“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” —Henry David Thoreau
It’s Sunday afternoon. My toddler is napping, my husband is playing video games, and I am left to my own devices. Which means, I take this precious hour or two to read a book. I revel in the characters, live in their world for a short time, feel their joys and pains and return to my life, when beckoned, feeling rejuvenated. But what happens when the book I’m reading is bad? How do I decide when it’s time to put a book down?
As an author this is an issue I struggle with intensely. Here’s someone’s completed work. Weeks and, in some cases, years of intense labor have gone into this small tome that I hold in my hand. But, for whatever reason (maybe I’m not in the mood for historical romance, maybe it has one too many typos, maybe a small scientific error I’m having trouble ignoring, or maybe I just don’t like the author’s style), it’s not holding my attention. I find myself dreading reading it. And instead of my escape it becomes my prison.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve put a book down without finishing it. Three titles in the last five years. Two of those have been this year. You see, as my hours in the day grow shorter, due to increased work load, having a toddler at home, etc, I grow less tolerant of wasting time.
So, how do I decide when to put a book down? I never do it flippantly for one thing. In the end, this is still someone’s baby. And much like a baby, the book’s mother or father still thinks it’s the greatest, most adorable thing in the whole wide world. So, I always give whatever I’m reading the respect it deserves. If it hasn’t irritated me within 100-150 pages, I keep reading.
Now, what do I mean by ‘irritated?’ Factual errors within the world irritate me. Like a historical romance that takes place long before Shakespeare’s time referencing Shakespeare’s quotes (yes, I dropped a book that did that). Typos and poor editing irritate me. And here’s my opinion on that: If you didn’t take the time and effort to properly edit, why should I take the time to finish reading? Accents that don’t jive irritate me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good accent. It really puts you in the world of the characters. But, poorly written, a Scottish accent ends up sounding like a deep southern accent (yes, I read a book that did that, and I did finish that one, much to my chagrin). Irritating.
So, what’s the big deal, right? Why write a giant blog about dropping a book? The author will never know, and probably won’t care you didn’t finish. It’s not like it’s a homework assignment, like anything at all rides on you finishing the book you’re reading, right? Maybe, maybe not. For me, it breaks my heart a little every time I put a book down. I can’t start a new book for several days, until I’ve grieved. Grieved what? The loss of my time? The loss of potential that book had? Who knows. I may be too emotionally involved with books, but it’s what I do, and for that, I don’t apologize.
And for some, me in particular, finishing a book carries a certain amount of integrity with it. You close the book, or put down your Kindle or e-reader and think, “I finished.” It’s very satisfying. When a book is bad, you are robbed of that experience. I feel a bit betrayed when that happens.
Anyway, think twice before casting a book aside. Make sure you’ve given it a good solid chance at your attention. You both deserve it. You might find a diamond in the rough! But, if you do decide to put it down, try not to feel guilty. You gave it a fair shot, and your time is valuable. That should be enough.