Wednesday, November 5, 2014

5 Reasons to Finish Every Book You Start

1. You’re an idiot. You know nothing about books. You’ve only read comic books or Sweet Valley High up until now. You may think you don’t like real books, like Les Miserables, but if forced to finish one, you’ll realize the true value of literature! You’re not in a position to evaluate the worth of books yet; just finish them and ask questions later.

2. The main reason to read novels is for the plot. You may think you don’t like a book, but there could be a killer plot twist at the end that makes you see the value of the beginning of the novel in retrospect. Also you might miss something incredible. Don’t worry about the incredible stuff you might miss in books you haven’t started. If you haven’t started the book, it doesn’t count.

3. All books have inherent value. Don’t worry about the supposedly better books you could be reading instead (grass is always greener!); whatever book you have recently, arbitrarily started is, in the end, just as good as any other book.

4. Finishing novels teaches strength. You’ll prove to yourself that you can do it. If you don’t finish every novel you start, you have probably never finished a book and are probably also the type to eat all the marshmallows.

5. Whoever wrote the book finished it. It upsets the sense of symmetry in the universe if the writer finished it and the reader does not.

(Inspired by "Finish That Book!" in The Atlantic.)


  1. 10 reasons not to feel compelled to finish every book you start:

    1. The Scarlet Letter
    (I was one of the fortunate few who were not required to read this in school. Years later when I attempted it on my own, I got about halfway through and couldn't go on. I felt like I'd been condemned to clear acres of swampland.)

    2. Tender is the Night.
    (As I type this, at this very moment, Garrison Keillor quotes something from The Great Gatsby.)

    3. Sometimes a novel might have a good (or at least entertaining) plot, but the writing goes down like greasy fast food. (I've found this to be the case with a lot of science fiction and mystery novels. There are exceptions -- for instance, I've liked most of what I've read by Dashiell Hammett, the plots and the writing.)

    4. I renounced idiocy when I reached the age of critical thought (which in my case began probably around age 14). By "age of critical thought" I mean that point in one's life when one begins to have opinions that are not entirely derived from one's parents or the other adults who have loomed large in life up to that point.

    5. The Catcher in the Rye. (I did eventually read this all the way through, just a few years ago, though I made several failed starts at it over the years before I finally pushed myself to get through the whole book.)

    6. Some books work better as summaries contained in a book review than they do as books that one actually reads. An acquaintance once commented that many of the books that are reviewed in The Nation magazine are books that one probably wouldn't want to read, even though the book reviews might be interesting.

    7. I once started reading Diane DiPrima's book Memoirs of a Beatnik, but lost interest a few pages into it when I realized that it was one of the books that various of the "Beat" writers wrote as porn (in varying degrees of hard/soft) as a way of making a little rent money back in the 1950's and 1960's. A lot of the Beat porn books were published originally in France by a publisher there the name of which I'm not remembering offhand.

    8. On the Road by Jack Kerouac.
    I've tried several times over the years and haven't been able to get past page 1 or 2.

    9. Grace Slick's autobiography.

    10. I've only mentioned novels and one non-fiction book here. Talking about the poetry books I've started reading and haven't finished would open several (at least) cans of worms that I'll hold off opening at the moment. I've read relatively few novels compared with the number of books of poems I've read over the years.

    By contrast, a few of the prose books (novels and otherwise) that I have finished and liked: Pere Goriot by Balzac; Germinal by Emile Zola; How the Steel Was Tempered by Nikolai Ostrovsky; Barricades in Berlin by Klaus Neukranz; From A to X, a novel by John Berger (and several of Berger's books of art criticism); The Moon and the Virgin by Nor Hall; Savage Coast by Muriel Rukeyser; Uncle Tom's Children by Richard Wright; Life's Good, Brother by Nazim Hikmet; What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politicsby Adrienne Rich; several novels and short story collections by Dashiell Hammett; etc.

    The two most recent books I've finished are Petrified Time by Yannis Ritsos (translated by Martin McKinsey and Scott King), and (truth) The Self Unstable by yourself, Ms. Gabbert.

    1. I hope people got that this was satire. I only finish a small fraction of the books I start.

    2. I'm surprised about Catcher in the Rye! I read it in junior high in, I think, one day -- couldn't put it down.

    3. I endorse Samuel Johnson's cursory way of reading. (I'm thinking of when he told Boswell that he "looked into" books but didn't read them all the way through.) The moment you realize a book isn't worth reading, chuck it down the laundry chute.

      About Beat porn: the French publisher was Maurice Girodias of the Olympia Press. I have an old paperback anthology called The Olympia Reader. Very good porn in that.

    4. Tyler Cowen does this too -- starts a ton of books and doesn't finish most of them. he also throws bad books away.

    5. @Elisa: yeah I did get that your post was satire, or something in that general neighborhood. It looked like fun and I jumped in. :)

      And yeah, Catcher in the Rye, go figure. You know, Whit Stillman's films (especially Metropolitan) seem to me to wander in some of the same territory that Salinger's writing does, though I've mostly liked Stillman's films. * Some of it (re Catcher) may have been exaggerated expectations on my part. I first tried reading it when I was around 14 or 15 (ca. 1969-1970), and it was supposed to be this shocking controversial book that was always getting banned from school libraries and classrooms, etc., and when I first tried reading it, it was like, What's the big deal?

      On the other hand, two or three years later when I discovered Kurt Vonnegut's books, I really liked them. I've finished every one of them that I've started. Recently reread Slaughterhouse-Five and still really liked it.

      @Delia Psyche: Yes, Olympia Press, thank you. I may have run across the Olympia Reader some years back, though didn't buy or read it. Maybe someday I'll seek it out once I've fallowed into my Bukowski phase of life.

    6. Yeah, why *was* it banned? Just because it had the word "fuck" in it? ?