Why it’s perfectly acceptable to throw that book across the room.
I read a lot of books (although not on the Kindle). But I also don’t read a lot of books – all the way to the end, that is. It’s taken many years and hundreds of hours ill-spent on books that turned out to be a waste of my time, but I’ve finally learned how to set down a plodding novel or a dull biography without guilt and never look back. You can do it, too!
It doesn’t get better. A friend of mine has a strict 50-page trial period for every book he reads; if it fails to capture his attention by then, it’s fired. I used to think this was pretty merciless – what if it’s a sprawling epic and needs time to get going? – but I’ve come to see his logic. Even a thousand-page tome should be able to hook you within 50 pages, drawing you far enough into its world that you at least want to figure out what’s going on. If you’re already forcing yourself to keep going when you’re still in the first few chapters, that’s not your fault: it’s the author’s. Don’t kid yourself that the painfully stilted dialogue is suddenly going to improve 175 pages in, or that a last-minute twist will magically make a nonsensical plot fall into place. It won’t.
You’re not contractually obligated (unless you’re a reviewer). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dragged myself through a bad book, just because I thought I somehow owed it to the book to finish. There are many variations on this reasoning (you liked the author’s previous books; you feel compelled to read it because you bought it; you’re trying to impress a new romantic interest who loves it), but unless you are being paid to produce a review of the book, you do not have any obligation to complete it. The book does not care.
You already know how it ends. This is actually what I’ve wasted the most time on: trite, formulaic trash (let’s just be clear — CHICK LIT) where I already knew exactly what was going to happen from the first page. Spoiler alert! The mousy heroine turns out to be a stunning beauty who just lacked self-confidence. The good girl gets the nice guy, who is her best friend, once she finally dumps her caddish, shallow boyfriend. The mean sister has a change of heart and realizes that money isn’t everything. Now, I’m not judging: predictable pabulum can be a gentle massage for a weary brain, and sometimes that’s just what we need. But if you find yourself muttering, “Okay, okay, just quit the awful job and get together with that guy you keep running into already!” you can safely assume that it will end exactly as you suspect, and move on to more challenging fare.
Book clubs are for drinking wine, anyway. Actually, to be honest, I’ve never been invited to join a book club, so I don’t know that firsthand. But from the books about book clubs (!) that I’ve read, a bunch of girlfriends get together, pass around cute little snacks on a tray, and drink a ton of cheap wine while gossiping about their non-book club friends. So who’s going to know if you didn’t get all the way through someone’s tedious Oprah pick? Offer some bland observation early on (culled from the 49 pages you did slog through) and then your job is done! If it looks like the discussion is working around toward you, stuff something crumbly in your mouth and wave for them to skip you, or quickly grab an empty platter and hide in the kitchen for a few minutes making chopping sounds with a knife.
Life is too short to read bad books. That old bumper-sticker saying is true! I mean, sometimes you’re stuck somewhere and there literally is no other option for reading material (which is the only way to explain the SkyMall catalog’s continued existence). But other than those unfortunate exceptions, I don’t know any book lovers who don’t have a crammed-full “to read” shelf awaiting them at all times. And if you own an e-reader, you potentially have several thousand books at your fingertips at any given moment. So why are you wasting time on one that’s not captivating, entertaining, or educating you?
If you’re not reading something you love, you should be. So don’t feel bad about moving on. We’ll never get to read even a fraction of all the books in existence, so we owe it to ourselves to make sure that the ones we do get to experience enrich our lives and give us readerly pleasure. And you can tell your book club I said so.