Why Starting a Book is More Important Than Finishing It

the story, red book

I am a serial book abandoner. There, I said it. My World Book Day confession. I start books, get half way through, and as often as not don’t finish them. Novels, non-fiction, you name it; the trend remains the same.

It’s not that the book is bad, or that I’m bored or don’t enjoy reading (after sleeping and eating it probably ranks a close third in terms of daily significance). It’s just that my mind wanders onto other things.

Something in a previous chapter might have sparked an interest in a new idea, or perhaps I saw a story on the news and just had to dive into a different book or article or film to figure out my thinking.

Do I have ADHD? Nope. Am I a frenzied maniac unable to control my thoughts? Well, possibly. But I’m also just following my interests, going with the thoughts that most excite me at any given moment.

Now, I know what many of you are thinking.

I know because I’ve encountered enough of you at dinner parties to understand that some people believe passionately that started books simply must be finished. Reasons usually run along the lines that you can’t have appreciated the thing, and fully understood a book’s meaning, until you’ve consumed it in its entirety.

Because we’re not even talking about whether we should finish bad books (just stop reading, right now), what we’re talking about is whether it’s okay to stop reading good, well-written, insightful and interesting books.

My vote? An emphatic yes, and here’s why: reading should be fun. Flit-fully, frivolously and fantastically fancy-free. You get to choose what you pick up, what’s the difference with choosing to put it down again?

If we force ourselves to finish books that, for whatever reason, we’ve lost interest in, aren’t we rather missing the point of reading? If your mind is alive with new thoughts and ideas but you feel chained to the three-volume tome you started three weeks ago, are you really supposed to impose lights-out style discipline on your creative impulses in order to, dare you think anything else, finish what you started?

Or is life, in fact, too short, and creativity too important, to bother with self-imposed rules which don’t add value to our lives? By forcing ourselves to always and indiscriminately finish books we’re not expanding our minds, we’re constraining them.

Whether you read 3 pages or 3 volumes, reading is an activity which should exist to excite and enrich the lives of the reader – not flatter the writer. By choosing to put a book down before the last page you give yourself the freedom to explore the story or subject to the breath and depth that you wish, not what the writer (or more often the economics of the publishing industry) decides.

Today marks the day that Shakespeare died, play-writing legend and perpetual rule-breaker that he was. It is also, by no coincidence, World Book Day.

I plan on honouring both by turning the corner on one book, and picking up a new one.

Want to join me?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Francesca Wakefield

Francesca WakefieldFrancesca Wakefield is the founder & editor of The Ideas Arcade. She’s also a writer and consultant, helping small businesses and social+sustainable organisations reach more people and do more good.

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