Tuesday, September 14, 2010

When to quit reading a book

A friend gave me this useful formula : Subtract your age from the number 100, and the answer is the number of pages you have to read before giving up on a book you're not enjoying.* Her advice came to mind the other day as I was preparing to return yet another partially read book to the library. Oops, I thought : am I dangerously deficient in perseverance?

No, I said to myself. Life is short - why spend it with books I don't really want to read?

Here's a list of the books I've quit reading (or listening to) since June. Every one of them, by the way, is worth reading.

  • Animal Factory by David Kirby. Important discussion of how factory farms damage the earth. I had recently read several books on the topic and decided after several chapters that I wasn't in the mood to read more - but I recommend the book.
  • March Violets by Philip Kerr. Friends swear by this author, and I thought I'd like a thriller set in pre-war Berlin. Somehow, I didn't. Maybe I'm just not a hard-boiled girl.
  • Au Début d'un bel été by Jacques Duquesne. Looked like a fun fluffy read that would help my French fluency. In the event, my French fluency didn't want to be helped.
  • Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga. I loved his White Tiger. This is good too, but I wanted a novel and not a book of short stories, so I read the first one and quit.
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Love his daffyness. Didn't want quite that much of it. Was listening to the audiobook, and I understand the actual book includes a fair amount of visual humor. Maybe I'll try it.
  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Very impressed by first 50 pages or so. This is the book that inspired the U.S. to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Was amazed at how many of the abuses are still happening today: exploited immigrant labor, careless inspections, vertical ownership of industry, inhumane treatment of animals... But decided to quit listening to the audiobook because I was getting depressed.
  • 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein. Amusing send-up of academic and philosophic pomposity. PW gave it a starred review, and I was pleased that a good friend thought I'd like it. But I passed it on to a philosophy major who, I thought, would enjoy it more than I did.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. One granddaughter described the YA series (of which this is Book 1) thus: "they are soooooooo good." The other granddaughter wrote, "i read like the last page or so and i didnt like it. nor the plot. too scary." After reading a few chapters, I agree with both girls. Really well done. If you like dystopic fiction.

Not reading those books gave me time to read (or listen to) 34 others. One of the best was The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Uh oh. Is a mild Internet addiction to blame for my willingness to abandon so many fine books?

Or have I just wisely given up my youthful doggedness?

Whatever. In any case, I well remember a day maybe 20 years ago when I took a deep breath and spoke to a bookcase full of unread books. "I don't have to read you," I announced. And felt much better.


I don't know the source of my friend's formula, but Nancy Pearl's "Rule of Fifty" is similar - and very good.


Anonymous said...

I have a printed book mark that says YOU DON'T HAVE TO FINISH THIS BOOK. It fortifies me, as your blog has done.

I wouldn't have even started the books on your list, so I'm glad you
gave up on them. Congratulations on your discrimination
and common sense. Your pal, CD

Buddy said...

Thank you LaVonne. I too feel much better. No longer do I have to feel guilty about taking that one book I didn't want to give up on twice to the Virgin Islands and once to Italy. I'll probably give it another chance... someday. (Can books have their own frequent flier accounts?)

Anonymous said...

I quit reading a book if I don't like the main character. Why continue reading a book about someone you don't like?

Andrew S. Tatum said...

I made a decision a few months ago to give away or sell any book that I'd owned for more than a year without reading. My logic was two-fold: 1) If I haven't read it within a year a purchasing it, I probably never will and 2) Perhaps this book would be interesting to a friend / acquaintance.

I've tried to make a habit of giving things away that cause clutter in my life and so far it's been an incredibly freeing thing to be able to give away books that I haven't read.

Of course, I have ready access to at least two university libraries and a great public library system so not owning that many books isn't really a problem for me.

Also, I've listened to more fiction in the past year via audio versions than I've read in my entire life prior to discovering the joys of audio books. I loved the audio version of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.