For time immemorial readers have faced a terrible conundrum.
What do you do with a terrible book?
Do you keep reading, not wanting to admit defeat, or do you toss it aside and move on to better things?
I got thinking about this recently after coming across an article on The Cut which seemed to favour those who finish books – framing these tenacious readers as people who don’t quit, who follow through on their commitments and aren’t ready to let go of the time and effort already invested.
It also suggests that readers who slog through books they don’t enjoy are more optimistic than the quitters. They keep turning the pages hoping it will improve.
While there’s a grain of truth in the notion that book-finishers are more tenacious (some might say stubborn), I don’t think it’s helpful to simplify it into book-finishers good, book-quitters bad.
And I say this as someone who’s moved from one camp to the other in recent years.
I no longer struggle through hated books. Why? Because it’s a waste of my time, and my time is very valuable to me.
There’s a great wealth of literature out there and I hope to make a sizeable dent in it during my lifetime. Why would I put myself through 50 Shades of Grey when I could be absorbed in Anna Karenina?
Why should I devote hours to Small, Great Things when I could be curled up with Love in The Time of Cholera?
And I’m not just advising people to give all their reading time to the classics. It’s very important to read widely, but reading widely doesn’t mean reading dross.
In my opinion, people who abandon bad books halfway through are practical, literature-loving, sensible and focused readers.
As I get into my thirties, I’m very aware that my remaining reading time is finite (#bookwormproblems).
These days, the only time I finish a terrible book is when I’ve made a commitment to do so (ie promised a friend or attending a book club).
James Joyce said it best:
Life is too short to read a bad book