The half-finished book

Suzanne Munshower of The Guardian writes in praise of the half-finished book, celebrating her willingness to put a book down prior to finishing it if the story no longer captivates her.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Being a somewhat compulsive person, I often feel the need to finish a book even if I am no longer enjoying it, and many times I do just this. Sometimes it works out. There was a moment in Wally Lamb’s I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE when I was ready to close the book and move on, bored with the storyline and the pacing of the novel, but I persisted despite every inclination to do otherwise and was rewarded with a game-changing fall from a ladder that propelled the book forward to the end and made my willingness to persevere pay off.

But in the last year, I can also name at least three books that I stopped reading somewhere in the middle, deciding that my time could no longer be wasted on a story that did not interest me. While I was happy to recapture the time that I might have invested in reading those books, they will always loom over me, making me wonder if things might have changed if I had read just three more pages.

I utilize the notion of the half-read book into my writing process. One of the things that I have learned to keep in mind when writing a book is pacing. Today’s reader is simply too impatient to allow a book to slowly develop, which unfortunately seems to be my tendency. Gone are the days of the idyllic plot development of Jane Austen and Henry James. Plots must now take off immediately, and the pace in which the story is told must be brisk and unwavering. Today’s reader is a fickle, impatient individual who demands instant gratification.

How annoying.

At readings and book signings, I often address this topic by blaming my audience’s lack of patience for making my life more difficult than it need be. “If you would all just chill out and give my book a chance, I could write it the way I want to write it,” I often say. “Give it fifty pages, for God’s sake!”

Smart move. Huh? Chastise the very people who have chosen to come out and support you as an author.

But I’m curious where other people stand on the half-finished book. Is this something that you do frequently, or like me, does the idea of not completing a book weigh on your mind and leave you always wondering if you’ve made the right decision?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, I assume that you didn’t put SOMETHING MISSING down halfway through. Right?