On Not Finishing the Books I Have Started (Reading)


I listen to a podcast called "Ten Junk Miles." It is a group of ultramarathon runners who live and drink in Chicago, IL. The podcast is hosted by a lawyer named Scott Kummer. Scott is a compulsive book-finisher. He has explained on more than one occasion that whenever he begins a book he has to finish it.

I don't have that neurosis.

In middle school I read the entire Left Behind series, which is about the second coming of Jesus Christ. I read it in a few weeks. I enjoyed it because I sincerely believed that I would be among God's chosen humans to spend eternity watching television in heaven.

Through high school I finished maybe 5 books, all of them compelled reading. (Except, of course, for reading the Bible. I didn't want to have to deal with the flames and blood moons and so forth of the rapture.) One terrible example of a book I was compelled to read was called Angle of Repose by a joyless author who went by the name of Wallace Stegner. In college I continued to read books that told me how special I was as a child of God, but that was mostly so I would have something intelligent-sounding to say at bible study.

I figured that I just hated reading. But that changed in graduate school. I realized that I didn't have to finish any of the books I was reading. That I could set them down whenever I got bored with them, which sometimes happened after one page. I started reading books that way. William James's Principles of Psychology? ~2000 pages of poetry. I picked and chose chapters that seemed promising, and then skipped the rest. I looked up articles he had written on those topics I most enjoyed. This turned out to be everything he has written on radical empiricism, and a hilarious essay called "PHD Octopus." Because I ignored the boring (to me) essays, I began to really like reading James.

While waiting for a meeting with my graduate department chair to begin, I found a copy of Kurt Goldstein's The Organism. I flipped to the table of contents and saw a bunch of promising chapter headings. I began reading them in order of interest. Six hours later, I realized that I had missed my meeting. To this day I have not read an essay or book by Goldstein I did not finish or enjoy or that did not teach me something valuable. (Which is why I have written so many articles on Goldstein.)

I have decided that there are too many books out there to suffer through bad ones. I look around and sample until I find an author I enjoy reading, but I don't finish their books on principle. I love Kurt Vonnegut and Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and Charles Bukowski, but I regularly grow tired about 2/3 of the way through their books. So I stop reading them and find out where my interest has wandered.

For my birthday, Erica bought me a memoir written by Nick Offerman, who is one of our favorite actors. The memoir was about among other things a guys trip to National Parks in an Airstream travel trailer. It seemed promising. I found it a huge disappointment. Offerman wasn't economical enough with his word choice, which is a horribly elitist thing to say. I tried to read it twice and never got further than 10 pages. 

Though I often stop reading books before I finish them, there are several that I have read multiple times. I would much rather read a good book twice than a chapter from a poorly written or uninteresting (to me) book. Here are a few books I have read multiples times (in no particular order):
  • On Becoming a Person (Carl Rogers)
  • Freedom to Learn (Carl Rogers)
  • Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (Fritz Perls)
  • In and Out the Garbage Pail (Fritz Perls)
  • The Organism (Kurt Goldstein)
  • Games People Play (Eric Berne)
  • I'm OK You're OK (Thomas Harris)
  • Modes of Thought (A.N. Whitehead)
  • Aims of Education (A.N. Whitehead)
  • I, Thou (Martin Buber)
  • The Art of Loving (Erich Fromm)
  • etc.
  • Going Postal (Terry Pratchett)
  • Good Omens (Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman)
  • Breakfast of Champions (Kurt Vonnegut)
  • Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
  • Hocus Pocus (Kurt Vonnegut)
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert Pirsig)
  • Post Office (Charles Bukowski)
  • etc.


Popular Posts