This is a FASCINATING question for me. For most of my life, I came down firmly on the “you have to finish it, even if you’re not enjoying it” side of things - similar to the teenaged book reviewer Parks mentions in this post. But as I’ve gotten older, I not only have stopped forcing myself to finish books I’m not enjoying, I have also definitely dabbled in the art of stopping a reading experience when it feels “done” — even if that’s before the end of the book.
I’ve never really phrased it this way before, but I think Parks is totally right:
There are some novels, and not just genre novels, where plot is indeed up front and very much the reason why one keeps turning the pages. We have to know what happens. These are rarely the most important books for me. Often one skims as heightened engagement with the plot reduces our attention to the writing as such; all the novel’s intelligence is in the story and the writing the merest vehicle.
Yet even in these novels where plot is the central pleasure on offer, the end rarely gratifies, and if we like the book and recommend it to others, it is rarely for the end. What matters is the conundrum of the plot, the forces put in play and the tensions between them. The Italians have a nice word here. They call plot trama, a word whose primary meaning is weft, woof or weave. It is the pattern of the weave that we most savor in a plot—Hamlet’s dilemma, perhaps, or the awesome unsustainability of Dorothea’s marriage to Casaubon—but not its solution.
We as human beings (especially Americans, perhaps) are so driven by teleology, so driven by the need to REACH THE END. But I think it’s true that the books we love most are not necessarily those with the best “endings,” and that ending itself is overrated, an unnecessary closure put there just for the sake of convention.
I’ve always resisted the idea that the ending is what you’re trying to reach—and that if it gets “spoiled” for you, there’s no longer a reason to engage in the story. (Once you know Rosebud is a sled, why watch Citizen Kane? That’s all the movie has to offer, right?) When we were assigned books to read in high school, I used to immediately flip to the last page and read the last sentence out loud to whoever was sitting near me in class. I lost one friend over this.
Anyway, what do you guys think? Is it okay to abandon a good book before the ending and still claim to have read it and loved it?
“Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt’s new offering is a love letter to books.”
—The Daily Beast reviews The Swerve, Finalist for the 2011 National Book Award
I REALLY WANT TO READ THIS. And The Marriage Plot, duh. But I’m stuck reading Foucault right now instead and I feel angry about it.
This seems really petty to me. I mean, come on, Barnes & Noble—are you selling books or are you selling a brand? I guess this proves it’s the latter.
Barnes & Noble, I am disappoint.
YES PLEASE THANK YOU
(I know some people will hate this idea, but I think Bourdain would actually pick some interesting, worthwhile stuff, so there.)
Psychological closure seem[s] like a fact of life. But according to a new book, closure is something else: a myth. Closure, says sociologist Nancy Berns, simply doesn’t exist. While grief can diminish over time, there is no clear process that brings it to an end - and no reason that achieving this finality should be our goal.
In “Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us,” Berns draws on scholarly publications and popular media to trace why closure became a staple of our discourse and how it affects us. In fact, while closure is widely considered possible, desirable, and important, she argues, it is not necessarily any of these things. Our reliance on the concept may even do us a disservice. Not only does closure mischaracterize how most people handle grief, but, she suggests, the pressure to achieve it might actually make loss more difficult.
I especially liked Berns’ response to the assumption that ending grief (as quickly as possible) is a good thing:
The closure narrative assumes that grief is bad and that it’s something that needs to end, and it assumes that closure is possible and that it’s something good and something that people need to have. Grief is a difficult, messy experience and can be very painful. A lot of people carry loss and grief for much of their lives, but that doesn’t mean that the pain is as intense as it was the first few months. You carry that loss and grief, but you learn how to integrate that into your life … .We grieve for a reason. We grieve because we miss the person who died, or because of whatever loss we’re experiencing. Our grief expresses how we’re feeling and allows us to acknowledge that loss. So asking or expecting someone to try and end that quickly is really misunderstanding the importance of those emotions.
Oh, you know, just the old story: Man dies, leaves widow with 350,000 valuable books, she threatens to burn them, neighbor book-lovers step in.
Raycraft said the books need to be in a climate-controlled setting. And they need help and expertise sorting through them. Or just help disposing of them.
"My goal is to get a sea container brought to the house. Most of the boxes are still unopened and unsorted. When you say to somebody,’I have 350,000 books,’ it just goes over their head — they have no concept. It’s very hard to take a box in and say, ‘Here, sort through this and see what you want.’"
Raycraft said she has no idea how much the entire collection is worth but is looking for suggestions as to what to do with it.
I have a suggestion which is GIVE THEM TO ME. (via)
I have a suggestion which is GIVE THEM TO ME.