When to give up on a book?

Perhaps it was how I was raised. I participated in sports from my youngest years and all through high school; the most basic lesson was — never quit. Once you join a team you are committed to that team at least for the season, so you tough it out no matter what happens. I’m not sure this is the best advice, but I recognize it as part of me.

So, does this apply to books as well? When you start a book you make a commitment to the writer to give serious attention to what they have written. It seems almost insulting not to show them some patience, some grace, in delving into their work. It is a relationship, and relationships take time and effort.

I remember seeing an interview with the children’s book writer, Maurice Sendak (and I can still quote “Where the Wild Things Are” from memory thanks to four children), and he said children have no such qualms when approaching a book. If they don’t like it, they throw it across the room and move on to another book.

But what about adults? I recently gave up on a book, which is truly a rare occurrence for me. It was Roberto Bolano’s “The Savage Detectives,” a work which has won a great deal of praise. Given all the rave reviews and endorsements by great writers, I should be loving this book. Instead, after 100 pages I could not take it anymore. I’ll blame myself — maybe I just “don’t get it.” But listening to the narrators pornographic descriptions of his sex life, which had just begun and was off to a roaring start, was getting old. There were few characters I wanted to learn more about (except the really interesting “crazy” father of his first-tryst), and any movement anywhere was just not happening. From my understanding of the story I know this change will come, but I will not be around to see it.

So why did I finally give up? I was dreading reading it. Simple as that. When I realized I was approaching a book as a chore instead of an opportunity, it was time to move on. I read plenty of books I did not like in college and grad school, but I feel little impetus to do so anymore. I do not seek easy books, but I want to know the challenge is paying off.

So should I not recommend this book? Since plenty of people are seeing something in it, you may well love it. I would love to hear that. You just will not be reading that here.

And I’m curious — when do the rest of you stop reading a book?

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2 thoughts on “When to give up on a book?

  1. That’s a really good question! For years it was common practice with me to give up on books at the first hint of boredom, dislike, etc. I still finished plenty of books, too. It seems it has only been in the last few (3, maybe) years that I have made a conscious effort to finish books when I read them. In doing this, I find myself being a little more selective in what I choose to read. I will occasionally get a recommendation from someone that I’m less than thrilled with, but feel I have to read the whole thing in order to really tell them what I think and at least make them feel like I gave the book a chance. I’m enjoying your blog!
    – Dale

  2. Like you, I rarely if ever completely give up on a book. If I can’t get into one, I sometimes will set it aside, leaving my bookmark in place, with the intent of giving it another shot later on. But my email address (2manybooks) sort of expresses my attitude on this: There are just too many books, and too little time! Life is too short to waste it reading stuff that is unenjoyable or unprofitable. On my Goodreads bookshelves I have a shelf I call “Books I regret reading” because there have been a few books I refused to quit before finishing, slogged through them and then when I finished my thought was, “well that was a waste of time.” However, I also have another shelf that I have presumptuously labeled “Books I have no intention of reading,” sort of a preventative measure to minimize books ending up on the aforementioned shelf!

    By the way, thanks for following my blog. I look forward to reading more from you!

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