Yes, you read that right. Today we’re going to discuss when to STOP reading a book.
As readers and writers, we’ve all encountered that book that just doesn’t move us. We struggle to read it, we dread picking it up, or we are reading “just to get through it.” It may truly be a terrible book, or it may be a book that just isn’t right for us or right for us right now. And I’m sure many of you can relate to the difficulty not only in finishing such books but in even considering the possibility of quitting it. We feel a compulsion, an obligation, even, to reach that final page. But it costs us time that we could be reading something that makes us happy. And we know this, but we are stuck, or so we feel.
So how do you quit a book you aren’t enjoying? When should you quit that book?
First, let’s explore when you should definitely NOT quit the book:
- It’s required reading. It may be required for your job, a class, or for a promised review, if you do that sort of thing. But here it’s important to distinguish reading for pleasure versus reading professionally. A book you read for pleasure is a book you chose to read on your own time. A professional read is something you have agreed to read either because it is part of your job, because you were asked and said yes, or because you signed up for the class. Do your best to finish those books (and we’ll discuss how in another post!). This is your reputation, work ethic, education, and professional image. Make it count. Exception: if you promised to review a book but don’t feel comfortable doing so because you dislike it so much, talk to the person or company who offered it to you. Discuss your options, then make a decision about how to proceed.
And guess what? That’s it. That’s the only reason not to quit a book.
“Really?” you may ask.
Here’s a life lesson I have been learning over the past decade (oh, I feel old) while going through college, grad school, and my young professional life: your life is yours, and your spare time is yours, too. You should be able to enjoy that spare time, not let yourself sink in a bog of a book you hate but feel compelled to finish. You are not obligated to the author to finish a book. Or to the person who bought you a book. Really. Is it worth it to you to read what you hate at the expense of reading something you love?
So now let’s talk about the things to consider when you’re hating the book you’re reading, some things to think about in making that choice. By framing the idea in these ways, it may help you to justify or understand why quitting a book is perfectly fine (or even why you may not want to actually quit it).
- What value would finishing this book add to your life? Is it something that would be useful for you to read, such as a grammar book if you’re a writer, a classic you’d love to discuss or understand, or a book with a huge conversation you want to participate in? Is it written either so poorly or so well that, despite you not enjoying it, it would actually benefit your own writing to complete it? Or is it something you picked up for free, is terribly edited, and hurts you to open?
- Do you have other books you would enjoy more? Perhaps you have a whole shelf in your home filled with books yet to be read (I do, for sure). And maybe even without having read them, you know there are others that you’ll love way more than what you’re reading now. Do you want to waste precious time on a book that means nothing to you but that wasted time?
- Think of all the books yet to be read that you won’t read because you’re reading something you don’t like. Let’s be real for a minute: you will never read all the books you want to read. Life isn’t long enough, and no one can read that fast. By quitting a book you don’t like, you make time for all those other books.
- You are not obligated to finish everything you start. Your only obligation is to yourself, to do what is best for you. It’s your life. The book doesn’t own you.
- You can always pick it back up later. In all seriousness, maybe you just picked it up at the wrong time in your life. Maybe if you come back to it later, you will connect to it more. Give yourself the chance to love it. Let it go right now, and revisit it later.
- Is it painful to read? Like, is it so poorly edited or planned that you just can’t stand to look at it? Maybe move on to something better.
- You are not a greater person for powering through a terrible book. That’s just hurting yourself.
- You are not a lesser person for quitting a terrible book. Deciding not to finish something doesn’t make you a weak reader.
- Take action. Just put the book aside for a while and pick up something different. If it helps, tell yourself you’ll come back to it later, like in point 5.
- Start something you like better. If you can’t bring yourself to quit that book, just start a second book. If you really must finish the one you dislike, read one chapter of that one before reading something you love. It takes longer, but you’ll get it done and not hate your reading time every day.
I know it can be hard to quit reading a book. I spent most of my life going through those books I couldn’t stand, the books I felt obligated to read because I started them, the books I felt obligated to read because someone bought them for me even though they were never something I liked.
Make yourself stop and really consider. It will take time to get to a point where you feel okay quitting books, especially if it’s a big issue for you. But that’s okay. Start introducing the idea to yourself now, and work on it over time. Take small steps, like simultaneous reading. Understand that your life may get busier, and therefore your reading time may be cut shorter than it used to be. Think about how you want to spend that time. Make those minutes, those pages, into something that is truly pleasurable and happy for you, make it a place to go that doesn’t give you stress but relieves it.
It’s a process, and as I said, it took me a long time. But I can happily and proudly proclaim that I quit books all the time now. There are too many on my pile, on my radar, on my shelves, for me to waste what reading time I have on something I don’t like. Don’t you also deserve to find the ones you love?
I hope you can learn from my experience and all my own wasted time. Find the books you love, and give yourself the gift of enjoying every minute. Don’t let your books, that love of reading, turn into a source of stress for yourself.
Let it be your release.