I recently had lunch with a dear friend and voracious reader colleague on the occasion of her 94th birthday. We both absolutely loved Bess Kalb’s memoir No one will tell you but me and discussed it over baked goods, but we were feeling just as lukewarm about an upcoming royal biography. Despite our connection as like-minded bibliophiles, I approached what can be a controversial subject with hesitation: is she finishing books she doesn’t like, or — I dangled silence embarrassing-to give up? His response was quick: “At my age, I don’t have time for bad books. And, really, why would any of us do it?
I am a book person. I read regularly since I learned how, relying on Upper Sweet Valley to Sally Rooney. I’m also a Type A person, a person who raises my hand with gold stars and various forms of validation. I have been taught not to be a “let go” (although I now wonder why “quitting” has been called an identity and not just an action). It prepared me for a toxic and sometimes torturous mental exercise when it comes to finishing or not finishing books. I tend to keep going — just 10 more pages ?! – even though my mind is wandering. If I put it down, I let it languish on my bedside table, then lower it to the floor under my bedside table and possibly put it back on the shelf. All the while, he’s been sitting in the “Now Reading” box on my Goodreads profile for too long so that I don’t have to formally admit defeat.
People seem to be steadfastly falling to one side or the other of this (shameless) debate. “You suffer when you leave a story halfway – and literature too,” reads the caption of a 2014 Atlantic essay arguing for completion. There is the issue of respect for the author and the books themselves, which demand more of us than Instagram’s fickle flows. “When you stop you might miss something amazing,” writes Juliet Lapidos. “I can’t count how many novels have bored me for a hundred or even two hundred pages only to amaze me later with their brilliance,” she continues, citing Charles Dickens’ long debut novel, Pickwick’s papers, for example. Another reason why she resists abandoning books: “the strength of the soul”. As she puts it: “It can be unpleasant to go through a novel that you have stopped loving after 50 pages, but it is a sign of strength.
There’s also a passionate Abandon team that seems louder now, with evergreen blog posts and tweets echoing my wise friend’s perspectives: I don’t know who needs to hear this but you don’t have to finish the books you hate. This spirit is to go against the status quo; even personal care, that pesky buzzword. Within Instagram’s Bookstagram community, there is a handy acronym to use: DNF, short for has not finished. The reasons for not seeing the books are varied, according to a now-old Goodreads survey, which found that “slow, boring” and “weak writing” books were the top two. He also somewhat awkwardly shared the most set back titles on the platform, including that of JK Rowling. Vacancy (who seems to have failed to remember Harry potter fans) and Fifty shades of Grey.