On quiting books

Last year, I quit about 10% of the books I picked up.  I also made a pretty big deal about it, talking about books I quit, standing firm with my “ditch it if you don’t love it” motto, and eventually documenting them in the same way I documented books I did finish (including them in my reading update lists and adding them to a separate bookshelf on Goodreads). But, it occurs to me that I haven’t really written about quitting books, except in passing.

In a post about my use of Goodreads, I said:

“The shelf for books I gave up on is important to me. I want to be honest about my willingness to give up. It was something I really struggled with when I was younger, so I want to allow myself to take ownership of any books I quit.”

I believe that I also mentioned, perhaps in one of my reading updates, that the reason I struggled was because I was the child of avid readers and I was embarrassed that I didn’t seem to have inherited a love for proper reading, instead preferring picture books and comics (I’m sure I re-read all of our For Better or For Worse books a million times).

It’s not to say that I didn’t read. If nothing else, we had to for school. But, I remember struggling. Even with The Hobbit, which I loved. I was always falling behind in school reading, no matter how easy or enjoyable the book was. Part of this was because I was a slow reader. I always get distracted with imagining the scene or events I’m reading about. Just today, as I was finishing Seven Dead Pirates, I caught myself staring at my cubicle wall imagining the final scene, complete with waves, sea birds (not mentioned in the description), and crisp ocean air.

Being a slow reader made it hard for me to keep up, which made some reading feel pointless. I know that there were a lot of books I just gave up on because I couldn’t keep up. I remember being embarrassed in class when we had reading time because I’d catch myself staring at the same page for several minutes, while my classmates seemed to be steadily turning pages. I remember feeling like I had to rush through things I was reading. I remember feeling like there were so many books I “had” to read and being overwhelmed by the idea because I knew I’d never make it through half of them. And, I think that all of this contributed to the feeling that reading was a thankless chore.

Once I got to university, reading became a luxury. Some years, I’m sure I barely managed to pick up more than a dozen books and I probably only finished a handful of those. I felt like I was being a bad student when I read those books. I had so many articles and textbooks that I should have been reading instead. But, hey, even a biology enthusiast needs to read about something other than marine critters and ecosystems on occasion.

Several decades later, all of those experiences were still with me and still shaped my approach to reading. For years, I only read books I “knew” I would like (favourite authors, etc.). I would go to the library and spend all my time in the nonfiction section, sure that there’d be nothing I’d like elsewhere. After all, weren’t all books still just boy’s adventures, overly dramatic modern day tales or girl’s romances? (I don’t enjoy romance novels!) Periodically, I’d grab a book of short stories or a book based on a fairytale. Slowly, I started taking more risks and a couple of times I even picked up recommended reads on a whim.

At first, I still found a lot of books that I didn’t like enough to finish. Sometimes, I would try to force my way through the book and then avoid books for weeks because it had been such an exhausting and/or frustrating endeavour.

I don’t remember what, if anything, triggered my growing confidence with books and, more importantly, my confidence to quit books. I just know that I eventually decided that I had to allow myself to quit books, and I was going to be open and honest about it just in case someone else needed to see that there are book lovers who don’t finish everything they read.

I still struggle with deciding whether or not to quit a book. There were a couple books last year that I stuck with longer than I should have and I worry that I should have stuck with just as many for at least a few more chapters.

Quitting the bad books is easy. Quitting the popular books (like Amy Poehler’s Yes Please) is hard. I feel like I must be missing something or, worse, I must be “wrong.” Sometimes it can take me weeks of ignoring a book before I finally admit that I’m not going to finish it, and I often feel the need to justify my decision. In the case of Poehler’s book, I couldn’t think of a good reason – I think I just wasn’t in the mood. I may pick it up again later, but I don’t need to.

Regardless, I love the freedom of being able to quit a book. I’ve found that it’s given me to courage to try more diverse books and to start a lot of books that I’m not sure about. Sometimes, I find a treasure. For example, after reading the description of And the Birds Rained Down, I was interested, but I didn’t think it was a book I wanted to read. I kept walking past it for weeks. Then, one day, a bookstore clerk raved about it, so I took a chance and, so far, it’s the best book I’ve read this year.

So, regardless of what you read or how often you read, feel free to quit. In fact, feel free to never even begin. I haven’t read a vast number of classics and “must reads” (Moby Dick, Sense and Sensibility, Catcher in the Rye, etc.), and I’m ok with that because there are countless new books that are also worthy of reading. Just read. Find books you like. Try new things and accept when it’s not the right story for you. Enjoy the fact that we live in an age where there are more books published in a year than most people will have a chance to read in a lifetime.



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