Almost everyone says the same thing about books you don’t finish: Just move on. Read something better, read something that’s more engaging. But for some reason, I stubbornly want to finish books that I’ve started.
If I start a book, I want to finish it so I can either write a review of what I didn’t like or be pleasantly surprised when the book improves as I read. And if I’ve gone to the trouble of buying a book and spent time reading it, it seems like a waste of time and money to abandon it.
Despite good intentions, I abandoned several books in 2017. Here are 10 books I didn’t finish last year:
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I bought Between the World and Me and started reading it for my office’s book club in October. Coates’ slim book, structured as a letter to his son about the injustices that blacks must face every day in America, has taken the literary world by storm. His prose is sharp and effective; his arguments are compelling. Unfortunately, I only got about halfway through it. Honestly, it’s hard to read a book that centers on issues that are difficult to confront—it’s uncomfortable. This uncomfort means that I should push through and read on to push myself into considering new viewpoints.
Brand Luther by Andrew Pettegree
Brand Luther is a historical exploration of Martin Luther from a unique perspective: his publishing career. Rather than focus on his theology or his religious impact or even his political influence, Pettegree concentrates on how Luther turned Wittenberg, Germany, into a center of publishing and changed the European publishing industry with his ideas and new methods of connecting with readers.
This was the one book I was absolutely supposed to read for my history capstone last spring, but I didn’t even make it past chapter six because I procrastinated on doing anything for my capstone. (In retrospect, this was a terrible idea.) Pettegree presents such an interesting perspective on Luther—and backs it up with sources and details that I haven’t seen referenced before in biographies of Luther—that I know I must finish reading it sooner rather than later.
Strange Heart Beating by Eli Goldstone
I tried reading this in August. Strange Heart Beating is about a man trying to piece together his wife’s history after she is killed by a swan. I was so excited to read a book that looked strange and wonderful and prose-y, and I was happy to support a small press. But I couldn’t continue. Although this book is beautifully written, it felt slow and lacked a discernible plot. Sometimes this doesn’t bother me, but in that particular reading mood, I couldn’t stand reading a plotless and poetic book, even if it was short. I jumped ship for a thriller to drag me out of the reading slump this book caused.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven is hailed as an excellent literary science fiction/dystopian novel. A co-worker recommended it and said the office book club enjoyed it, and when I found a used hardcover copy at my local bookstore for only $10, the bookseller was excited for me. I read one chapter of this book one night and didn’t pick it up again. It’s been on my bedside table for a few months now. I know, I know; I’ve heard it’s wonderful, but I wasn’t drawn in by the first chapter. The writing style was a bit heavier than I wanted, and it was just boring. I get that you have to establish what life was like before the huge catastrophe happens, but didn’t feel compelled to keep reading. I intend to return to it…some day.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
I’m ashamed to include this on the list because I’ve nearly finished Machado’s short story collection Her Body and Other Parties but haven’t picked up the book in a few weeks. Machado’s writing makes me insanely jealous; her blend of sci-fi otherworldliness with sexy, realistic characters and unexpected turns in the narrative is captivating and mystifying. I will absolutely finish this book, probably in the next week or two.
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
I read Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore this September and loved it. There’s something so delightful about Sloan’s tone and style of writing; it reminds me of the quirky fun of Roald Dahl’s children’s books, which I adore. I got about halfway through Sourdough and loved it; then one night I got very tired while reading it, put it down so I could sleep, and never picked it back up.
I wholeheartedly intend to finish it within the next month. I really enjoy reading about Lois and her bread adventures. Sloan makes San Francisco come to life again as an almost mythical city, and his characterization is so spot-on. Add in details like a mysterious restaurant, a living sourdough starter, and the Lois club, and I know it won’t be long before I have to return to this book to see whether Lois chooses baking or robots—or both?
You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero
No need for excuses as to why I didn’t finish this book that I won in a giveaway: It’s below my reading level. The sentences were so poorly constructed that I couldn’t follow them, and the advice was so fluffy and unoriginal that after starting my new job in content marketing, I couldn’t stand reading more of the same fluffy, BS advice when I got home at night. I’m pretty sure I’ll never finish You Are a Badass at Making Money, and I actually don’t feel bad about that.
Unrequited: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Romantic Obsession by Lisa A. Phillips
I really regret not finishing Unrequited. It came at a bad time—I started reading it a month before graduation and moving and getting married and such, and it got lost in the wake of all the changes. Don’t get me wrong, this book is fascinating. My husband gave it to me because Rachel Bloom—creator of one of my favorite shows currently on television, Crazy Ex Girlfriend—mentioned it in an interview as an inspiration in crafting Rebecca Bunch’s obsessive personality. The memoir combines Phillips’ real-life experiences with research and history about unrequited love for an honest, insightful look into romantic obsession. I must finish this.
It seems weird to include this on a list of books I didn’t finish because I read a fair amount of the short stories in this collection. Again, The Bloody Chamber fell into a void because I picked it up in that last month or two of college. Although I didn’t read every single story in the collection, I enjoyed Carter’s twists on classic fairy tales, and I intend to read more of her stories.
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
I read the first essay of this essay collection from Graywolf Press last winter, and it made me cry. The essay is about abortion; it’s heartwrenching and terrible and well-written, but I couldn’t bear to read more of her essays because that essay was so affective. I’m guessing that the rest of the essays aren’t all about abortion, so I really ought to finish reading The Empathy Exams—even if it’s tough to get through emotionally, I’m certain I’ll learn lessons about crafting essays from Jamison.