Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's OK to Give Up on a Book

man reading book
Photo by Alan Cleaver, found on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

I once gave up on a book after the first page. My local bookstore had a book club, and I bought the next month's book without really looking at it. But when I got it home and started reading, I realized immediately that the author's style was not for me. Fortunately, I was able to return the book.

That's the fastest I've given up on a book — and I have no hesitation in doing so. I just gave up on one book, which might have interesting content, because the typeface was so bad that it was painful to read. But usually I give up when I'm just not enjoying the content of the book.

Want some encouragement to stop reading "bad books" — books that seem bad to you? Here's blogger David Pierce, in a short extract from his Five Rules for Life:
We do so many things that don’t add any value to our lives or anyone else’s, and those things get in the way of that which is actually worthwhile. My favorite example is reading a book — if it’s bad, we still tend to finish it just because we’ve already invested time in it. Why not cut our losses, stop reading, and spend that time reading a better book? Being a quitter is not a bad thing - it’s a smart thing.
And Leo Babauta of Zen Habits says this in his post on How to Read More:
Give up on a book if it’s boring. Reading isn’t something you do because it’s good for you — it’s not like taking your vitamins. You’re reading because it’s fun. So if a book isn’t fun, dump it. Give it a try for at least a chapter, but if you still don’t love it, move on.
Scott H Young has a whole blog post entitled Know When to Stop Reading a Book. He includes ideas on how to make it easier to give up on a book — including getting books from the library, so you've not spent any money. One of my favorite parts of his post was a comment he added:
The lost opportunity cost from not putting a book down is often forgotten. When you put down a book, you aren’t just giving up the chapters you didn’t read, you’re also gaining the chapters of some other book you did read. With a world filled with thousands of books, far more than you could ever read, I think that opportunity cost needs to be taken seriously.
Finally, Miss Manners answers an etiquette question:
Question: A friend has lent me a book about a subject that is of interest to me. I am halfway through the book (more than 200 pages so far) and find it not very well written. Would it be impolite of me not to finish the book? My feeling is that I must finish the book in order to be truthful in saying that I did indeed read it.

Answer: Your friend is not going to quiz you. You need only return the book with thanks and, if possible, mumble that it had a good point or two. If not, you can always say that it is interesting to know what is being said in the field.

Do you ever give up on a book? How far do you go before giving up?

Related Post:
Book Lovers: Stop Reading Books You Don't Like


Marcie Lovett said...

I finally realized that life is too short to finish books I don't like. There are so many books and only so much time to read them all.

I actually gave up on Bel Canto early on; I just couldn't get into it and I didn't understand what all the raving was about. I might try it again, but since my "To Read" list is so long, maybe I'll just chalk it up to "not for me."

Linda English said...

Some of these perspectives can also be applied to possessions or activities on someone's busy schedule. Just flip the words around a bit, and it holds true to so many different aspects of life - not just books! Tks for sharing!

Jeri Dansky said...

Marcie, I think we all have best-sellers that just don't appeal to us. With me, it was The Kite Runner, which I gave up on fairly quickly.

Linda, I totally agree! Someone on Twitter replied that she gave up on some movies - just one of many examples beyond the books.

Farmwife said...

I actually gave up on The Thorn Birds until they announced who was going to play the parts in the mini series then I had a vision of the characters and I was able to read it and loved it.

JustGail said...

It depends on the book. I think I give up on fiction faster than a book on say, personal finance or hobbies. Fiction only gets the "is it boring?" test, others get the "am I learning anything?" test as well.

Time and a bit of education can put a new light books that were torture on the first attempt. Some books attempted mumblemumble years ago doesn't mean that you'll have the same problem now. And conversely, a book we loved when we were younger can become a "what was I thinking?" moment.

hmm - the capcha is "eoilygiv", sounds like a word Jabberwok would have

C.A.R. said...

I used to hate giving up on books but I agree with Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, if the book is boring, your not connecting with the characters, the story or style of writing, put it down. I'm sure there's a pile of books waiting for you in your TO READ list.

I usually give books 100-200 pages till I make a decision. I did that with Nightwatch by Sergie Lukyanenko. Sometimes even authors that I like and books that gain an abundance of praise, I put down cause I can't get into it (Stephen King's The Stand comes to mind for me).

It's ok to stop and move on to something that you will enjoy because that's what you're doing..reading for your enjoyment.

Jeri Dansky said...

Farmwife and JustGail, you both bring up the interesting point that a book you put down at one time, because you couldn't get into it, might appeal to you at some future time. I've certainly had that happen - I'm not quite the same person I was 40 years ago - but I'm surprised how often the current "me" and the past "me" agree!

C.A.R., that's it exactly - if I'm reading for enjoyment, but the book isn't enjoyable, what's the point in continuing? I've seen a lot of T-shirts proclaiming that life's too short to drink bad wine; it's also too short to spend with books that don't work for me, for whatever reason.