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The Problem With Endings

The Problem With Endings

When Jude died, life felt impossible. There are entire months of time that I can barely remember. Somehow, we got the important things done; Oscar went to school, we ate, we slept. We had a lot of help. We watched a lot of television.

The television we watched was mostly old stuff that we’d seen a dozen times before. It was comfort food. One thing I remember watching was Friends. It was a good show to watch because nothing about it was too serious and we had both grown up watching it as kids, so it was familiar. There were a good number of episodes, so we didn’t have to think about what to watch next. Just start it on Netflix and let it keep going until we started falling asleep in the evening.

It was also the first time I realized I had a problem with endings. Not just me, either. Without needing to discuss it, neither Tamzin nor I wanted to watch the last episode of friends and have it end. I have noticed the same thing with books and other television shows.

The books I read tended to be things that went on for a long time. I started re-reading the Discworld books, and even now I haven’t finished the series. It is just there, unfinished.

You don’t need to be a psychologist to realize why endings were such a problem for us; we had just dealt with the ultimate untimely ending and the idea of anything else finishing was hard to handle. Plus, there was no need for us to handle it. No one cared whether we watched the last episode of Friends. It didn’t matter whether I read the last few Discworld books.

There is one place where it does matter, though; my writing. If I can’t end a story, then I don’t really have a story. I quickly found that I did still have the desire to write (which surprised me, in the early days I had assumed I would never write again) but couldn’t bring myself to finish any of the stories I wrote.

It took me a long time to get over that, and along the way I found other ways to get the comfort I desperately needed from books that I was reading and books that I was writing. But it still isn’t easy.

Endings are tough.

Giving Up A Book

My son Oscar is seven years old and just starting his reading career. Until now, most of the books he has read have been single-sitting stories. He’s an excellent reader though and at school they are getting him started on longer books with fewer pictures. However, since he went back to school at the start of the month, he has been carrying the same school book around with him and doesn’t make any progress on it.

This morning I asked him if he was enjoying the book and he admitted he wasn’t. So I told him to stop reading it and ask his teacher for another one.

When we are young, there are too many people who tell us we should finish every book that we start. I used to think that way as well. But it makes little sense. There are far more books in the world than anyone could read in a lifetime. You couldn’t even hope to read a fraction of the books that you might love in your life. So why waste time on stories that you don’t like?

I should really start keeping a list of all the books that I start and abandon. At a guess, it’s probably as long as the list of books that I finish.

As Oscar grows up, there are going to be books he has to read for school, which he won’t like very much. I remember brute-forcing my way through Tess of the d’Urbervilles at secondary school. If I never read another description of rolling fields, I will be happy. I then studied for an English Literature degree and there were plenty of books there that I didn’t enjoy, but read because I needed to for my course.

The school book Oscar is reading isn’t because he is going to have to write an essay about it. The book he is reading is not high literature, and it’s not because he finds it difficult that he’s not enjoying it. He is reading it for pleasure and for that purpose, there are plenty of other books he could read and enjoy.

So really, what I’m saying is give up on the books you don’t enjoy reading. Every book we read which we don’t enjoy, is one less book that we would enjoy.