I can’t finish reading books. Should I stop trying?
I have trouble finishing books. Well, you could even say I have a hard time reading, if you think that a good reader is someone who finishes the books he picks up.
It has been like this for several years now. When I was 12 or 13, I was a vigorous reader. I read line after line easily, mainly because it was one of the only ways to spend time in a household without a satellite connection.
I now look back and wish this habit would stay, although I know the reasons why it didn’t. In order for me to maintain my prodigious readership, I needed an ecosystem of reading friends, who I could talk to about anything that reads. But at the time, none of my friends did. They were into cartoons, wrestling, games, IRL sports, which I all loved, which ultimately took me away from reading. It just wasn’t rewarding enough anymore.
Fast forward a few years. In the twilight of my teenage years, I suddenly started to nurture this urge to be good. Maybe everything else was getting tiring; maybe I had finally found friends who read and felt left out because I had lost it to myself; maybe life had knocked me down so much that I needed a bit of that paperback goodness to pull myself up, but I just knew that reading could save me. It was not, of course. But hey, at least I wanted to give it a shot.
By the time I was halfway through college, I really tried to go back to my glory days of all-consuming books. My interests had now branched out to include everything from anthropology to philosophical treatises on comedy as a literary form, but while starting my books was always an exciting endeavor, finishing them became a puzzle.
Not for real. Because there’s all this pressure on a reader not to put a book away until the last word has been read, even though we might not know it. Paradoxically enough, the internet is full of memes about unread books that collect dust on the shelves, or impulse buys of titles while being keenly aware that they will never be read, which tells you that the phenomenon of the demi – reading is not as rare as you might think.
And so, rather than trying to build myself up as the ideal reader, I simply reconciled with my reader personality over the next couple of years.
Long story short (that’s also how I prefer my fiction), if you see me with a book in hand, or see a quote or screenshot of a page posted on my social media, don’t ask me not what’s the end, or ask me to summarize the book in its entirety. But if you want to know what the introduction or the first chapter is about, count on me to be your man.
While I have no shame in admitting or even defending this way of reading, I am aware that most books are meant to be read in their entirety in order to get the most out of them. But as an attention deficit person – who has a knack for focusing on that one word on page seven of a book about psychoanalysis, uploading a PDF to it, and then not finishing it as well – I think it’s going to be like that for me, rather than being too hard on myself not to read the way society wants it to.
I mean, if you think about it, if it’s a choice between not reading at all or reading 30 intros a year, I think the answer is pretty straightforward, right?
Hassan Munhamanna is the author of 20 unpublished novels, four of which have two chapters written, while the rest is in his head. He is an assistant editor at the City Desk of the Daily Star.