In Defense of Not Finishing Books

… Reading books, that is. Not writing them. That’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

This one is about my current hopeless Goodreads Reading Challenge.

As I write this, I am currently 19 books behind on my goal of reading 75 books this year. So far, I’ve read 29 books this year. Well, read or listened to, because several of those were audiobooks.

It’s the end of August.

At this point, Goodreads should just greet me by saying “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

In hindsight, upping my reading goal to 75 books (from 50 in 2020) this year may have been optimistic. Between a major move, nearly full-time client work, and all of the usual life kinds of things, adding 25 books to a reading goal that I barely finished last year was probably somewhat foolish.

I know that the year isn’t over yet and there’s time to at least come close and I should read short books to catch up and all of those other things. I get it.


I also need to learn how to abandon books I don’t like.

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you may remember that several years ago, I combined several of those “books you should read before you die” lists into one master list of “books to read before I die.” It ended up being about 350 books. I’ve been slowly working my way through that list ever since, periodically getting distracted by non-fiction or some fiction book that isn’t on the list.

And… I’ve made progress. Some. That list is down to about 225, I think. And the science fiction/fantasy list of 100 is down to 57.

But here’s the problem: There are a lot of crappy books on that list.

And there are a lot of crappy authors on that list.

And because I am determined to slog through the list, I keep forcing myself to finish books that I genuinely dislike, don’t understand, or can’t follow.

Now don’t misunderstand–I will slog through a lot of books that other people might abandon if those books are well-written, even if I don’t like them. I can forgive a lot. I can suspend my disbelief a lot. And if a character is well-written, I will read about him/her even if the character is profoundly unlikable. If the writing is good, I will finish a book where I hate everything else just to soak up some well-crafted sentences.

But because I’m a pretty forgiving reader, and because I have this silly “list” dictating many of the books I choose, I keep trying to force myself to finish books that I really, really don’t like.

I think it’s time to allow myself to abandon books I hate.

The funny thing is… A few of the recent abandonable books have been short ones that I was trying to read to help me catch up on the reading challenge. The problem is–it takes me days to slog through an unreadable short book, whereas if I were reading something enjoyable, I would finish it much faster.

I still plan to use my master list as a guide. I’m grateful for the master list, because it’s led me to some books that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise that I truly, truly loved, like A Town Like Alice.” And it’s “forced” me to read classics that I never got around to, like Les Miserables, which I also loved. It’s renewed my interest in authors like John Steinbeck, who I abandoned after high school because all of the books I was forced to read by him made me want to drive off a cliff, but now I’ve read more of his work and discovered that he didn’t always write pure hopeless despair (though I will never again crack the spine of The Grapes of Wrath).

But I think that going forward, if I haven’t been hooked by about 10% into the book, I’m just going to abandon it–or at least abandon it for the time being.

Reading is such an interesting thing… I feel guilty when I don’t finish a book, as if I’m disappointing the author. Sometimes I worry about what other people will think if I don’t finish a book–will they assume I’m too dumb to appreciate it? Will they think I have a short attention span? (As if anyone in this world pays any attention to what I’m reading…)

But who am I reading for? Other people, or myself?

And if I’m reading for myself, why does it matter if I abandon a book?

What, after all, is the point of reading if the book is not living up to its half of the bargain?

I have no qualms about abandoning other endeavors. I will abandon a movie (though I’ve only actually walked out of the theater maybe twice in my life), a TV series, a knitting project, countless crafts, even my own stories or fiction works. I’ll give most things a pretty good chance, but there’s a point where I’ll abandon them and not feel bad about it.

I think I need to not feel bad about doing that with books.

In any case… I did abandon the last book I attempted. It was due at the library, but I just could not slog through the last 75 pages. It was only 142 pages long, so that’s saying something. So I abandoned it and returned it, and now I am resetting a little. I intend to finish Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy and read Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed. These are not short books, but they are a lot more appealing that some of the stuff I’ve been slogging through lately. And I can be reasonably certain that I will adore the rest of the Mistborn trilogy and that Hosseini’s work will once again reduce me to a blubbering heap of tears.

Those are the stories I will happily spend time on, even if it means I don’t hit my 75-book goal.

And if you have any interest in watching me flail as I try to finish my 2021 Reading Challenge, feel free to connect with me on Goodreads.


2 thoughts on “In Defense of Not Finishing Books”

  1. I’ve never been a fan of reading lists. Like pornography, they seem to say more about the list maker than the books that are included.
    That said, you’ve mentioned a couple reasons they aren’t all bad.
    For myself, I don’t usually abandon a book, though I just did, last week! But I think that’s because I only begin books that appeal from the get-go. Not as brave as you, taking on a curated-by-someone-else list. Kinda… life’s too short to read a book I don’t like.
    A thought: allow yourself to stop reading and if the book came from a list, mark it for possible future consideration and another attempt, later. Things may change your perception, whether you can see that possibility now or not.
    Keep up the good fight!

    1. Like you, I have historically only started books that appealed from the get-go (unless they were assigned for school or something). I have been pleasantly surprised by a lot of books on my list, and when I have found a new author I enjoy, I go find more of that author’s work–whether it’s on the list or not.

      It’s also been interesting to read (or attempt to read) books considered “classic” or “must read” that I honestly can’t see the appeal of. “On the Road” is a good example of that one. What an awful book.

      But the MOST interesting thing, I think, is trying to read books that I do think I’ll enjoy that I just cannot get into. I have tried “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” about three times. Each time I get a little further, and then I just lose interest. I should enjoy that book–everything about that book is “right” for me–and yet… no.

      So yeah, when the books are like that–ones where I don’t hate it, but I also don’t love it–I will put it aside for later or shelve it on Goodreads as “Want to Read.” I’ve done that with a couple of audiobooks–“War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.” I need to have some blocks of time to read those and sketch out full diagrams of who’s who, because there are way too many Russian names to keep track in audiobook format! 🙂

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top