Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Not Every Book is Worth Finishing

Cat with a book
Photo by Documentally / Christian Payne, found on Flickr, licensed through Creative Commons.

Life is too short to finish crappy books. — Amber Naslund

A bad book may be one the critics panned or one they adored — but if you're forcing yourself to keep going rather than enjoying the read, it's a bad book by your own personal criteria. So here's a permission slip to put that book down. Set it aside for another time if you think it's really just a timing issue, or give it away if it's just not your thing.

Want more than just my word that it's really OK to give up on a book? A number of authors will tell you that, too. Most of the quotes here come from longer pieces, and I recommend following the links to read more.

Let's start with an interview with Neil Gaiman, where he addressed this in some detail, saying in part:
I remember the first book I didn’t finish. ... I bought Mistress of Mistresses and abandoned it a third of the way through. It was gloriously liberating, the idea that I didn’t have to finish every book.
And author John Scalzi said on Twitter:
I put down books the instant they bore me.
Philip McIntosh, also known as The Write Dude, has written for trade journals, scientific journals, and popular science magazines. He has a whole blog post about when to stop reading a book, which includes this suggestion:
When to stop reading a book once it’s started? The obvious answer is of course “when it starts to suck.” Sometimes this is obviously on page 1. ... In other cases it’s not exactly clear when the suck button should be pressed, but it seems only fair to give it a fighting chance. I have a rule of thumb of my own here to share. It’s called “The Page 80 Test."  
I give a book until page 80 to get me hooked. If I am not into it by then, I pull the plug.
And here's Mike Salisbury, who works in the publishing industry. He's written a blog post entitled Stop Reading Bad Books, reminding us that:
Books demand our time, of which we have so very little. In return, they give us entertainment, knowledge, humor, etc. ... Bad books won't give you back anything but regret. While you were wasting your time finishing, you could've been discovering something better.
Let me leave you with these words from Tim Parks, in The New York Review of Books:
The more bad books you finish, the fewer good ones you’ll have time to start.

Related Posts:
Book Lovers: Stop Reading Books You Don't Like
It's OK to Give Up on a Book

5 comments:

Lisa Newton said...

As a high school librarian, I deal with this all the time. My goal is to help kids develop the love of reading. Many of them are burnt out on reading because they're forced to read things that don't interest them in English classes. I think there is a time and place for that, but my main goal is to help them find things that interest them. I don't care if they read comics, cereal boxes, magazines- whatever. I'm happy as long as they are reading something they find interesting. Sometimes I tell my female students, "Books are like boys. You don't have them keep them if they're boring."

Michael Tannery said...

I really like Lisa's comment above. Fully agree.

Julie Bestry said...

Oh, LIsa, "Books are like boys. You don't have them keep them if they're boring." is wonderful!

Because I'm a completist, I often feel pushed to finish things --movie series, books, even anthologies. However, I've found that if I tell myself, "Oh, I'm not reading this book, I'm just checking it out," then I get a sense of whether a book is worthwhile and I rid myself of the silly guilt I feel in not finishing. That said, there are two books I've never been able to finish, Anna Karenina and Moby Dick. For those two, eventually, I plan to keep plugging away. But everything else? Nope, not reading, just checking it out! ;-)

TinaAtHome said...

My English teacher used to say, "never give up on a book until you reach the middle". Sometimes I would have given up on a book sooner, but by the time I reach the middle, I'm hooked.

Jeri Dansky said...

Let me add to the chorus of "I like Lisa's comment!"

TinaAtHome, halfway through is longer than I'm willing to give to a book I'm not enjoying - but whatever works for you!