If this particular book is not giving me pleasure now, it may give me pleasure later, if I allow it to do so. Maybe it’s just starting slowly but will pick up speed; maybe I haven’t fully grasped the idiom it’s working in but eventually will figure it out; maybe the problem is not with the book but with my own powers of concentration because I slept fitfully last night….

Many maybes. But in any case, I have to decide whether to persevere, and for a long time my default position was to continue. Indeed, I was twenty years old before I failed to finish a book I had started: it was The Recognitions, a novel by William Gaddis, and I gave up, after an extended period of moral paralysis, at page 666. That day I grieved, feeling that I had been forced from some noble pedestal; but I woke up the next morning with my soul singing. After all, though I would never get back the hours I had devoted to those 666 pages, the hours I would have spent ploughing through the remaining four hundred were mine to spend as I would. I had been granted time as a pure and sweet gift.

Of course, once you have abandoned a book after more than six hundred pages, abandoning one after fifty seems trivial. But for me that wasn’t a bad thing. I needed to overcome the sense of duty that had marched me through so many books before the ultimately liberating, if at the time miserable, experience of The Recognitions; and I needed to learn, as I eventually did, that if I set a book aside today I am not thereby forbidding myself to return to it later — nor am I promising to do so.

That’s me, from The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Nick Hornby has been saying that it’s okay to leave books unfinished, and others have agreed with him, so I just want to claim prior art here.