I remember a conversation with a friend once when we were comparing books we had recently read that we enjoyed. At one point I mentioned a popular novel that I had plowed all the way through even though I disliked the book. Startled, she asked why on earth I would keep reading to the end a book I did not like.
An interesting question, given that the days of assigned reading are long past for me. Unless I am taking some sort of continuing education class, I choose all that I read. The criteria for selecting what I read varies: I am always working on one or two books of spirituality or theology, at least one work of serious fiction by a well-reviewed author, and a mystery novel by a popular author whose writing may have no redeeming value whatsoever. And no matter what the book, no matter how much I enjoy it or dislike it, once I start I keep going to the end.
The reason for finishing a book I am not taken with comes from a commitment I made at some point to regularly expose myself to words that put me off. Because my work deals so much in words, both written and spoken, words carry a special power for me. I love words that affirm me, that inspire me, that move me, that resonate in me, that stay with me long past the time I read them. Reading those sorts of words is pure pleasure.
But words that unsettle me, annoy me, undermine me, seem alien to my experience: while I find no pleasure in such words, I keep reading them anyway because in contrast to the words I savor, the words I turn away from usually have something important that I need to notice in them. Books I dislike fall outside my experience; should I only choose to read that which is familiar? Books I dislike make me mad with the viewpoints they push; should I only choose to read that which reassures me I am right? Books that undermine me leave me feeling anxious and worried about what is coming; should I only choose to read that which tells me the world is fine and ever will be so, regardless of whether that is true or not?
While I have not usually subscribed to the perspective which preaches the value of negative experiences, at least where reading is concerned I have some affinity for that idea. If I am to discover my limitations, I will probably need to spend time with books (and people) I do not like, as those are the sources most likely to poke me in my blind spots.