Do You Put Books Down or Do You Always Finish What You Start?

Putting a book down should be utilized as a tactic rather than a habit, leading you for the moment to brighter pastures of books that click with you.

I recently read a book that – in my humble opinion, and for lack of a better term – really sucked. It’s a famous book. It was recommended to me by the holy trinity of literary authorities: my brother, my friends, and The New York Times.

And yet, about 200 pages into One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I thought, “Enough is enough!” and returned it, unfinished, to the book shelf for another time.

This is what I call a “zombie book”—dead now, will resuscitate at a future date.

That’s not to say it’s a bad book. Obviously I’m in the minority here, and feel like one-part jerk and one-part stupid. Just to be clear: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel is widely considered the most influential Latin American novel ever. But let me unpack why, for me, this doesn’t matters.

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The first thing you should know about One Hundred Years of Solitude is that everyone is named Arcadio. Literally, the first thing you see when you open the book is a family tree that achieves the incredible task of offering no clarity whatsoever.

Look, I get that historically speaking, first and last names were passed on from generation to generation—heck, even today on my Irish side of the family, you’d be hard pressed to find any males who are not named Michael or Joseph. But given that time in Marquez’s world is kind of wonky – and there are a lot of surrealist, fantastical elements in the works at any given moment – at about page 50, if you’ve glossed over a single sentence, you might be bungling your Arcadios for the next 75 pages. It happened to me.

There are great things about the book (or, the 200 pages of this book, which, as you now know, is as far as I made it). There are moments of utter magic and literary greatness that even I – clearly missing major themes and potentially life-changing nuances – was able to catch. Some descriptions made me feel present in the desert edges of the fictional city of Macondo.

So, Marquez’s writing? Check. Yes. He’s great. I bow down on the literary altar and accept my sacrilege at even typing this piece.

But that doesn’t mean I found it enjoyable or knew what was happening. An unfortunate side effect of reading a book you can’t totally wrap your brain around is that you become a Pavlovian experiment unto yourself. You become attached to the maladies of a once normative pastime suddenly associated with something difficult and drudging. What was once just a challenging task, at worst, can become a distaste for the act of reading all together.

The more I felt lost, the more I became disinterested, and the more my rituals of reading began to break down. The more I paused between readings, the less I remembered the characterization, the plot, and which Arcadio was which (I should mention there are a lot of characters named Aureliano, too).

One day, you’re trying really hard to read about the history of a fantastical land and contemplating larger messages of cross-generational socio-economic impacts. The next, you’re binging on Top Chef re-runs.

The only way out of such a situation is to put the book down entirely and pick up something new.

It is a burden lifted, a weight un-tethered. It doesn’t mean you have to give up forever, of course. Putting a book down should be utilized as a tactic rather than a habit, leading you for the moment to brighter pastures of books that click with you.

You’ll have to be prepared, however, for a heavier kind of rectangle lying in wait on your shelf.

Do you put books down or do you always finish what you start? Why or why not?

About Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

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