Saturday Six #26: Unfinished Books

For a long time, I thought giving up on books made me a quitter. But as a busy person (mom of four, full-time employee, part-time novelist), I’ve realized there’s not time for everything. And there’s especially not time for books I don’t love.

Choosing not to finish a book might mean I’ll miss out on something amazing. I understand this. Numerous times, I’ve plodded through books for the two book groups I led at my library job, and while some were ultimately not books I would say I enjoyed, some were very pleasant surprises I’m thankful I stuck with. Of course, it also helps to follow up with lively discussion among a wonderful group of ladies!

But I read those books on work time because the book groups were part of my job. When it comes to my own personal reading habits, I just can’t force myself to devote time and energy unless I’m invested. And I’ve learned not to feel guilty about it. 

Quitting a book doesn’t mean the book is bad, either. I’ve quit books that have extremely high ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, but they simply didn’t do anything for me. An example of this is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It’s a beloved book, but I only made it halfway before abandoning it. I can’t even say why, and I hope no one will judge me because of this! But books are as personal as taste in food or color or clothing style. We all have our own, and one person’s cast-off is another’s favorite.

All this being said, while I don’t have a set number of pages or chapters I’ll read before giving up, I do try to give every book a fair chance. But sometimes, it just doesn’t make the cut. Why not?

No Connection. Recently, I put down a book because I was a quarter of the way in, and I felt no connection to the main character. I didn’t know much about her, and I didn’t much care what happened to her, either. It was time to let go, and honestly, I haven’t wondered about her once since.

Language. I’m not a prude, but language, especially foul language, should mean something. Every word in a work of fiction must be chosen carefully. I spend lots of time eliminating superfluous words like “just” or “that” from my manuscripts. In the same vein, cursing should tell me more about a character or a situation, and if it doesn’t, it’s equally gratuitous as those other fillers.

Explicitness. I’ve set books aside because of too much violence and too much sexual imagery. There’s a time and a place for such things, and I don’t like to be surprised by them, especially if they don’t seem to contribute to the story. Usually, this reason goes hand-in-hand with another issue, though. If I’m loving the book otherwise, I’ll keep going.

Slow. If I’m struggling to get through each page, it’s a really hard sell for me to keep going. Super-elevated language or long paragraphs or a boring voice can all contribute to this, and a really good marker for me is whether or not a book puts me to sleep. (This can be a difficult assessment, though, since I often read in bed, right before bed!)

Too Sad or Hopeless. I definitely don’t like books to end this way, but they can’t start this way either, unless the author quickly gets me to the next thing where there’s a glimmer of hope and happiness. I’m about to put a book aside right now because it’s just making me too sad. The main character is painfully alone, and I really can’t take it. 

Not For Me. I’ve picked up books that looked interesting, but on further reading, have found them too political or too focused on touchy or triggering issues. The first time I gave up on a book for this reason, I found it incredibly liberating. Not every book is for every person, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Most of the time when I quit a book, it goes back on my to-read list on Goodreads. Not connecting with a book can be a mindset issue, and picking it up again 3, 6, 12 months from now might elicit a different response. I try to keep that option open. But the best part of allowing myself to stop reading a book and moving on to the next one? Filling my time and my brain with the stories I love most.

What kind of a reader are you? Do you push through every book you start, even if you’re not enjoying it? Or do you give it a certain amount of time before calling it quits? 

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