To The Finish

To finish a book, we presume means to read it through from page one to the final page. From left to right, straight through. To finish it.

And so when the question is raised, “do you feel obligated to finish all the books you start reading,” it’s asking if you feel guilty if you don’t read them all straight through, from left to right.

Well, that would be one way to finish a book.

And, quite frankly, no. I don’t feel obligated to finish a book like that. There are some occasions when I have had to give a book up early, for assorted reasons, and I have felt that I should not have done so. But for the most part, I am actually quite finished with most books I have quit reading.

Because, really, the question of finishing is more about the closure, rather than coming to the close. And, most books that I have ceased reading have found their closure. Whether I read them to the final chapter, or I finally decided that they were not worth my time.

I am usually finished. One note, however, because I cannot help but to wonder whether the question is for books for pleasure, or books for work and school. I am much more likely to finish a book that I have picked out for pleasure, rather than a book that I am supposed to read for school. For school, I can skim to the relevant parts, and then be able to raise the relevant questions. The only problem with that is that I got so used to reading for pleasure, that I really do like hearing a whole argument.

A book for pleasure, on the other hand, is much easier to drop if it is not a classic or entertaining me. If I have failed to be captured by the narrative, whether fiction or nonfiction, then after fifty pages, I am free to relinquish the book and any hold or obligation it might have on me.

Any truly good book never gets finished. Good books, if they are truly good, make you come back to the storyline again and again, as you think about the way that the characters interact and the truth that underlies the narrative. Those books never finish with you. Those books cannot merely be put down, even if they are packed away in a box for ten years. Those books, those that capture you, are those that have no obligation but a promise. A promise that the story continues, wherever you go.

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