It sits there, accusingly — half-read, unfinished. Is it worth even more of your time, as they say, a sunk cost, or should you just abandon it?
I just flew home today with two half-finished non-fiction books in my carry-on. And, like some faithless lover, I stood before the racks filled with their shiny, new, uncracked competitors this morning in Tucson, pondering which new books, if any, I’d buy. Wretched woman! How could I so heartlessly dump the two I’d already spent real money one, one even a new, full-priced hardcover? Had I lost my reading stamina?
I could practically feel my unread ones whimpering: “What about me?’
There’s a few of these stacked near my desk at home, too, equally accusatory in their physical presence, their dog-eared pages, their unconcluded arguments. I felt so much better recently when a poll of a bunch of famous authors, asked which books they never finished, included “A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth, a bloody doorstop of a book I really wanted to love (a Christmas gift from someone in my family), but just couldn’t and gave up on.
Question is: if you stop reading a book, whose fault is it? You got bored? Fed up? It just wasn’t engaging enough? Badly written? Over-hyped? Is this the writer’s fault? The editor’s?
Or, in the age of CPA, continual partial attention, are we losing the ability to actually focus for several unbroken hours on the written word, whether on a Kindle or paper? I think not: I raced through “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen on vacation and couldn’t put it down. Three women on my flight from Atlanta were glued to their Kindles for most of the two-hour journey.
Now I’m also halfway through writing my own book, a memoir of working retail, and trying not to balk, like a horse at a jump, at finishing it. Partly, it’s fear. Being such an avid reader myself, who opens every new book with a sigh of anticipatory pleasure, ready to be charmed and bitter when I am not thusly rewarded, I hear a chorus of bored imaginary sighs from the worst possible readers, those who paid full price for my book and found it…wanting. Leaving it half-read.
Like every author, it’s my job to grab them all by the lapels, so to speak, happily dragging them into a narrative and writing style so alluring they just can’t bear to leave.
Gulp. No pressure.
What book could you never get around to finishing? What book kept you up all night turning the pages til you’d devoured it in one go?