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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