I can’t finish reading books. Should I stop trying?
I struggle to finish books. Well, one can even say I struggle to read, if you think a good reader is someone who finishes the books they pick up.
It's been this way for a number of years now. Back when I was 12 or 13, I used to be a vigorous reader. I'd read through line after line with ease, mostly because this was one of the only ways to pass time in a household without a satellite connection.
I now look back and wish this habit stayed, though I know the reasons behind why it didn't. For me to sustain my prodigious readership, I needed an ecosystem of friends who read, whom I could talk to about all things reading. But back then, none of my friends did. They were into cartoons, wrestling, games, sports IRL—all of which I loved, all of which eventually pulled me away from reading. It just wasn't rewarding enough anymore.
Fast forward a couple of years. At the twilight of my teenhood, I suddenly started harbouring this urge to be wise. Maybe everything else grew tiresome; maybe I had finally found friends who read and felt left out for losing it for myself; maybe life had beaten me down so bad that I needed some of that paperback goodness to pull me back up—but I just knew reading could save me. This wasn't to be, of course. But hey, at least I wanted to give it a shot.
From here up to midway through university, I tried really hard to go back to my glory days of straight-up devouring books. My interests by now had diversified to include everything from anthropology to philosophical treatises on comedy as a literary form, but while starting my books was always an exciting undertaking, ending them was becoming a headache.
No, for real. Because there's all this pressure on a reader to not put a book away till the last word has been read, even though we may not be aware of it. Somewhat paradoxically, the internet is full of memes on unread books that collect dust on the shelves, or on impulse buying titles while being fully aware that they'll never be read, which tells you that the phenomenon of half-reading isn't as rare as one might think.
And so, rather than trying to build myself up as the ideal reader, I simply came to terms with my reading personality over the next couple of years.
Long story short (which is also how I prefer my fiction), if you see me with a book in hand, or see a quote or a screenshot of a page posted on my socials, don't ask me what the ending holds, or ask me to summarise the book in its entirety. But if you want to know what the introduction or the first chapter is all about, count on me to be your guy.
While I have no shame admitting or even championing this way of reading, I'm not unaware that most books are meant to be read whole if one is to extract its essence to the fullest. But as someone with an attention deficit—who has a knack for zeroing in on that one word on page seven of a book on psychoanalysis, downloading a PDF on it, and then proceeding to not finish it as well—I think it's okay for me to be this way, rather than be too hard on myself for not reading the way society wants me to.
I mean, if you think about it, if it's a choice between not reading at all or reading 30 introductions per year, I think the answer is pretty simple, no?
Hassan Munhamanna is the author of 20 unpublished novels, four of which have two chapters written down, while the rest are in his head. He is a sub-editor at The Daily Star's City Desk.