Sunday, 8 January 2012

Sunday Salon: The secret shame of unfinished books

It's confession time. In the last few years since I have had a full workload of both thesis and editing/writing work, I have been a serial non-completer of books. Not bad books. Not because I didn't like them. Not because they were unworthy. Purely because I would get distracted, put it aside, then forget which book I was actually working on and so pick up another. In this fashion, I have left a trail of many partially read books in my wake and quite frankly, I think it's time I put a stop to it.

Just as an aside, I have completed plenty of books during this time also - don't get me wrong. I do have at least enough attention span to complete most of the books I set out to read. But still. There is a noticeable issue here that I feel the need to address. The first step is admitting I have a problem.

Hi, my name is Kath and I'm a serial non-completer.

The next step is to map out a plan of recovery. Below is a list of the seven previously abandoned books I will complete during the year of 2012. I will complete these books despite the myriad shiny new books that come my way, beckoning invitingly. I will complete them despite having to read others for Book Club. I will complete them because they deserve it - they're damn good books and I was enjoying them until... well you know.

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
2. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
3. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
4. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
5. Possession by A.S. Byatt
6. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
7. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

Has anyone else had this problem? I'll bet no-one has. I know my audience - the dedication and reading pace of the book blogging community impresses me no end! But if you're out there, fellow non-completer, speak up and join me on the Quest of Completion for 2012. [Edit: looks like I'm not alone! Jillian over at A Room of One's Own has set up a challenge specifically to deal with this problem. Trot on over there and join in!]


  1. Hi Kath! I'm running a challenge all about this problem! And judging from the comments there, yes, I'd say others have the problem. (Including me! I have nine to finish!) :)

  2. Jillian - I'm not alone! Yahoo! I will edit the post to include your challenge's link just in case there's anyone else who missed this like I did. Love the way you've set it up - self motivation and no beating yourself up about it if you don't make it. LIKE. Thanks heaps!

  3. I find that I am not so much a serial non-completer as a serial purchaser. Is that the same thing? Especially since i have started buying my books electronically I find that I have all the books that I HAVEN'T read with me at all times...good to know what you haven't done immediately and always; a bit like a task list that lets you see what you aren't doing and reminds when you haven't started it...

  4. You are certainly not alone, though I mostly just igore the unfinished books until I pick them up again. But if you look through my blog, you may notice the way I stopped posting about Anne Karenina whe I was halfway through, saying I was abandoning it to look for a better translation and then never did, or how I started rereading Madame Bovary in the new translation, and then never made it to the end. Kind of embarrassing, especially if you dedicate several posts to the book before.

    Do finish Rebecca, it is a wonderful book!

    Thank you for the very kind comment today! I will frequent your blog more now that I have found it :)

  5. I have abandoned a few books over the years, but mostly because I didn't like them.

    If I like a book, I will finish it. Eventually. I recall that I started the Barbara Walters book Audition (a hefty book!) and read it only in the evenings for almost a month. But I loved it...and did finish it.

    Another book, however, I gave up on completely because there wasn't one character I liked and the plot felt...irrelevant? It was much shorter...I won't give the title here! lol

    Some books I plod through, hating almost everything about them, but because they are books I have committed to review...well, you get the picture.

    I have changed my review policy and will now only accept books from authors I know...or from authors whose books sound so captivating that I can't resist them.

    Maybe this year will be less like trudging through a "field of bubble gum," as one of my friends has dubbed the feeling. (She uses it to describe what marketing your books feels like).


  6. Not only do I have the same problem (thesis + work = mucho distraction) I have basically the same unfinished list! . The Book Thief, Rebecca, Never Let Me Go, Possession and The Blind Assassin have all been picked up, started and abandoned by me lately. I'm not so brave as to attempt War and Peace though!

    I've been reading a lot of YA recently simply because I can read it really fast and actually finish something!

  7. Rebecca is on my list of books to read too this year, but I've never started it previously. However, I have started others and not finished, especially at the start of last year. I had about six books in a row I didn't finish. The thing is I don't plan on returning to them, because I really wasn't into them and I have too many other books to read. Now if any of them were any of the books you mentioned, then I'd definitely read them but they're not.

  8. I truly fell in love with The Book Thief. Please do find time to finish and give yourself a treat. Rebecca was one of my favorites in my teens. Still, the point is to finish books that you are enjoying, not that you feel you ought to read.

  9. No, I'm in your group. I not only did not complete War and Peace last year, BUT I DECIDED TO STRIKE IT OFF MY LIST! FOREVER!

    Golly Molly! I'm a grownup and if I don't want to read a book...well, I won't!

    Here is my Sunday Salon. I hope you will stop by!

  10. Hi Kath!

    I, too, have had a few books that I haven't managed to finish over the last few years. Homer's Odyssey, Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, and Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

    I like to try to keep those unfinished books at a minimum, but sometimes, it can be so hard to do so!

    My plan is to try to tackle those books again and see if I can finish them, but if I can't, it's ok, there's so many other books out there, that I might tend to forget about those unfinished books!

  11. I've been really bad about that lately as well! I have started Lolita, The Iliad, and Of Human Bondage and stopped. Now I'll probably have to start them over. They're all great, but I just got distracted and started something else. You're not alone!

  12. I don't abandon many but I've abandoned many from your list:

    Book Thief
    Possession it may not be you! I did finish Never Let Me Go and liked it quite a bit, but you have to accept that sterile...clinical feel that the novel has in order to appreciate it.

  13. I actually abandoned The Blind Assassin a couple years ago, then I read the whole thing in 2011 and I was so glad I did. Also, The Book Thief and Rebecca are two of my favorite books! I hate having books I didn't finish.

  14. I'm obsessed about finishing books and as a kid I would never leave one half way no matter what. Then I grew up and realised there are actually too many books for me to ever read them all, so I do give them up once in a while.

    However, I really loved "The Book Thief" and also enjoyed "Rebecca".

    For 2012 I plan on reading "War and Peace" along with a friend - we hope to conquer it together, I'll have the ebook and my friend the audiobook! :)

    Good luck for your challenge!

  15. You have some great books on your list! I don't think anyone should feel bad about putting down a book that isn't working for them, but The Book Thief, Possession, and Never Let Me Go are such fantastic reads. If you didn't like them, I can see not finishing them. But if it was just a time issue I hope you'll get through them and love them. I'm still working through War and Peace, I hope to finish it this year but we'll see.

    Some of my "put-downs" that I regret are North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas. I plan to give that one another try.

    Good luck!

  16. Thanks for all the wonderful comments!

    Ivan - Oh I'm also a serial purchaser. Double guilt - argh! Funny about the constant reminder of all the books you have yet to read. I only just embraced the joy of the e-reader so only have 2 'to-reads' staring at me. I can see how it could get out of hand very quickly though...

    Iris - I had been ignoring them but it has just got to a point where I just thought this was getting out of hand. These are all books I want to read and want to finish but I've had this terrible streak of reading ADHD. Good to know that Rebecca comes highly recommended. It's especially important to me as Daphne Du Maurier lived, wrote and died about 3 miles from my hometown in Cornwall, England.

    Laurel-Rain - You're the second or third person I have read about in the last week who has said they are going to change their review policy to make sure they only read what they want to and what they enjoy. It's really good to see this as I had been thinking about doing this too. Admittedly I haven't done a mass of reviewing but after years of academic study I really just want to focus on reading for the ove of it, completely free of obligation. Which of course includes finishing books that I was enjoying but got distracted from :)

    Lisa - WoooEEeeeOooo! What's your thesis about? (If you say post-9/11 lit then I have officially found my twin haha!) I think picking up War and Peace was just daft in my final thesis year but I did it. And I faltered, but hey it's still there! I will prevail. Eventually ;)

    Unfinished - Oh I'm all for ditching a book that isn't doing it for you! Too many awesome books, too little time in life I reckon. Problem I have with these books are that they are totally worthy but I've not had the attention span to complete them. Seems that partially it's situational. If I start a book in one set of circumstances and those circumstances change then the book risks being forgotten. Example - I started Never Let Me Go on vacation in the UK and when I got back it fell by the wayside. Weird I know.

  17. Sherry - Book Thief is the first on my completion list. I love it too! Death as a narrator is ingenious. Also he's not such a bad bloke, in fact I'd quite like to have a (non-fatal) cup of tea with him. He has some stories.

    Deb - Good on you! If you don't want to read it, there's no point towing yourself through it for the sake of it. I was enjoying it before I got too busy and distracted so I will return to it. But it's lower on the list for completion as it's so darn long ;)

    Jeremy - Your to finish list is really impressive! And understandable. Most of mine (not War and Peace) are pretty regular reads. I do agree though, and this sentiment is reflected in Jillian's chalenge that unfinished books shouldn't be a source for guilt and self-flagellation. No fun in that, after all! And there's always more great books waiting out there.

    Kristi - Yeah with most of these books I am going to have to start them again. The only one I will be OK with is Book Thief as it was one that was sliding towards the abandoned pile and was actually the catalyst for me admitting this problem!

    Ti - Interesting that you share some of these abandons. I wonder if there is any common thread or if its just complete coincidence. Hmmm.. I agree that Never Let You Go has a clinical feel (at least from what I read!)

    Melissa - Thanks for the encouragement! Seeing others have loved these books is really good motivation to return and complete them. And like you, having unfinished books around bothers me.

    Mady - I used to be a compulsive completer. Used to. Then life got too busy and complicated - as adult life tends to! Good luck for the War and Peace challenge! I have the audiobook. I am considering getting the e-book because the hard copy I have is a pain to read.

    the book stop - Absolutely they are all great books and it is purely a time and attention deficiency thing. No fault lies within these books! This year is the year to complete at least some of these books :)

  18. This happens to me more with non-fiction than fiction, but I can still somewhat relate. Best of luck with your efforts! You listed a lot of great books that are definitely worth it.

    1. Thanks for the comment and the encouragement! They are worth it for sure, which is why I'm kicking my own butt and making sure they get read.

  19. Oh, it happens! Like Nymeth, this happens to me more with non-fiction than fiction, but there are also several fiction books that I optimistically still have bookmarks in, even though I'm pretty sure I don't remember the plots at all...

    1. Optimistic book-marking! This is exactly what has happened with these poor books. And yep, half of them will have to be re-started from the beginning. I have no idea what was going on in them now.

  20. Haha. I've abandoned #1, 4, and 5, as well! I keep meaning to go back to them, but then forget in the pursuit of another title!

  21. I have quite a few unfinished books! I think this is not uncommon. I have War and Peace unfinished, but don't feel too badly since this was a re-read. Good luck with your books!

  22. I don't usually stop reading a book unless I don't like it and don't have any intention of finishing it. I relate to the "serial-purchaser" comment, though. That changed in 2011 as my husband is unemployed, but I still have so many unread books on my shelves....

    Good luck with your goal! I really enjoyed The Book Thief and Never Let Me Go. Possession, I gave up on - but I know a lot of people love it.

  23. I've done this many times... put a book aside because it wasn't thrilling me, then forgetting to pick it back up. Especially ebooks, I do it all the time. You have some great books on your list. I'm hoping to read Possession this year, and The Blind Assassin is one of my favorite books.