Do you feel compelled to finish every book you start? I'm thinking about this right now in connection to the SRP (yes, you can still join!), but it's an issue that bothers me periodically anyway. As you can see in the sidebar (which really needs to be updated), I have a little problem with starting more books than I finish. But the books listed are all ones that I intend to finish, really. I think.
Now, I don't actually feel obligated to finish EVERYTHING I start. Occasionally I'll start a book and just hate it. More often, a book will have to go back to the library, and I won't be into it enough to locate it elsewhere right away or to keep it a few extra days and pay the fine, as I did with Into the Wilderness. Sometimes I'll write down the title and author so I can find it again later; sometimes I don't. It's not like I'm ever going to run out of things to read.
But for books without an external deadline, I have a hard time giving up on them, especially if I've gotten through a good part of it. In her delightful memoir of reading, So Many Books, So Little Time, Sara Nelson calls the compulsion to finish books the Clean Plate Book Club. She sees this as something to be outgrown, like the necessity to clean your plate at dinner. Being able to put a book down a quarter or half or even three quarters of the way in is a sign of maturity, apparently. I think there's something to that, but I'm not sure it's the whole story.
The act of reading requires the reader and the book to enter into an unspoken contract. The reader promises attention, an open mind, a willingness to learn and to be affected. What is the book's obligation? I think it depends on the book, and on the reader's intentions and expectations. Some books promise simple escapist entertainment, and that's fine, and necessary. Some promise knowledge; some wisdom. Some demand an emotional response. If the book does not deliver on its promises, it's reasonable that the reader might break the contract on his end as well, and stop reading. But what if what the book has to offer isn't what the reader thought it was? Maybe the reader expected mindless entertainment, but instead was made to think. Or vice versa. Maybe the reader disagrees with everything the book says, but it's still a good opportunity to clarify his own thoughts and views. So it may be a sign of maturity to stop reading a book that doesn't meet one's expectations, but I think it can also be a sign of maturity to keep reading and open oneself to whatever the book has to offer.