For most of my life as a reader, I read every book I started to the end. Not finishing a book was sacrilege. No matter how tedious the narrative (I’m looking at you, James Fenimore Cooper), how irritating the storytelling (Hi, Dan Brown), or how purple the writing (Ugh, take a bow, Robert James Waller), I would slog through the whole thing figuring that even if I hated the book I would have learned a valuable lesson about bad choices and the authors who make them.
Then, I became a grown-up. With a job that requires a lot of homework, a husband I like to talk to, a kid with more activities on his calendar than Babe Paley in her heyday, and friends I’d ideally like to see in person rather than just on Facebook, reading for pleasure has become a, well, guilty pleasure. My once holier-than-thou attitude about finishing what you start has now morphed into if I’m not intrigued by the second page and in love by the fiftieth, the book is going back on the shelf to collect dust and await discovery by a more committed reader or eventual relocation—so I don’t feel guilty every time I look at it.
There are exceptions, of course. You all know I read every last annoying word of The Goldfinch even though I disagreed with all those who thought it was brilliant. Occasionally, I do force myself to keep reading, because there are glimmers in those first 50 pages that the story will unfold to reveal something exceptional. Mostly, though, my pleasure reading follows the pattern of my work reading. If you can’t capture my attention very early on, the crush of other manuscripts waiting in the wings will make the decision for me.
A propos of all of this, today, on Galleycat, I saw a piece about how women are more apt to stay with a book they don’t like than men. And, from my experience, I find that to be true. The women in my book club, for instance, will routinely report that they have read an entire book they felt lukewarm about at best or hated outright at worst. My husband and other male friends, on the other hand, will leave a trail of half-read volumes in their wake with not even a discernible glimmer of guilt or regret.
What does that say about women and men as readers? And does it mean that my reading process has become more, er, masculine as I’ve gotten older? Do you guys finish everything you start? And, if not, at what point do you throw your hands up, toss the book aside, and go in search of the remote?