As writers, we treasure words more than most. Writing is our religion and books our sacred relics. We know the long hours and piercing self-doubt that go into creating something from nothing. We understand the depth of the author’s commitment to the task of slowly putting one word after another. We have respect for the craft, the process, and the finished product.
Perhaps it is this blind devotion to all things literary and wordish that makes us more susceptible to the guilt of abandoning a book without finishing it.
Have you felt that guilt – that awful remorse that settles around your shoulders when you just can’t read another page?
I have. In fact, I recently abandoned not one, but two books in a single week. The first was a Hobbit-inspired non-fiction work that I hoped would be a charming bedside reader, but which turned out to be a bit too pedantic and preachy for my taste. The second was a unique novel (and I use the term loosely) that lured me in with fabulous print production value and an interesting story-within-a-story concept, but turned out not to have any story at all.
At first I resisted the urge to give up. Despite the fact that I was heading to my reading spot with a sense of obligation instead of joy, I continued to plug away at both books. I read ninety-eight pages (one-fifth) of the “novel” and one-hundred-six pages (one half) of the non-fiction book.
Silly, silly me.
I do not pretend to understand the psychological or cultural quirks that make some of us feel compelled to finish a book we aren’t enjoying. Sometimes, the need to read that which fails to enthrall us comes from a Puritanical sense of responsibility – a presumption that we have a duty (To what? To whom?) to finish what we started … no matter what. Other times, we delude ourselves with the false hope that the book will get better. (It rarely does.) And sometimes, though we hate to admit it, we’re driven by our ego which wants to be able to say we’ve read such-and-such.
These justifications are all traps.
There is absolutely no reason to finish a book you don’t like. No one is keeping score. This isn’t a test. You aren’t going to be sainted or knighted for reading books under duress. Continuing to turn the pages after your interest has waned is nothing but a masochistic form of literary torture. More importantly, it wastes your precious reading time.
Consider this: even if you lived to be one hundred years old and read a book a week starting at age eight, you would still only have time to read fewer than five thousand books. Only five thousand! It may sound like a lot, but do you know how many books are on Amazon? Forget Amazon. How many books are on your personal “to read” list?
Depending on which source you consult and which criteria you define (self-published vs. traditionally published, fiction vs, nonfiction, etc.) the number of books published annually in the United States alone ranges from thirty thousand to one million. The most commonly quoted number is somewhere around three-hundred thousand. Per year.
Still feel like five thousand is a lot?
I didn’t think so.
As Carl Sagan so wisely said, “The trick is to know which books to read.” You have the right to be brutally selective in your reading choices. Don’t feel guilty about abandoning a book. Unless heaven exists and is (as I fervently hope) an enormous library, your reading time is limited. Choose wisely. Read happily.
What do you think?
- Do you finish each and every book you start?
- If you abandon a book, how do you decide it’s time to quit and move on?
- Have you ever come back to a book you abandoned and wound up loving it?
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.