Reading as a principle or for recreation?

Once a book is started, it is my duty to finish it, regardless of my level of enjoyment.

SerfaSam

If I’m watching a movie I dislike, or a television series, I will simply stop watching it. I’ll turn off the TV and go and do something else or find something else to watch. If I’m in the cinema, I’ll just suffer through it. But when it comes to a book, I’ll pour hours into it, finishing a story I’m not connecting with, because a part of my brain will not let me leave it half-finished.

I suffered through Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. What an overhyped novel that is. I realize that’s throwing a lit match on gasoline – people love that series of novels. But it was just so outrageously wacky. It felt like the equivalent of a teenager whose whole identity is being “random”. Despite not enjoying it, I had to finish it. I had to see it through to the end in hopes of understanding what people loved about it.

The same sort of applies to John Dies at the End. I’d heard about the cult film, and wanted to see it, but figured I might read the book first. Well, that promptly ruined any desire I might have had to see the movie. I pushed through that collection of words to get to the end.

Perhaps part of the problem is that these books had a certain amount of intrigue to me. I was invested just enough in the story to put myself through the misery of finishing the books. But sometimes, even though I’m invested in the narrative and I know the outcome, the way it is written just clashes with my preferred writing style. This is the problem I’m currently facing with Who Goes There?

Who Goes There? is the novella by John W. Campbell that inspired The Thing. I love The Thing and I wanted to learn more about the material on which it was based. And though I’m enjoying the setting, concept, and the characters, Campbell’s writing style feels, shall I say, dated. There’s a density to the writing that is difficult to penetrate, which is surprising given my comfort level with hard sci-fi. Even Three-Body Problem (which I’ve waxed poetic about previously), which was written in Chinese then translated to English, was easier for me to digest.

I’ve got so many excellent books to read, and so many fantastic sci-fi recommendations from you lot, that I feel a sense of pain reading something I’m not enjoying. But I can’t seem to make it over this mental hurdle. Asking “Am I the only one who [fill in the blank]?” is such an outrageous question that I hate seeing, so I shall pose it differently: how do you manage reading books that you don’t connect with? Do you feel a sense of duty in finishing a book you started or can you walk away?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    September 19, 2021 9:46 PM

    Ever start a book you thought you’d thoroughly enjoy, only to really struggle to make progress and wind up reading it all out of a sense of principle or duty? Or do you have the gall to put down a half-finished book and never pick it up again?

    Read more: Reading as a principle or for recreation?

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      September 19, 2021 10:17 PM

      I saw the "Who Goes Here" image and said "Oh he best not be talking shit about the god John W. Campbell!!" And I looked and you weren't QUITE doing that. Git Gud.
      And yes, that is worse than talking shit about Adams.
      Lucky you didn't mention Pratchett.

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        September 20, 2021 3:25 AM

        Look, I've got to give him a little bit of shit. There are so few clean line breaks between scenes and locations that it's incredibly jarring to follow. That, and there are an awful lot of characters that I can't seem to differentiate from one another.

        I've not read any Pratchett, but I hear he's good. But Adams, I cannot get onboard the Hitchhiker's love.

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      September 19, 2021 10:23 PM

      Oh, and no the only book I ever COMPLETELY stopped reading (I mean more than a couple weeks) was the Silmarillion. I dropped it for like 8 years, then like 3 months, then I just powered through the "Begat" section. I had the same initial complaint about The Name Of The Rose (I need to watch that again!) until someone (on the Shack I'm pretty sure) mentioned that Eco made the beginning (first 100 pages or so) like that in order to slough off wishy-washy readers.
      Now this is fiction I'm talking. Non-Fiction I could see quitting a book. I don't recall having done so, but theoretically that's possible.

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      September 20, 2021 1:26 AM

      The only book I've ever put down and not gone back to was Atlas Shrugged. After trying unsuccessfully to finish it on several occasions, I finally made peace with the fact that I don't have time for that nonsense.

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        September 20, 2021 3:23 AM

        I actually managed to push through and finish Atlas Shrugged, and I'm kind of glad I did? Though, it was a pain to get through Francisco's 42-page monologue.

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      September 20, 2021 2:14 AM

      I hate read Les Misérables in HS. I was reading it on a Saturday for a test on Monday (either the first or second test, before the book was to be finished). The story was really pissing me off because of all the contrivance and it just kept getting worse and worse. So I just kept reading, faster and faster.

      When I got done I do remember chucking the fucking book across the god damned room in just pure anger of having wasted my whole Saturday.

      But then back in class I did fine on the test but in classroom discussion was a train wreck. One, I hated the book. Two, it was hard to impossible not to talk about what was ahead. And three, our class valedictorian kept pronouncing the main character's name like denim vehicle denim -- jean van jean.

      Thinking back on it now, for years I was convinced that I did poorly on the last two tests for the book because I had finished reading it a month before the test. But in reality I think I did poorly because there is no way I really retained everything I sped read through that Saturday. (or Sunday, who the fuck knows - it was 20+ years ago)

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        September 20, 2021 3:27 AM

        Gotta love the high school hate-read of a book. Or the attempt at bullshitting your way through a book report exam.

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          September 20, 2021 6:12 AM

          This was one of very few books I read in high school.

          What’s stupid is I like to read and I’m a fast reader.

          I absolutely loved The Count of Monte Cristo and I read that full thing. The scene towards the end where he reveals who he really is to the one dude before pushing him out a window or some shit? Amazing.

          I read Alas, Babylon as well. 1984 … but not Animal Farm.

          Never read of mice and men nor Gatsby nor Grapes of Wrath. I didn’t read any Shakespeare nor any Dickens.

          Cliff was my friend back in the day. His notes were legit.

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      September 20, 2021 2:24 AM

      Life is too short to waste time reading something you don’t enjoy

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        September 20, 2021 2:25 AM

        The same applies to video games and movies, obviously

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          September 20, 2021 3:14 AM

          I'll never understand why some gamers play a game that constantly makes them irate/frustrated. Games are supposed to be fun, not cause you to have conniptions every time you die or a teammate doesn't do exactly what you tell them to.

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      September 20, 2021 3:31 AM

      I had that issue with Neal Stephenson's Seveneves. Thought I'd really enjoy it, struggled through it, made myself finish it even though I hated it halfway in. It was so dry and more information dump than storytelling. It'd probably make a really good TV show or movie, though.

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        September 20, 2021 5:53 AM

        It was the end of that I struggled with.

        Now, if we’re talking Snow Crash. Ooh boy, what a steaming pile

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        September 20, 2021 7:22 AM

        I have that problem with most of his books. I don't buy them anymore. :(

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      September 20, 2021 3:34 AM

      No, but I used to do this with games. Sunk cost fallacy.

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      September 20, 2021 3:53 AM

      I mostly pushed through two of Game of Thrones books. I also have a prequel book I have not been able to complete. When George RR is on, it’s a great ride. When he is not, it’s 2 hour line at Disney World in the summer

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      September 20, 2021 4:31 AM

      I will drop a book the second I’m not feeling it. Too many good books out there and my recreational reading time is limited. Recently put down Seveneves because I got to act 3 and couldn’t be fucked due to a drastic change in style/setting.

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      September 20, 2021 6:00 AM

      yea ive learned to give up on books, and games, if im not enjoying them. i have a finite amount of reading/playing time and im too old to waste it on something im literally not enjoying

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      September 20, 2021 6:46 AM

      90% of the time i mark it as DNF and quit as soon as I hate the book, but every once in a while a book is just interesting enough even though i hate it that i power through to see what happens. I won't usually continue in the series if it was the start of one though.

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      September 20, 2021 6:52 AM

      I have a hard time quitting books after I get well into them (or series after I enjoy one book).

      Some recent examples:

      I read the whole Collapsing Empire/Interdependency trilogy by John Scalzi even though I thought the first book was just ok and hated the second and third.

      I read the Shadow & Bone trilogy by Leigh Bardugo (because I really enjoyed Six of Crows, a spin off), and I profoundly disliked much of it all the way through.

      I recently fought my way through Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett because I enjoyed the first book in the series, Foundryside. I hated it enough to actually write reviews on Goodreads and Audible, which is a drastic step for me. I think I'm making progress, though, in that I am not going to start the third book.

      Anyway, I'm ridiculous

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      September 20, 2021 6:55 AM

      My tendency is to get bogged down with books I recognise are excellent and enjoy when I'm reading, but which don't compel me to pick them up.

      I've been reading Wolf Hall for 18 months now and every time I read some I think "this is superb" then don't read any more for like a month.

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      September 20, 2021 7:00 AM

      Infinite Jest.

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      September 20, 2021 7:27 AM

      I've drop books on Kindle Unlimited on the regular. I'll click in the spirit of looking for some trashy action airport fiction and end up being bored/irritated by the rampant jingoism and Mary Sue of the main character and NOPE right the fuck out.

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      September 20, 2021 7:29 AM

      I was about 2/3 through Seveneves and I just gave it up. I really thought I was gonna power through it and I just couldn’t do it.

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        September 20, 2021 2:51 PM

        That’s the third time in this thread that someone has mentioned this book.

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