my big rules was that, if I got far enough into a book, I needed to finish it. I didn’t have a pre-defined point of no return; every book is different and I felt my way through each one. I could quit a book usually within the first couple of chapters, but once I was into the place where the story started to put hooks in me, I felt the need to soldier on until the end, even if the end was bitter and I ended up throwing the book across the room.

I don’t know why I felt the need to finish books. I only know that I’m not the only reader who has felt compelled to finish books. I hear it a lot, actually: “Once I start a book, I have to finish it.” “I can’t NOT finish a book.” I suspect it’s related to the economic idea of the “sunk cost fallacy,” where you feel you have invested money or time past the point of “no return” and thus feel that you have to see something all the way through. We hate the idea of waste and that includes wasting the time we already spent reading something, even if we don’t like it.

Economists consider this idea irrational because the resources you’ve already committed are gone either way, but it’s not necessarily best to keep pouring more resources into the thing just because you feel committed to it. Your remaining resources may be more profitably (or, in this case, more enjoyably) be spent elsewhere.

Forcing myself through books that I have lost interest in takes time and energy that I realized I don’t really have to waste on that ish. I came to realize that my “need” to finish books was an irrational rule I had placed on myself and that I had the power to lift. I read for leisure and for love of books; if I already know halfway in that I don’t love the book, and my time reading it feels more like a chore than it does relaxation, what possible motive do I have to keep putting time into a book?

Further, I never actually agreed to this rule. I never formally decided that this was a thing I wanted to do. The “finish every book whether you like it or not” rule was something I imposed on myself without even noticing or debating its merits; it’s almost as though I didn’t have a say in it, and I 100% reject any rules imposed on me that I don’t have a say in. It’s in my ornery nature.

Now that I’ve made the switch, I have zero regrets as a serial book not-finisher. Every minute I don’t waste slogging through something that’s a bad fit for me is a minute I can spend on something that I love to pieces, and that’s how I’d rather spend my reading time.

What about you? Are you a mandatory book finisher? Are you rethinking your book-finishing habits?