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Do You Have To Finish Reading A Book You Don’t Like?

As an avid fan of fantasy and science fiction, I’ve read more than my share of terrible stories. I don’t mean dull or unoriginal. I mean monumentally stupid, packed with cliches, lacking any redeeming features what so ever. Just plain bad.

But being the good little reader I am, I stolidly plugged away reading them until I got to the end. I did this for years. I mean it’s only fair right? You shouldn’t judge a story until its complete. That’s something I’ve always thought and I still think it’s true if you’re going to publicly offer any sort of commentary on the work.
The first half of The Book of the New Sun, 2000 printing.Image via Wikipedia
But a few years ago I had a revelation. I really don’t have enough time to waste it by reading books I don’t like. If I’m not enjoying a movie or a tv show, I switch it off. So what masochistic instinct is it that makes me read bad sci-fi all the way to the end?

So I stopped. There are at least a dozen fantasy and science fiction books that I’ve started reading in the last couple of years and have never finished. It’s not even bad books any more. If I’m not enjoying it, I stop reading. That means there are quite few genre classics that I’ve never finished.

I used to feel bad about that, until I realized that I’m not being graded on this stuff. It’s a hobby. It’s for fun. If I’m not enjoying it then I’m wasting time. I’ve never been able to get into Gene Wolfe’s New Sun books for example. I recognize their importance to the genre, but that isn’t a good reason to read a work of fiction.

Does that mean I’ll never read these books? No. My tastes have changed over the years (re-reading some of the stuff I enjoyed as a teenager was a painful experience). I try the New Sun books about every half decade. Who knows, eventually I may be sophisticated enough for them. But until I actually enjoy the read, I’m not going to bother finishing them.

So what about you? Do you have to finish reading a book you don’t like?

Eoghann Irving is amongst other things the creator and Editor of Solar Flare. He has a life long interest in all forms of science fiction and fantasy and a pressing need to share this interest with anyone who will listen. Find out more at his personal website

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4 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Like you, I used to read on to the bitter end, determined to find out whether things improved. Like you, I no longer do this.

    I have a large stock of bookmarks, and I’ve started using those instead of folding corners. I also read half a dozen books at once. As a consequence of that, I have piles of books with bookmarks tucked neatly inside, and I simply don’t return to those which I have no enthusiasm for.

  2. Robert Moore

    I used to do the same thing. Sometimes, I would feel stupid that I didn’t throw in the towel. I’ve never been able to finish reading Solaris, and I’ve tried several times. When I was looking to eliminate some clutter a few weeks ago, I started looking at bookcases. There were dozens of books I had accumulated and never finished. The friends of the library organization will be receiving a substantial donation of books in nearly pristine condition. I have the same problem with various old VHS movies and some DVDs. After buying them, I discovered they weren’t as good as I remembered when I saw them at the cinema or on TV.

  3. Coal Wood

    Wow, great subject. I thought I was the only one that had decided to drop bad reads. I guess not.

    I did my duty for my entire reading life by reading to the bitter end (sometimes literally) books that should have been put aside early in the process.

    Feels good to be out of the ‘bad book’ closet.

  4. Yes, I used to feel I had to finish any book I started. It was like being made to finish what was on my plate. Then I was at least fairly patient about giving them a go. Now I think life’s too short. If a book is not engaging enough for me to remember to pick it up next time I have a chance to sit and read, forget it.

    MorvaShepleys last blog post..The New Year Fairy’s Name

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