You Don’t Have to Finish That Book. Really.

Twenty pages left, and I can’t finish this book.

This is deep and psychological, you guys. I’m sure it is. I was fine with reading it—20, 30, 100 pages at a time. I almost missed a bus or two, completely engrossed. Yet here I am, barely making it through a paragraph of the last couple chapters. I even considered returning the borrowed book to my best friend’s shelf because ‘oh, I’ll be back to finish it.’

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But I won’t. I know I won’t, because I did the same thing with that biography this summer. With almost every Stephen King book I’ve ever started. Nearly with 1984, though I finally finished that one on my third try.

So here I am. My friend is showering, and I’m staring at the familiar blue cover. Twenty pages. Not even. You loved this book. It’s almost done. What’s the hold up?

Because I don’t want it to be done?

Because I know, I know, it’s one of those content-y books, where the juice is in the middle and I’m avoiding disappointment?

Because my attention span SUCKS?

As I opened the book and attempted a way-too-conclusive-sounding paragraph (last night, and the night before, and just now before writing this), I couldn’t make myself care. After a couple sentences, I just closed the darned thing altogether with a sigh of oh, this isn’t any fun anymore.

Cue massive wave of guilt:

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What I find interesting about this isn’t my inability to finish the book—like I said, my attention span SUCKS (in all caps). It’s the fact that this so-called failure bothers me so much. Like I’m doing a disservice to the author by not letting them finish their 300 page point. Like I’m abandoning something. And what if the book is like Of Mice and Men? What if it doesn’t hit you until the end?

(Of Mice and Men is only 100 pages. Mostly dialogue. Not a fair comparison.)

Still: Guilt, guilt, guilt.

But this guilt is all nonsense. Not finishing a book doesn’t hurt anyone, not really. It’s okay to skim articles, to fall asleep during a movie, to only watch the last period of the game, to not finish a book. It’s okay. This is playtime. This is you trying to be enlightened, or entertained, and you have a right to that.

On his productivity blog, Chris Bailey wrote a similar simple but honest story:

“In my second year of University, I decided to subscribe to The New York Times (Sunday delivery). Every Sunday morning, before my roommates woke up, I would wake up early, press a fresh cup of coffee, and sit down with the paper, skimming the week’s articles. This continued for a couple of months, until May, when my roommates went home for the summer.

That’s when I realized something. I didn’t actually enjoy reading The New York Times. In my head, I liked the idea of being a guy that reads The New York Times every Sunday.

Like Chris, I want to be a person who reads things. Important things. And of course, I want to care about and finish those things.

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If only.

But I’m not that person. I’m a hyper-interested person, emphasis on the “hyper.” I play the field, sampling a chapter or two of every book that catches my eye. Then I feel bad about it, because isn’t that, like, literary promiscuity?

But there’s nothing to feel bad about. Really. And I would much rather be a person who is honest with myself then a person who finishes every. single. book. out of pride.

So give yourself a little permission, bloggy friends. Permission to read when you have something to read, to write when you have something to say, to go to the party when you have someone to see…but also, permission to not finish the book, to not force words that you don’t care about, to leave the party early.

(…unless you’re reading Of Mice and Men. You should really finish that shit.)

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