Guilt may push us to finish a book – while e-readers make it only too easy to quit.
When it comes to finishing books, there are two camps of readers – those who push themselves to complete even the most trying of tomes, and those who think life is “too short for bad books.”
Still, for most readers, there is an almost inexplicable guilt associated with abandoning a book halfway, an intriguing phenomenon explored in a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Why Leaving a Book Half-Read is So Hard.”
"[C]hoosing to terminate a relationship with a book prematurely remains strangely agonizing, a decision fraught with guilt,” writes the WSJ’s Heidi Mitchell.
What’s behind that guilt?
Finishing tasks – or books, or even meals – is a virtue ingrained in us from a young age. As children, we weren’t allowed to leave the table without finishing the food on our plate. And as young adults, we were instructed to finish the literature we were assigned in 9th-grade English, regardless of how dull or difficult we found it.
“It goes against how we're built,” Matthew Wilhelm, a clinical psychologist with Kaiser Permanente in Union City, Calif., told the Journal. “There is a tendency for us to perceive objects as 'finished' or 'whole' even though they may not be. This motivation is very powerful and helps to explain anxiety around unfinished activities.”