The other day, my friend Barbara posted on Facebook that she was reading a book that she didn’t like, didn’t like the characters, and thought it had few redeeming qualities. And so, she decided not to finish it. I had a similar reaction when I started reading the same book, the highly acclaimed Gone Girl. However, as I mentioned in my response to Barbara, you really must finish this one to enter the discussion of its merits because of all the twists and turns of the story. Even more interesting than the first post were the reactions of others who commented. Since I am one who is extremely reluctant to put down a book once I’ve started it, I was surprised at how many people do not finish books but pass judgment on them based on whether they are “finishable.” It got me thinking about books, book clubs, and how we have been educated from elementary school on to finish books.
I am pretty much determined to finish a book once I’ve started it. My son-in-law years ago recommended Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon and I must admit I started it and put it down several times. Then it was a challenge so I picked it up and finally finished it. By the time I did, I was amazed both by the complexity of the story and by the author whose books I have continued reading. Another book I picked up and put down was The Elegance of a Hedgehog. I started it, didn’t care for it, put it down. Then my book club chose that as our book of the month, so I started it again, loved it and highly recommend it as a wonderful read and a terrific story. So what is it about books that some of us absolutely must finish them whether we like them or not? In the middle of March by Geraldine Brooks I am asking myself this question because I do not like the book, it is somewhat depressing, and I choose to think about Little Women without knowing any more about the father than Louisa May Alcott wrote almost 150 years ago! Several of my friends have read the book so I want to finish it to join the discussion. That’s one of the best things about reading a lot — talking about books with other people. So, I’m going to persevere. It’s kind of like being in school again — must finish the book to get the book report done. I learned that lesson in high school. The only time I didn’t read the book for an English class — it was The House of Seven Gables — I only read the back cover and a few pages and thought I could take part in a class discussion. The teacher quickly noted in front of everyone that I hadn’t read the book and I now credit this experience with my horror at not finishing a book once I’ve started.
Book clubs are a wonderful way to read books we might otherwise never look at — or look at again! I belonged to a wonderful book club in Tallahassee for years and thoroughly enjoyed reading each book we chose either because of the lively discussion or because the book was really engaging! But, I remember several times calling it homework. We certainly have been indoctrinated by our teachers! Now I’m part of a “virtual book club” where we meet and chat online. Next week we will be discussing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn which I had never read and found a wonderful tale of adventure but found I didn’t like the characters as much as I thought I would. It is also disturbing on a number of levels as it provides a look at life in the antebellum south from Mark Twain’s perspective.
What is it about our education, ourselves, expectations of others that push us to finish a book that we don’t like? In spite of Barbara saying that she didn’t want to finish Gone Girl, I suspect that she will. Also, that she posted this on Facebook says to me that she is a bit like me — reluctant to give up on a book once started. I am setting aside one afternoon this weekend to finish March because I feel compelled to but it is not a pleasant task. That’s a little crazy, isn’t it? What book shall I start next? Something I now I’ll want to finish or one that will challenge me? OK — I’ll re-start Wolf Hall only because my good friends and fellow readers Kim and Beth have talked so much about it. Of course, I did start it once….