Why Do I Insist On Finishing Books I Don’t Like?

Once I start a book, I can’t stop reading it. You might think, ‘Yeah? Me too! I love to read!’ And I do too! But it isn’t that I love a book so much I can’t put it down. It’s that, whether I like the book or not, I must finish it. And I can’t tell if that’s a bad thing.

The latest example of my forcing a disliked book down my brain happened this year. And pretty much all of this year. For beginning on start date January 28th, in the year of our Lord, 2013, until this very day (dates courtesy of good reads), I read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.

Yep, it took me over nine full months to read that book. And that’s fine. I’m a slow reader, generally, and this book is quiet long, so I suppose it’s to be expected. But more than that, it is an extremely dense novel. And one that I did not like, apologies to Mr. Eco.

At its core, The Name of the Rose is a murder mystery that takes place over a seven day period in 1327 at an Italian abbey where every day a monk is murdered. The main character and his master are investigators tasked with determining who is responsible.

Seems straightforward enough and, to me, as if it could be told in 200 or so pages. However, the novel is over 500. This is because there are pages and pages of religious, philosophical, and historical discussion in numerous sections that, while fascinating, do little to move the plot forward. Don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful pages with sentences that would make Joseph Conrad beam, but they are mind-numbingly detailed. For example, a character might see a tapestry of an apocalyptic scene and that moment becomes an eight page history on how the church has presented the end times up to that moment. Want more illustration? There are sections of dialogue that contain parenthesis. Parenthesis. In dialogue. Apparently Italians circa the 1300s could speak parenthetically. Who knew?

Now, I know and understand why it is considered a great work of literature, and why my Italian professor in college considered it the “great-Italian novel.” The language and prose are magnificent, and the simple ability of the author to sit down and compose that much minutiae on such rich topics is awe-inspiring to me.

But I’m a story girl. I like plot. And while this book might have vivid imagery and provide a thorough history lesson, to me it lacks plot. Or the plot it does have is buried under its parenthetical context mountain. Just too much to wade through to get to the story, which is why it took me nine months to read. I just couldn’t get excited to pick it up.

But, back to my original question, should I have forced myself to? Should I force myself to read a book I don’t like?

My entire life, the answer has been, ‘Yes. You started it, you should finish it, come hell or high water.’ I don’t know why, but that has always been my mentality. If I start something I finish it.

Nine months, though? I keep thinking about all the valuable time I could have been spent reading something else instead of wasting it on crawling through this book at a pace of two pages a day. There were times when I chose to clean and do laundry over reading this book, and reading is possibly my favorite pastime. I mean, that’s almost sacrilege for me. Why not just stop reading it and start something else?!

But then I finished it. And I felt awesome! I felt like I had slayed a dragon. ‘You didn’t get the best of me, you long, boring book! I conquered you and your 500 page dissertation on metaphysics!’

I won’t lie. There are definitely some pride feelings mixed into all this. Two kinds, really. First, pride in my ability to pick a good book. If I choose a book and don’t finish it, what does that say about me? Secondly, I have some pride in my perceived intellect, some snob-like characteristics. And now I can confidently say I’ve read Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and hold my chin up as I do.

More importantly for me, the reason I force myself through these books is that I hate leaving things unfinished. There is a glint of hope that it will get better, which happens sometimes. (However, with this book I knew it was going to be rough from the start.) But more so, it’s the knowledge that I set out to do something, and I did it, even if that means sacrificing valuable reading time to the washing machine to do it. Maybe that makes me sound silly or crazy, but I guess I’m just one of those people that has to finish what they start. Come hell or high water.