Sticking With It

Sticking With It

There’s a lively debate on the Internet over whether or not you should finish every book you start. (Are there things that don’t get debated on the Internet anymore?) I don’t intend to participate in the debate. I think you should do whatever makes you happy. I, personally, finish (almost) every book I start. A lot of people have asked me why. So, of course, I’m going to tell you.

Learning Experience
I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember. Part of me still secretly hopes I’ll be able to read ALL THE THINGS before the end, and I haven’t had the heart to correct myself that reading time is limited. Considering how much of my life is spent between the covers of books, it isn’t surprising I decided to write. Learning to write involves a lot of things, but I think everyone can agree one primary step is to read.

Therefore, everything I read helps me learn how to write.

Lots of people put aside the books they don’t enjoy because they get nothing out of them. Backwards as it may be, I think I learn as much from bad books as I do from good books. There is such a thing as learning by negative example. When I read a book I dislike, I start asking myself what it is about the story that turns me off. Is it the characters? Is it the setting? Plot holes? Or poor writing? As I identify my book turn-offs, I file them in my brain spaces as silent reminders not to include those things in my own writing.

It’s surprising how many of my own bad habits I’ve identified in the work of others – even bestselling traditionally published books. There’s something about being a writer or an editor that never completely goes away. Even if you decide to read something as a reader, you can’t quite disconnect from the part of your brain that’s always picking stories apart, looking for plot holes, clunky sentences or poor character development. Sometimes I ask myself how I would fix it or what I would have done differently. If I can set a book aside and feel like I learned something from it, even if that thing is what not to do, it doesn’t feel to me like wasted time.

Discussion Participation
Continuing with the philosophical reasons for reading something I don’t necessarily enjoy, I often finish a book that feels dry or uninteresting so that I can participate in conversations about it. There are several blogs that exist solely to tear books to shreds, and the authors read the books for that purpose (see Reasoning With Vampires). While I’d never encourage anyone to do something for negative reasons, there are lots of positive conversations you can’t participate in unless you’re familiar with the material. Book clubs, for example, though I don’t actively participate in any.

I have gotten a lot of millage out of certain books I found dry or boring at the time I read them. First and foremost is 1984, which I was forced to read for high school. I remember hating it. But since then, I have read a lot of work that was obviously inspired by or calls back to the themes of 1984. I’ve always felt a sense of pride that I can recognize those connections. It makes me feel like I get more out of certain works because I’m familiar with their roots. This has even inspired me to look into the inspirations of other works that I enjoy and read some other older works for the same reason. Again, I feel like I gain some reward even if I didn’t enjoy all the time I spent with the book, and that’s ultimately satisfying for me.

Purchase Justification
On the more practical side of the argument; I buy a lot of books. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I love books. I love having them. I have not so secretly wanted to live in a library since forever. My dream house will be lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves for me to fill. It will be fabulous. I have this (possibly bad) habit of walking into a bookstore, reading the back of a book, thinking oh this looks lovely! and making the purchase. Sometimes it works out well… sometimes it doesn’t.

This is when you ask why I would ever purchase a book if I wasn’t sure it was going to be good. I grew up in a time before the Internet where you pretty much had to buy a book and read it if you wanted to know if it was any good, especially if your small local library didn’t have it and couldn’t order it. But I buy books for many other reasons. Sometimes people recommend them to me, and I trust those people have similar taste to mine, so I go ahead and make the purchase. Sometimes people recommend books to me and I add them to a list for other people to buy for me, because it’s handy to always have an answer ready when someone asks what you want for Christmas. Sometimes I buy books because I’m all grown up and I’m going to buy books if I want them, so there!

Whatever the case, I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I could buy as many books as I wanted, as long as I read them. Just once, I have to get from cover to cover. Then the purchase is at least justified. The books I love stay in my personal library. The ones I don’t go to friends who love them more than me, or end up at used bookstores during the next cull. It seems a fair system to me.

All that said, the biggest reason why I try to finish every book I start is that it’s just a part of who I am. Leaving things unfinished drives me absolutely bonkers, so I finish as much as I can. Puzzles and riddles are particularly deadly for me; once I start something it will drive me utterly mad until I find the solution. I have to be careful with puzzle games and point and clicks because I’m likely to spend days staring at my computer screen until I figure it all out. Truth be told, I probably waste less time finishing the bad books than I would obsessing over the fact that I didn’t finish them.

But that’s just how I am!

When a book is particularly bad, or when I can’t identify with any of the characters, I find other ways to amuse myself while reading. Sometimes I imagine other characters in place of the characters in the book. For example, I once read a book about a kidnapping court case where it turned out that the father had kidnapped the son and tried to frame his mother. I found the book dry, so I started imagining the characters as characters from Sailor Moon, which I had been watching at the time. It certainly added an extra level of interest.

When replacing the characters in my head doesn’t keep me amused, I imagine more wild things. During the last Redwall book I read, I imagined a massive reversal where the good guys were actually the villains (history is often written by the victors after all). I met with limited success (everyone in that book was kind of a jerk anyway), but it amused me.

Ultimately, for me, reading is about taking time for myself, time to be away from the world and enter another one. Time to spend with the words on a page. What I bring to that time and what I take away from it are personal and, as long as they make sense to me, that’s all that really matters. Just as enjoying your reading time in a manner that makes sense to you is equally important.

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