The Spectre of the Unfinished Book

I have always considered myself to be a ‘bookworm’. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been an avid reader. From being read picture books as a young child, to ploughing through thick novels as a literature student, books have definitely shaped my life more than I might like to admit. But at the same time, there are many, many books that I simply never finished, or at least didn’t finish the first time around.

There’s something strange about a book that you have left unfinished. Do you leave it in your ‘Currently Reading’ list on Goodreads, lingering there in eternal 48% completion? Do you pretend you never picked the book up in the first place by sending it to a charity shop for someone else to pick up, or deleting it from your device on Audible or Kindle so it remains forever in the cloud? The problem with a book that you have started but not finished is that you know some of the plot, some of the characters, but you don’t get the gratification of the resolution. Of course, you could just look up a summary and spoil it for yourself, but in the back of your mind is that (only sometimes true) conviction that you will return to the book again.

For me, returning to a book (or even the next in a series of books), that I have left unfinished feels confusing. I always wonder whether I should read the part I’ve already read again, or just pick up where I left off. Reading the same passages again when I haven’t got to the end gives me a strange feeling, because I can almost remember the first time I read it but, like the first time, I still don’t know what going to happen, so I can’t see what is coming as I normally can when re-reading a book.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things this is truly a non-issue. No-one is checking that you finished a book on your first attempt, or that you finished it at all. A lot of the time, it is not the book itself that is at fault, but rather that I picked it up when I did not have time to read it, or I had to focus on the reading for my course, or that another (and normally shorter/easier) book caught my attention. This is the only reason why books that I was actually quite enjoying such as Stephen Fry’s Mythos or Charlie N. Holmberg’s The Paper Magician remain in limbo on my Currently Reading list. I know that I will go back to them. However, other books I won’t be returning to, unless I have to.

At the end of the day, what this all comes down to is the fact that in a world where we are able to enjoy the stories told in books, we must also accept the certainty that we can never finish them all, and we will not like them all. The only solution to this, irritating as it is, is to take breaks from or simply not finish books in order to be able to move on to the ones we do like.

How do you feel about leaving a book unfinished? What do you do with books that you own but are not going to read?