Checking out at the Fresh Market recently, my friend Mark asked if I'd read Donna Tartt's bestselling novel, "The Goldfinch." I admitted I had not, and he told me he was enjoying it but having trouble finishing it. Today, reading The Notebook in The Guardian, I find Mark is not alone:
The question most people ask when they find out you read books for a job is, do you finish them? It’s a good question, to which the short answer is yes, I do, because someone’s paying me to finish them. It would just be rude to take the money and review a book based on its first three chapters, or judge it for a prize and not make it past the opening pages. And some books – not many, but some – don’t begin well but end spectacularly.But when I am reading for myself, I don’t have any such compunction. Reading a book shouldn’t be a chore, the carrots that must be eaten before pudding is allowed. Reading is – or should be – a pleasure in its own right. There is no novel so perfect that you have to finish it, or you’ve somehow failed as a reader. And I guarantee that no author is sitting at their desk wondering how to make their book more endurable. Not even Donna Tartt.
Kobo – the e-bookseller – has released two sets of figures: for books bought this year, and for books finished. The Goldfinch was its 37th best-selling book, but only 44% of those who started it managed to complete it. Perhaps that’s no surprise: Tartt’s magnum opus is almost 800 pages long and plenty of us find very long books off-putting. But presumably most of those who bought The Goldfinch knew it was a long read and fancied it anyway. But partway through, they just lost momentum because the story didn’t engage them sufficiently.
Most-unfinished book of the year isn’t a title anyone would hope to win. But her core fans probably read the book to the end, as did a whole raft of new readers, which propelled her up the bestseller charts. And those readers who didn’t finish it still paid for it, so Donna Tartt can mop up those tears with crisp tenners, which will surely ease the pain.