When You Can't Go On

When do you decide to stop reading a book?

That has always been a challenge for me. When I was much younger, I always finished every book I started. If I did not like the book, I finished it anyway. I saw it as a test of strength and will. Every book deserved to be finished, I thought. I also purchased (and read) books by the bag. People shuddered when I entered a book sale. They knew I would clean them out of house and home, so to speak. Once they were mine, I read them. (Okay, I did not read the book on shorthand, but that was the only one.)

Then I got older and had less time to spend reading. That single fact changed my opinion on whether I would finish a book.

Don't get me wrong: I do not surrender a book easily. First of all, I do not pick up any ol' book these days. In fact, I return to the shelves more books than I carry out with me, even today. (Really!) I have to be intrigued enough by the premise to read the first page. In turn, the first page has to make me want to turn to the second page. If I can put it down without hesitation, the book stays on the shelf.

Some books captured me from the beginning (The DaVinci Code and Life of Pi come to mind, the latter of which I had to hide from myself because I was studying for finals).

If the premise is exciting enough, I will invest a few pages to see if it's worth it -- more if I really want to like the book. The Dead Father's Club got about 50 pages, but I couldn't get into the rhythm of the boy's speech. Lisey's Story got a few more than that, but with that book I always felt like an outsider. I think I spent about 60 pages on Memoirs of a Geisha (which I tried to read three times, once after hearing it would be made into a movie); someone told me it was good after the first 100 pages, but I couldn't bring myself to waste that many pages when good books were waiting to be read.

Recently, What-the-Dickens got about 42 pages, and that was generous. I have read a lot of youth fiction and juvenile fiction lately, so I think I have reasonable expectations. This book was dull. The characters were mysteries I didn't care to examine and unlock. Who cared where Gage came from and where the kids' parents had gone in their abandonment. The storyline was a story within a story, and they were not set to distinguish them from each other.

I was reading it on the stairclimber one afternoon last week, and not only did I keep moving the book to check the time, I also closed the book with six minutes left to go. Now, that is bad. The last few minutes of the stairclimber are the most crucial for books; if I can keep reading, I can keep working out -- and being surprised that the time is up is the sign of a fab book (such as A Thousand Splendid Suns and Doomsday Book).

So, What-the-Dickens is going back to the library with no regret.

When do you stop reading a book, and why?


Carole said...

I'm stubborn when it comes to giving up on books, but I've met my match on a few. I just couldn't get through Life of Pi (I fell asleep during the sloth part at the beginning on three separate occasions!), Plague Dogs (the worst book we ever attempted to read as a family), M.C. Higgins, The Great (the only Newbery winner we could not finish).

If it's for book club, I'll finish it, even if I absolutely loath it because then I get to discuss in detail just why it made me want to throw it across the room (Middlesex is a great example).

If someone recommends it to me, I'll hang in there because I figure it has to get better (it usually does).

Mind you, this method is not always worth pursuing. I have finished many a book that I doggedly hung in 'til the end only to ask myself, "Why did you put yourself through that, Carole?"

Chris said...

You're right: if you promise to finish a book, you should. Thankfully the only abysmal book in recent memory that I finished no matter what was for that reason alone.

Who recommends it is important, too. I trust your judgment and will try to work on a book more diligently when you tell me it's good. And can I apologize once more for Plague Dogs?

Carole said...

Plague Dogs--who knew? The funny thing about that was we kept hanging in there because we thought you had read it. As soon as we learned that you hadn't, the book was history! So, I agree, recommendations count for an awful lot.