2022 The Year of the Unfinished Book?

A decade or so ago, not finishing a book would pain me. I would frequently slog through a book just to finish it; or accurately not leave it unfinished.  Part of it was that it sunk cost; I felt I would waste all the time I had put into reading it.

I have changed my approach since then. If a book doesn’t grab me I frequently just stop reading it.  I have gotten better at making this determination earlier and thus avoiding the perils of the sunk cost fallacy.  But sometime I will reading quite a ways into a book and yet decide at some point it just isn’t worth it.

To be fair, another element is this frequently happens with books I have checked out from the library.  If I borrow an digital book from the library via Libby and have been slogging through it when the book comes due, I just return the book.  If people are waiting for a book and I can’t get excited about finishing it I figure I should let them have a crack.

In 2022, this seemed to happen more than usual. Again, I don’t know if it is my lack of focus/book funk or what. But behold:

Six books started but not finished. And that does not include books I might have read half a dozen pages and decided not to read. What gives?

One theory is that I am no longer patient enough to read long books that take time to develop and enjoy.

The Shadow and the Wind (506 pages) and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (806 pages!) and both long books that I have tried on multiple occasions to get into and simply have not been able to do it.  I am not sure why.  Both books have been praised by people whose judgement I trust and they seem like the type of books I would enjoy.  But to read long books you have to be pulled in, you have to want to devote long chunks of time to them.  And for these two I just haven’t felt that pull.

Similarly, The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Blue Bear (699 pages) was a book I have had on my shelves for a very long time but never got around to reading.  Again seeking something different to shake up my reading, I borrowed the audiobook and started listening.

Wikipedia:

The 131⁄2 Lives of Captain Bluebear is a 1999 fantasy novel by German writer and cartoonist Walter Moers which details the numerous lives of a human-sized bear with blue fur. Though the novel was originally written in German, an English translation was published in the United Kingdom in 2000 and in the United States in 2005, an Italian translation in 2000, a Chinese translation in 2002, and a French translation in 2005. The novel attained considerable popularity in Germany and the United Kingdom[1] while experiencing relative obscurity in the United States.

I thought a quirky, silly book about myths and folklore would be a good fit.  But instead I found it odd and rather absurd but not funny and captivating. Maybe I should take another crack and the book with my paperback copy and enjoy the illustrations. But another large book I failed to finish in 2022

With Grab On to Me Tightly as if I Knew the Way I was trying to read something outside my normal style or approach and it failed.  It was connected to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and as a born and raised Michigander I guess I hoped that would connect with me. Also here is the publisher’s blurb:

Generous in spirit and laugh-out-loud funny, here is a novel that introduces a tremendous new talent and deftly captures the alternately amusing and harrowing process of holding on until you find your way.

That is what I was hoping for but nope.  It was vulgar and full of angst.  I get that is what it means to be a teenager but at my age I guess I just have a low threshold for these things. So when the digital book was due and people were waiting for the book I gave up.

In a similar way, I just couldn’t seem to finish Ohio by Stephen Markley. I started reading it a while back with a hardcover I had picked up at a book sale.  In what seems to be a theme here, I was looking for something new to read and decided to take a crack at finishing the book.  But I wanted to read it before bed and so borrowed a digital copy to read on my Kindle.

I found the stories compelling in many ways but it was too dark. I just wasn’t up for what NPR described as a “wild, angry and devastating masterpiece of a book.” Again, for whatever reason, I never found myself wanting to read the book and so drifted away from it and on to other things.

Lastly we come to perhaps the most unique book on the list, A Grotesque in the Garden:

After several millennia living as a lone sentinel in the Garden of Eden, the angel Tesque is contemplating leaving his post in rebellion against God. Meanwhile, in another time and place, a professor of mathematics isolates herself in remote Iceland as she finds herself increasingly at odds with society. The connection between these two characters? A letter, a sentient dog, and a deep-seated resistance to the demands of love.

A Grotesque in the Garden is a philosophical tale that addresses some of theology’s thorniest problems, including the questions of divinely permitted evil, divine hiddenness, and divine deception, couching them in narrative form for greater accessibility to students and general readers. While Hudson’s story ultimately vindicates the virtue of obedience to God, it never shies away from critiques of troublesome theological positions.

The problem here seems pretty clear: this is not actually a work of fiction but a philosophical and theological treatise lightly fictionalized. I just didn’t find the storytelling element as enjoyable as I thought and the analytical philosophy was not what I was looking for. This is the type of book that take focus and thought and I was looking for relaxing literature. I might return to this when I have the right mindset. Will see.

So there you have it. A half dozen books never finished. Hundreds of pages left unexplored.

Maybe in 2023 I should focus on choosing my books more carefully? Time will tell…

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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