An Open Letter To The Unfinished Books On My Bedside Table

Dear unfinished books,

You are sh-tty little barnacles of guilt on my day and I hate you.

I carried you home from the bookstore, giddy with your potential, your possibility. For 25 bucks and just a few hundred pages, your seductive cover art and zesty blurbs — Illuminating! Transcendent! Polarizing! — made me think that I might become a better scholar, writer, and human. How could I pass up a chance at illumination? How could I not transcend? I conjured up imaginary masses of people who would never read the collection of words under my arm. Shame on them! I will give them verbal whiplash at parties with the knowledge I acquire from you.

But really, shame on me.

Unfinished books, must you look peevishly at me from your bedside perch of eternal judgment? You represent all that I haven’t done because I’m too busy drinking and watching How I Met Your Mother reruns. I just can’t get rid of you, can I?

For months I just stare at you and flick through your pages. I cart you around in my bag to doctor’s appointments and for long bus rides, as if the literal weight of your presence on my shoulders will force me to finish you.

You must first serve as a constant reminder of lessons unlearned, of projects unfinished, of hundreds of dollars wasted. I could have spent that money on frivolities of no academic or caloric value, like beer or makeup.

Let’s single you out first, Classic Work of Literature, you literary Godfather, you Mount Everest of unfinished books. You are a cancer upon any feelings of superiority I might have about my cultural literacy. I should have read you in college whilst under duress. I want so badly to finish you so I might get one step closer to having read all the Important Books Ever Written. I want to get 150 pages into you and beg, BEG for thousands more pages because reading tiny words, deciphering Russian patronymic names and getting wrist cramps from your weight is my idea of a good time.

I wanted so badly to improve my knowledge of the global financial crisis and dividends and the eurozone, Timely Non-Fiction Book By An Economist, I duped myself into buying you. Has anyone ever finished you? Who are these people? Are they fun? Do they own a television? They probably enjoy Lars Von Trier movies and standing in line at the grocery store. F-ck them. They compose and perform classical opuses on the bassoon or the viola before flying off to the Galapagos for the weekend to save those adorable baby turtles. They attend parties with Atul Gawande, for example, and talk about how frightfully easy it is, dahling, to perform complicated 36-hour cardiothoracic surgeries while composing beautiful and thoughtfully written essays for the New Yorker.

Don’t even get me started on you, Short Story Collection, masquerading around the bookstore like some kind of fun, approachable amusement park of tales for literary types.

Instead, each story turns out to be a 3,000-word messed-up joke with a punch line I don’t understand, and no one is around to explain it to me. I don’t give two sh-ts about the ending because there are fifteen of them. I will read hundreds of 600-page young adult fantasy novels before I ever complete you.

Unfinished books, I want to be one of those people who achieve things, who use both sides of their brain, who have goals and then act upon those goals. I want so badly to read you and to learn from you, but mostly I want you to graduate ASAP to the bookshelf. Then I can go back to Barnes & Noble.

Kate TC Mark

image – joyfuldesigns


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  • asdf

    The title drew me in and the opening sentence clinched it. This was a fantastic article. Absolutely hilarious.

  • lola

    oh, story of my life

  • spenserdavis (@spenserdavis)

    You speak to my soul

  • Space Elephant

    This was a treat to read wrapped around in guilt.

  • Amelia

    You need a library card! All the joy, none of the guilt!

    • Cadaverine

      Oh, libraries are worse, because you can’t return them until you finish them and so you renew them 20 times and then forget about them and end up owing the library lots of money.

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  • MAJA

    This is me, I shamefully admit :{
    “For months I just stare at you and flick through your pages. I cart you around in my bag to doctor’s appointments and for long bus rides, as if the literal weight of your presence on my shoulders will force me to finish you.” – I even started carrying TWO books in my bag, at work, on buses, everywhere…

    But yeah, I watch the HIMYM reruns at home, and scroll through 9gag, or TC when I have nothing to do at work. FOR SHAME! This guilt is gnawing at me, and I’m surrounded by unfinished books I bought with joy, they are everywhere, like the owls that delivered Harry’s Hogwarts letter…

  • chris_dot

    So true, however…you buy books new? Are you crazy?

  • guest

    lol I like it

  • Elle

    This is exactly me, except for me it is a shelf whose number of books keeps increasing. It doesn’t help that I discovered the magic of thrift store books and got a Goodreads account. I’m almost paralyzed with fear that I will never finish all of these books before I die.

    • Jenn

      I have concluded that (a) the apocalypse will have to happen and (b) I will have to survive it in order for me to have time to read all the books on my TBR pile. That, or I will have to be stricken with some disease requiring years of bedrest.

      • Elle

        I wish there was a ‘like’ button.

  • Danielle

    This is perfection….and the four different books that I started that are currently sitting on my bed side table agree!
    -No Stranger to dragging books around for weeks on end until they finally deserve to be placed back on the bookshelf

  • gabyyelton

    Reblogged this on A place in this world….

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