I am currently in the slog of a book I cannot stand. The summary sounded interesting and it received decent reviews, but upon reading it, I’m finding myself struggling to turn the pages. The pacing is slow, the plotline vacillates between downplaying significant events and overdramatizing mundane ones, and the characters are vapid and undeveloped. At nearly five hundred pages long, it is a menacing behemoth that is not lighting my reading fire, and I find myself wanting to rapidly finish it just so I can be done.
It’s apparent that book lovers are vehemently divided on what to do in a situation like mine – do you cut your losses and abandon the book, the proverbial ‘DNF’ (did not finish)? Or do you stick with it and make it to the last page anyway? There are pros and cons to either action. By ditching it, you obviously save time and effort that could be better spent on a book that thoroughly entertains you. You aren’t forcing yourself through the discomfort of a story you don’t like. On the other hand, there is merit to pushing through and finishing the book regardless, even if it’s not the best book you’ve ever read. There is the horizon-expanding aspect of exposing yourself to different genres, subjects, and writing styles with which you may not otherwise engage, and of appreciating each story as its own piece of artistic expression. But I think more important than this is the personal achievement of endurance, of finishing something you started, and of keeping at it when the going gets tough.
As a lifelong endurance runner, I cannot look past the similarities of my bad-book predicament and my running experience. Sometimes when I’m out on the road in the middle of a long, tough run, I’m faced with the same decision: do I bag this now because I’m not enjoying it in the moment? Should I call it quits because this is physically taxing, and it seems like there so much further to go? I could stop right now and save myself the time and energy I would spend on the rest of this run to do something else. Sometimes I give in to this temptation, cutting my miles short or doing one less interval, heading home sooner than I originally intended when I left. But when I do so, there is always regret for giving into this impulse. I feel disappointed that I didn’t just persist when it was hard, and that I missed out on the sense of achievement from finishing what I started.
So more often than not, when the voice in the back of my head creeps up, telling me it’s too hard, that I should just stop, that there is too much further to go, I ignore it. I push through. And usually I find that if I just hang on and just keep going a little longer, it gets easier. The moment of doubt is fleeting, and by the time I finish, I don’t even remember the pain that tempted me to stop. This endurance has served me well not just in running, but in many other aspects.
I will finish this book. It may not be the best book I’ve ever read, just like every run may not be the fastest I’ve ever run, but I will finish what I set out to do.
Photo credit: Steve Eubank (Brittney’s dad)