I dislike leaving a book unfinished. No matter how boring a book is, there is always a small part of me that wants to know happens. I don’t like living with the knowledge that I became familiar with a series of events and a set of characters, or perhaps a buildup of a thesis (in nonfiction), and then left things unresolved. Left there characters sitting there in the middle of things, departed from the argument before the author reached his or her point, never made it to the conclusion. Leaving a book unfinished simply does not fit in to how I like to function and organize my life: this desire to finish things and reach a sense of completion extends to other parts of my life as well.
Unfinished books also have no place in the way that I keep track of books. I like to check things off and make lists, and thus I write down each book I read when I finish it. A book that I started but did not finish has no place on this list. And yet, sometimes I spent a significant amount of time reading a book even when I did not finish it, and if I don’t write it down I will forget about it and have no record of that part of my reading history. This dilemma has a simple solution of keeping a separate list of unfinished books, but for some reason I have never done this before. I think perhaps part of me did want to forget about those blips, those random selections from the library that didn’t turn out to be so great.
However, I intend to start keeping a list of unfinished books right now, because I have two books I started recently that I do not intend to finish (anytime soon): The Jewel in the Crown, by Paul Scott, and The Essential Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, edited by Raghavan Iyer.
The Jewel in the Crown captured my interest at first. It takes place in India during the 1940s and, broadly speaking, is about life in India during that time and the clash between the British and Indians. It is more specifically about a particular event in a particular town in India: the rape of a young British woman. The book has an interesting structure: there are several parts to it and each part relates the circumstances surrounding the rape from a different viewpoint. Scott’s style is very descriptive and uses language to evoke feelings and sensations. For me, this made the book very slow, and I felt that it got bogged down in all these details of the scene and the people; details that I simply wasn’t interested in. You could say that the book meanders around the central plot – much of the time, I wasn’t even sure what the current scene had to do with the plot. I made it about half-way through and finally came to terms with the fact that I was not looking forward to reading the rest of it and I had little interest in what happened.
I was very interested to read The Essential Writings of Mahatma Gandhi because I had never read any of his own words; I was only familiar with some of his more famous quotes and the fact that he advocated non-violence. However, I found his writings difficult to read and stay focused on. Part of the problem is that they are full of references to events and people that I am unfamiliar with. I know little about the recent history of India, and am not familiar with any of the people involved in India’s independence. Thus, I think reading these writings in the context of learning about the history of India would be more enlightening. I also in general found it difficult to follow much of his rhetoric, and many of the ideas he discussed were more foreign to me than I expected. I suspect that I made the mistake of starting at the beginning of the collection (ah, another one of my organizational characteristics – always going in order), with the section on “Civilization, Politics, and Religion”, whereas I am more interested in the topics later in the book, such as “Non-Violent Resistence and Social Transformation”. However, I have lost my interest in the book for the moment (and I need to return it to the library), so I will have to leave those writings for a future time.