I used to be one of those readers.
You know the kind. Maybe you’re even one yourself. The kind who would finish a book no matter how tedious they found it, who would slog through, page by page, refusing to allow themselves to pick up a new, appealing book until they’d finished the one they were (not) enjoying. The kind who had a deep conviction that all books started must be finished, even if the finishing (and the beginning and the middle too) proved to be pure torture.
I realize there’s value in sticking with a book through a slow start, a boring chapter, or a character (or characters) you don’t care about. (That last one is a particular turn-off for me: I like at least one character I can root for, and prefer multiple characters in whom I am interested.) But if I’ve given a book 50 or so pages (Nancy Pearl’s rule of thumb) and find myself completely uninterested in what will happen next, or totally turned off by a major plot element, I’ll usually put it down.
Caveat: I am a fast reader, so I’ll often give a book slightly more than 50 pages, or the length of a morning commute, before I decide to abandon it. I also try a little harder if it’s a classic, or if it’s a book recommended by a friend whose taste I trust. But the guilt I used to feel over tossing books aside is slowly disappearing.
The reason – besides that teetering, tempting stack of to-be-read books, and the rereading I love to do? Life is simply too short. I read for enjoyment, education and entertainment, and if a book is providing none of the above, I’d much rather move on to a book that will score on all three counts.
I don’t keep track of the books I don’t finish on Goodreads. (Maybe I should?) But as best I can remember, here are the books I’ve abandoned in the last few months. They may be great for other folks, but they were either not my cup of tea, or I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to read them at the time.
- On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz
- The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
- Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
- Odd Type Writers by Celia Blue Johnson
- All the Land to Hold Us by Rick Bass
- Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
- My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams
- Several potential books for review, of which I did not read enough to remember the titles/stories
(Most of these books came from the library or were free review copies, so I had no financial guilt over abandoning them. I bought the Forster and the Johnson used – which still hurts less than buying a book new and having to give up on it.)
What about you – do you abandon books? Or do you feel duty-bound to finish them?