In Praise of Half-Finished Books

One year, I made a ‘To Read’ list, composed of five novels-Mozart’s Women: His Family, Friends, His Music by Jane Glover; Hot and Bothered, Annie Downey; Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot, First Wife of T.S. Eliot by Carole Seymore-Jones; Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire and Howard’s End, E.M. Forster-to be finished within six months. Pretty ambitious, considering the proposed books are all within the 200-300 page range, one at nearly 700+ pages. Some would say, that doesn’t sound ambitious at all!

It is when there is a toddler running around the house.

Back when my girl was toddling around, I rarely had the time or the brain power to actually sit down and read a book all the way through. Not unless you counted Miss Spider’s Tea Party, The Cat in the Hat, and the entire Madeline series-all favorites in the household and all of which I can still fully recite by heart.

I made the list as a challenge to myself, knowing I would finish, at the very least, two of the books within the six month period. I surprised myself and finished two as well as delving half way into two others on the list.

Mozart’s Women was easy to read for a biography and fascinating, a hard combination to come by in that genre. Although, this one took me three or four months to read. I was determined to finish it.

In stark contrast, I finished Hot and Bothered during one feverish night, in a fit of restless insomnia.  Just about any woman who has kids can relate to the main character. It was the language/dialogue that caught my ear with particular story, as is the case most of the time.

Of the two I turned half-way into, one happened to be the longest and most difficult, yet intriguing, of the bunch: the Vivienne Eliot book. This is a heavy book to read, both in language and content: immense amounts of background information on both Vivienne and T.S. Eliot- and did I mention it’s nearly 700 + pages? It had been sitting on the shelf, on and off, for months, a bookmark moving ever so slowly through the book (settling at page 116, hardly cracking the surface, actually). It is still there, sitting on the shelf with the same bookmark. I’d like to pick it up again.

I began Howard’s End, fully intending to finish it, spurred on by the thought of how the movie compared to the book and the language of the story. Yet it remains on my shelf today, page 71 crisply dog-eared, half- finished, waiting to be picked up again.

The other, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, currently remains on the list, and the shelf, unread.

I’ve always been an avid reader and don’t want to lose that just because I had a child. My love of words is something that keeps me alive, makes me feel alive. Surely there is room in the heart and mind for all that keeps one alive?

My mother once told me she didn’t read any books for two years while my siblings and I were very young. I can understand this, but I just don’t know if I could do that. I need to have words: words to be read, words to be written, words to keep me sane. I’d rather have my nose in a hundred books, even if they remain half-read, than not read at all.


About Kris Underwood

Kris Underwood is the Social Media Manager at Hunger Mountain (Vermont College of Fine Arts). Poetry has appeared in several publications including MotherVerse, and Poetry Midwest. I read books & write about them on my blog sometimes.

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