Sunday, August 1

Why does it hurt to stop reading a book in the middle?


‘Best sellers’ or classics, books that have remained pending due to the bustle of the year or recommendations from friends: summer and holidays are the time chosen by many people to dedicate themselves to reading.

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But on many occasions the book that we begin to read does not live up to our expectations. Sometimes because it creates boredom, sometimes because it is difficult for us to understand, or simply because at that moment we could not “connect” with the text, with the words or ideas of the author.

Everything indicates that this would be the time to abandon that book. The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges advised to his students: “If a book bores you, leave it“He emphasized that you should not force yourself to read a book just because it was famous, or ancient, or modern. If the person reading it was tedious, he should abandon it.

“That book has not been written for you,” insisted Borges, who added that “reading must be one of the forms of happiness.” Along the same lines, the Frenchman Daniel Pennac included in his famous decalogue of “Rights of the reader” the right not to finish a book.

However, readers make up a legion who have a hard time – too much – to abandon a book halfway through. It gives them guilt. Y they force themselves to read it to the end, even when in most cases their initial intuition is confirmed: that this work had not been written for them.

Some facts about readers and reads that are abandoned

The platforms for downloading books in digital format and those for reviews – in the style of Goodreads– have allowed, in recent years, the preparation of reports and lists about certain reading habits and the most frequently abandoned books.

A few years ago, a survey revealed that up to 40% of Goodreads users they always read the books to the last pageeven if they don’t like them. The two more abandoned books, according to the same work, they were An unexpected vacancy by JK Rowling (the creator of Harry Potter) Y Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James.

For its part, a analysis from the use of the tag “abandoned“In the reviews of the same platform, it showed that among the books that suffer that fate more frequently there are works as popular as Game of Thrones by George RR Martin and as prestigious as The infinite jokeby David Foster Wallace.

An American mathematician created a method to calculate which were the most abandoned books among users of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader. And called him Hawking Index‘, alluding to the scientist Stephen Hawking, whose Brief history of time is usually considered “the work more abandoned of all times”.

The Jellybooks platform analyzed it based on genres. He concluded that the percentage of books read to the end is similar between women and men. But, when abandoning books, males do it much earlier than women: if you don’t convince them, most dropouts occur between pages 20 and 50.

They, on the other hand, have a tolerance margin that is usually around page 100. By the way, among the people who voluntarily signed up to participate in this study, four out of five were women. A fact that is not surprising, since almost all the surveys in this regard reveal that women read more books than men.

The reason for the guilt

Now, why do many people find it difficult to give up reading a book? Why do you generate so much guilt?

An almost intuitive answer may be related to the money invested in the purchase of the copy: “Since I have paid for it, I have to read it.” But people who experience this kind of drive to go to the end do not feel it only with the books they have bought, but also with those received on loan or as a gift.

Along the same lines, a reasoning linked to time could emerge: “I have taken several hours to get to the middle of the book, it is not worth abandoning now, I will go to the end.” You can also mention the curious to know what will happen with the story, or the hope that the book will improve in the end.

However, there seems to be psychological reasons deeper. As the psychologist Matthew Wilhelm has explained to ‘The Wall Street Journal’, there are two main types of personality, and depending on how close a person is to one or the other, they will feel more or less guilt when leaving a book in the middle.

According to this classification, on the one hand there are people who tend to motivate themselves through rewards and punishments. When they do not find in a book the pleasure or usefulness they expected (reward) and leaving it in the middle will not entail consequences (punishment), why continue? These people give up reading books more easily.

At the other extreme are the people to leave an unfinished task generates anxiety, stress and even anguish. “There is a tendency to perceive objects as finished or whole even though they are not,” explains Wilhelm. “This motivation is very powerful and helps to explain anxiety around unfinished activities.”

Such a trend is related to the so-called Zeigarnik effect: the desire of the human brain to finish started tasks, and the annoyance or anguish you feel when you have to leave them unfinished.

The waiters’ memory is based on this effect (they remember pending orders well but almost immediately forget those that have already been delivered) and the cliffhanger, the narrative trick of creating a lot of intrigue at the end of a chapter to “hook” the reader or viewer and move on to the next chapter.

For this reason, a recurring advice to overcome procrastination is “just five minutes”: start the task that needs to be done as if you were going to do it for a very short period of time. Once the activity has begun, the brain in theory will be prey of the Zeigarnik effect and you will feel a kind of anxiety to finish the job you have started. In some ways, that is what happens to many people when reading books.

How to abandon books and not feel guilty

In any case, there is no “correct behavior“Or valid for everyone: each person chooses whether to abandon the books as soon as they feel like doing so or whether to reach the last page by reading no matter what. What is healthy is not feeling guilt (or that this is minimum) by leaving a book in half.

Helpful advice in this regard is offered by the American journalist and writer Jen Doll, who aim that “there is not enough time in life to feel bad about a book you are reading.” The time of life is limited and it should not be wasted in things that do not really add something of value.

Doll adds that she turns the feeling of guilt over that abandonment into disappointment. In this way, she takes the weight of the negative feeling from herself and carries it onto the book, which did not live up to expectations. And so it goes to the next reading: there are many books out there, waiting to be read.

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