I have to admit it: I have now become a quitter. Specifically, I quit reading Will Self’s Umbrella only 40 pages in.
I have a condition by which if I begin a book, I must finish it. This is not a stance I can easily be shaken from, not one I can easily talk myself out of. Often, friends, family, or even myself ask, “You clearly don’t enjoy this book—why don’t you just stop?”
I don’t have a good answer to this question. It’s a reasonable one, I admit, yet not one that I seem willing to face reasonably. At least I’m consistent: I don’t really quit anything easily. I have a persistence, tenacity, and stubbornness that usually goes far beyond the rational and is often more of a hindrance than a help. I have been known to hold out for people, plans, etc., long after a sane person would’ve given up on them, and usually end up sabotaging myself in the process.
In the particular case of Umbrella, it just was not really my jam. In hindsight, I should’ve known better after unfortunately seeing it referred to as “unabashedly literary” and “[the injection of a] revivifying drug into the somnolent body of literary modernism” (yeesh). It was this month’s book selected for my nostalgic English majors’ book group (I completely failed to blog about our last meeting—short stories—but I have notes about it somewhere for the next time I get bored/inspired).
This isn’t so much an entry about Umbrella, though, since clearly I didn’t get anywhere near far enough into it to even begin to discuss it (and thus why I skipped the book group meeting—quitter, quitter, quitter). This entry is more dedicated to my own musings as to why I feel so guilty putting down a book unfinished.
I was the kid who should have never, ever watched any of the Toy Story franchise, because I was already so convinced that all inanimate objects had feelings that those movies sent me into a years-long shame spiral as a child. I would cry whenever I lost anything, not only I was sad I no longer had it, but also because all I could imagine was that object alone, friendless, and forgotten. So part of it, I think, hinges on that—I’ve somehow decided that not finishing a book equates abandonment.
The other half is completely self-centered and the primary reason I tried
so hard with Umbrella. I have also somehow come to see not finishing a book as a personal failure, a sign that I wasn’t good enough or smart enough to complete what I had started. Even though most of my thoughts while reading Umbrella ran mostly along the lines of “I don’t understand this, this is miserable,” all I was able to hear was “I don’t understand this, I’m disappointing my teachers, my parents, and myself by not trying hard enough.” It’s not a fun realization, to be sure, but one I have a hard time letting go of.
So. I credit this weekend’s library book sale with helping me to let go of Umbrella—at least for now. But when you have five brand new (to you) books waiting on your desk, each easily surpassing 400 pages and selected with immense care from tables upon tables upon boxes of books, what’s a girl to do?