It’s perfectly okay to give up on a book

When is it okay to give up on a book? I’ve seen a couple articles on the web addressing this question, but my answer is shorter than those I’ve seen: It’s always okay to give up on a book. Of course there are a few exceptions: if you’re in school and the book is required reading, if your boss is asking everyone to read a specific book, etc. But unless the book is mandatory reading for some reason, you can give up on it any time you like.

You may have some personal guidelines about how many pages you want to read before abandoning a book. But as I’ve noted before, even authors give up on books they don’t enjoy — sometimes very quickly.

Sadie Trombetta wrote an article for the Bustle website entitled 10 Signs You Should Give Up On A Book You’re In The Middle Of (No, Really, It’s OK) and it made me smile because the first reason she lists — you hate the main characters — is exactly why I stopped reading the last selection from my book club. By page two I knew I despised the main character’s best friend, and that meant I didn’t think much of the main character, either. I quit right then, while other members forced themselves to finish the book. Only one person in our book club really enjoyed it. One other person didn’t finish, and she felt guilty about it. But she said she understood, for the first time, my feeling about not wasting time on a book I don’t like.

We all have limited time in our lives for reading, so it makes sense to be judicious in our choices. I don’t mean you have to read serious books — I just mean it makes sense to focus on well-written books that meet your own personal selection criteria. That could include books that amuse you, books that inform you, etc.

Tony Kushner, the playwright, was recently interviewed by Tim Teeman for The Daily Beast website. He said:

I love that line in The Normal Heart (that Felix says to Ned about his books): ‘I think you’re going to have to face the fact you won’t be able to read them all before you die.’

That pairs nicely with something Eric Roston wrote on Twitter:

God, grant me the serenity to accept there’s things I’ve no time to read, time to read the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Sometimes you may pick up a book and then decide it’s just not what you want to read right now, and set it aside for later. But if it’s a book that is never going to excite you, feel free to unclutter your bookshelf and your reading list — and move on to another book that you’ll enjoy more.

9 Comments for “It’s perfectly okay to give up on a book”

  1. posted by infmom on

    This is why I get almost all my books from the library. If I don’t like the book, back it goes.

    Life is too short to waste time reading bad books.

  2. posted by Dorothy on

    True, true, true. I just don’t get why people waste time on bad books. Do they lack the confidence to just say, “Meh?” Do they succumb to the sunk cost fallacy?

    Why read a bad book when you could be reading a good book?

  3. posted by Bette on

    I stop reading the second I sense “trendy,” i.e., the author has gone out of his or her way to include check-the-box characters who embody all that’s currently hip and cool. Ugh! Back to the library!

  4. posted by Kaye on

    I completely agree that it’s okay to give up on books. There are way more books out there that I WANT to read that I will never have time for. Why waste my precious limited reading time on a book I’m not enjoying?

  5. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    Yep ~ nod to libraries everywhere. I sometimes stop a few pages in, sometimes by the end of the first page. There are enough wonderful books out there that I’m not in fear of running out of reading material!

  6. posted by Jan on

    I have to say that I was once reading a really well-written book, but was kind of horrified by the main character. Fortunately, within my 100-page limit (i was much younger then), I discovered that his COVER STORY was that he was a horrible person, he was just really really good at his cover. I’m glad I stuck with that one. But I AM more picky about what I read these days.

  7. posted by Phoebe on

    I’m normally okay with giving up on books, but have struggled against putting down Middlemarch (890 pages) – I’m 190 pages into it, and find it a tough read, but I am finding making the commitment and working through it to be a relaxing antidote to today’s short attention span disposable culture. I fear I may run out of library renewals though (9 weeks in total!)

  8. posted by Zilla on

    An author I knew said he gave new books the “Page 31 test”. His theory was that book editors started off gung ho on a book but lost their enthusiasm by page 30, so page 31 would reflect the rest of the book. Read page 31 first (in the bookstore) – if it appeals to you, you’ll probably likethe book – if it doesn’t, don’t bother with the book. The theory does work!

  9. posted by SkiptheBS on

    If the writing style is pedestrian and the plot hasn’t appeared in 50 pages, I’ll delete the ebook or send the dead tree to the thrift store. If it’s too trendy or verbose, ditto. I feel a smidgen of guilt about Rowling and Samuel Delany, but books have to fit in between work and sleep so something had better sparkle.

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