Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Just put the book down, walk away, and no one will get hurt.

I used to be the person who always finished a book.

(Well, except for A Prayer for Owen Meany. Which I started because it was my favorite history teacher's favorite book, but I just couldn't get through it. Sorry, Mr. D!)

Then I just ... stopped.

I felt guilty at first, abandoning characters, sometimes mid-strife, for newer models. And then that stopped, too.

This mainly happened because, heck, I just didn't have the time to waste my life on books that felt like work to get through them. I mean, I had enough actual work to do, and books were supposed to be my escape from that.

This photo has zero to do with the post.
I took it on my honeymoon,
and I just think it's pretty.
I noticed this most recently because I felt like every. single. book. I finished, I really enjoyed -- even loved. As a reader, that was awesome. As a writer, that concerned me -- I mean, aren't I supposed to have a critical eye? What did that mean for my editing skills? Oh no!

(Ok, I wasn't that worried, but I did wonder. I didn't want to recommend you guys crappy books, after all!)

And then I thought of all the books I'd put down in the past few weeks after a hundred or so pages. (Yes, I do still give them that much time to woo me.) There was the one whose main character I wanted to throw off a bridge. The other one whose worldbuilding didn't feel believable. And the one whose writing style felt too dense and meandering to engage me. And that other one that just wasn't my cup of tea.

So it was no surprise, really, that everything I did finish, I liked. A lot! It had already passed my litmus test of goodness just by getting finished.

Not to say that I still don't feel guilty sometimes when I put down a book. And sometimes they're abandoned not because of any fault of their own, but because I'm just not in the right mood to read them. So I close their covers and shelve them and promise myself that I'll pick them up again one day. (And I usually do, though that day is occasionally two years later.)

But the great news is, I'm now able to evangelize about the truly awesome ones more frequently, because I'm not wasting time on the others.

So what type of reader are you? Do you feel obligated to see a book through to the end? (And if you are, what if the end's a cliffhanger?) Or are you content putting something down if it's not for you? (If so, where's your line?) Anyone have a guilt complex like me?


  1. I used to feel required to finish every book, but I give myself a little more leeway now. If a movie isn't working for me, I turn it off; if I don't like a song, I change the station; so why force myself to slog through a book?

    Of course, I need to pick up "Game of Thrones" again because people keep telling me it's amazing and I figure I need to at least make it through book one before I can judge the whole series.

  2. The only book I just couldn't finish even though I tried really hard to do that (and never intend to try again) is Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, it was one of the books I was required to read for my literature class. But usually when I can't get into a book I just put it aside and try again later, sometimes even after a year or so. I just feel like I have to read it anyway, like I will start liking it once the time comes or something like that.
    I guess I have to start thinking like Annie and consider a book as a movie or song I don't like, because I have no problem forgetting about them when I feel like I'm wasting my time on them.

  3. I used to finish everything. Not anymore. Life's too short and there are too many books. And we do too many things in life because we should or must even if we don't enjoy it. Reading isn't one of those things for me!

    I also find that I am more discerning now that I am practicing the draft of writing myself. When I find myself wanting to put a book down, I can identify why. And I can usually tell whether that thing will probably go away over the course of the book or not. That's helpful. I feel less bad when I put down a book.

  4. I have the guilt complex! I'm like that about finishing books. I feel like I have to finish, but I'm getting better about stopping when I'm just not that into it. There are great books out there, and I don't have time for them all, you know? So I shouldn't spend that time on books I don't enjoy.

    On the other hand, if I get far enough into the book (and I'm pretty lenient about how many pages I'll give a book to engage me), I sometimes HAVE TO finish because I've already invested so much time. Does that make sense? Yeah...

  5. @Annie - You know, I feel compelled to finish movies, too! Up til a couple months ago, I'd always would finish them! It's a work in progress.

    @anonymeet - I love this: "we do too many things in life because we should or must even if we don't enjoy it." Excellent reason to put down a book you're not liking! Taking writing seriously has definitely made me a more discerning reader.

    @xlacrimax and @Krispy - replies via email!

  6. I can only think of one book that was so awful (for me) that I had to put it down. Usually if I start a book, I have to finish it.

    However, I've had two experiences where I started a book, didn't like it, put it down... then came back to it months later and thoroughly enjoyed it. My head was clearly in the wrong place for those books at the time I first started them

  7. @Elise - Wow! That's impressive! I usually do try to pick certain books back up again, to give them another chance. Sometimes the "it's not you (the book), it's me" really is true!


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