Why Finish Books? by Tim Parks | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books
'via Blog this'
The problem of finishing novels, I think, comes from the simple fact that one has read so many of them over time that what one ends up recognizing are not conflicts, emotional complications and dramatic consequences but rather plot formulas. Sad was the day when I had to admit that I could predict more often than not where a novel was going once I crossed the threshold of a novel's middle chapters; a number of things were set in such a way, in such an arrangement of social types and temperament that there were only a thin selection of things the author could do with his resolutions.
He would other wise risk ruining the comforting elegance of the template he selected; although most readers protest that they do not want to know how novels end before they read them, they have, none the less, that the mainstream novels they read conclude in a particular way. Not getting the ending they expect amounts to a betrayal in their view.
I had for years worked as a bookseller with a speciality in literary fiction and maintained a regimen of read 4-6 books a week in order to be able to make informed recommendations to customers; after awhile I found myself power skimming, allowing my eyes to skip or elide over whole chunks of thick expository prose in order to finish the book.
I stopped reading so many books at once and these days I finish only two of every five books I start; I consider the ones I lay down forever as not having passed the audition. The dilemma, I think, comes from writers who have all learned craft and techniques from the classroom. The writers I happen to like, love, admire were outside the academy, perfecting their art in the small hours between the hackwork needed to make rent and have regular meals. Everyone learns irony and tragedy from the same set of course notes. That stops being true novel writing . It is instead a species of examples illustrating a principle. I have no real desire to attend the same lesson plan again and again.