Shop Thoughts: On Not Finishing


For 20 years, reading has been a part of my job, though I can’t say anyone has ever paid me to read.  Meaning, during my 40-hour work week, never has it been kosher or has time been built in, for me to sit down and read on the job.  In the Shop, you might find one of us sneaking in a page here and there, sure.  But the majority of my reading is done during the early morning or late evening hours of the day.  Take into consideration that we have about 5,000 titles in stock, with new books coming out every week, and you’ll see what impossible task booksellers are up against, trying to be up on everything.  (And yet, this is part of the fun!)

That’s why, about 10 years ago, I gave myself permission not to finish a book.  I know it’s a popular creed for people to decide that every book they start must be paged through to fruition.  I used to feel the same way.  What if I stop reading on page 100 and on page 101 something truly wonderful happens?  What if the ending changes everything?  I’ll never know!  I’ve decided I can accept not knowing.

I feel okay telling you that My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante was just not for me.  I tried; I really did.  And I feel okay telling you because I’m pretty sure whoever Elena Ferrante is, she’s doing just fine without me.  Just because the rest of the world seems to love a book doesn’t mean you have to.  (Sometimes the fact that the rest of the world loves a book becomes a reason not to like a book!)

Sometimes the timing is simply not right, but I find later, that same book is just what I need.  Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke sat on my shelf for 10 years before I finally read it in full and now it’s one of my favorite books of all time.  At 864 pages, I suppose I had found it daunting, but once I cracked it at the beginning of a summer vacation, I flew through it.  All I needed was a little time and space. 

Other times I find a certain book is truly just not for me, no matter the timing.  I hated The Secret Garden when I was a kid.  I tried a few different times to get through it, but always stopped in the same place out of sheer boredom.  As an adult I also hated it but for different reasons: for being colonialist, racist, and ableist. 

There’s not enough time in the world to read all the books I want to read.  So why waste time on a book that I don’t love? 

Not every book is for every person.  That’s our job at the Book Shop—to do our best to pair the right books to the right people.  Not every book is going to change every life, but there’s a book out there that will change your life.  And you might have to kiss a few frogs to find it.

Hannah Harlow is owner of The Book Shop, an independent bookstore in Beverly Farms.  Harlow writes biweekly recommendations for us.  See more of what she recommends reading at

the book shop, jonathan strange, susanna clarke, elena ferrante, hannah harlow