I generally have a few piles of books around my house — I impulse-buy a lot. I start reading most of them, but only rarely finish one.
I usually feel lousy about this — it's my fault for being too easily distracted, for having too little self-discipline, for being a gormless flake, etc.
So, I take great solace from the words of Francis Bacon. Back in 1597, Bacon — a philosopher and onetime attorney general of England — published his Essays, in which he pointed out that not all books ought to be read all the way through. As he wrote:
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
TESTIFY, my friend.
The challenge, as a reader, is figuring out which book is what type. I probably toss aside books I ought to give a second chance, and "swallow" entirely. On the other hand, particularly with nonfiction and poetry, I really enjoy the odd mental connections that come from semi-random access with super-bursty periodicity: Flipping through a book, reading a passage, then putting it aside for a hour/day/month/year/decade, when I flip it open again to another rando passage.
BTW, it's worth reading entire paragraph in which that passage of Bacon's occurs, because damn, he was on fire — opening by enjoining us not to read not with preconceived notions, then concluding with his famous tripartite dissection of the cognitive value of reading vs. writing vs. conversing:
Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know, that he doth not.
The full text of Bacon's Essays are here on Project Gutenberg, and a gorgeous early edition scanned in full at the Internet Archive.
(That CC-2.0-licensed image of Bacon comes courtesy Wikimedia)