Finishing Books

How important is it to read books to the end?

I’ve been reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace over the past few weeks, and according to my Kindle, I’m still only around 22% complete.  I’ve wanted to read it for a long time, as it’s been widely praised, and I am finding it very impressive; but, not delightful.  It’s very long, and has a great deal of obscure vocabulary, and end notes (all of which make the Kindle a great way to read it without these things interfering with the flow or convenience much).  Perhaps if I were more interested in drugs, or tennis, or Boston I’d feel more engaged with it. I know that there’s a lot more to it in the remainder of the book (a lot of insight about media, for example) but I think I already have a good sense of what the book is like and I’ve been wondering if I should stop where I am and move on to one of the many other unread books I’ve accumulated on my Kindle that I’d like to read.

I typically read books to the end.  Part of me thinks of books as precious and valuable works, and that it would be disrespectful toward the author, and books in general, to abandon a book without finishing it.  It’s part of my identity as a “good” reader.

But, my reading time is limited (and, I’m not a fast reader), and the less emotional part of my mind thinks I would better off if I quit reading a book when my best judgement is that my reading time would be better served reading something else.  I heard Tyler Cowen (a brilliant thinker and voracious reader), as a guest on a podcast years ago, discuss why he abandons unfinished books, and it makes a lot of sense.

I want to do what makes sense, but I also don’t want to do something that makes me feel bad.  I think I’ve already decided to abandon the book (at least, for now).

I decided to write this post mostly to help steel my resolve to quit by making my thinking more explicit, and perhaps to make it easier to make this choice next time.

Happy Independence Day!

For the first time in many years, we’re not going to watch 1776 at my house for the Fourth of July.  We’ve watched it so many times, and can anticipate every scene and almost every line so easily, that it’s become less impactful and a bit boring, even though it’s very well done.  We’ll probably resume watching it again when memory has faded a bit.

But, in honor of Independence Day, I recommend that people read Randy Barnett’s excellent elaboration of the famous beginning of the Declaration over at the Volokh Conspiracy.

Have a safe and happy Independence Day, everyone!