Recently, I've found myself slogging through a whole host of books that really didn't click with me. From stylistic woes, to too-dense prose, from boring plots, to maybe just a personal thing, I've spent the last month reading books I didn't like. I picked up each title expecting to love it, yet every page started to feel like a chore. As a result, I read less often, prolonging my agony. Then one day I was lamenting about my latest read to a friend and she asked the great question I'd failed to ask myself: "Why are you still reading that book if you hate it?"
It's an obvious solution, but one I hadn't permitted myself to consider. Abandon a book? Just walk away? You can do that?
To find the answer, I reached out to my fellow booksellers to hear what they do when their reading isn't love-at-first-page. Check out their responses below on revisiting classics, when to break up with a bad book, and discovering unexpected favorites.
1. When was the last time you read a book that you couldn't wait to end?
Adam: Well, I'm still in college, so that happened earlier today and it will probably happen again before this blog post is published.
Cody: Vineland by Pynchon. Three separate people on the street said to me that you are either smart enough to get it or you're not. After 80 pages, it turned out I wasn't.
2. How quickly do you generally decide a book isn't for you? 10 pages? 100 pages? Reserve all judgements until the end?
Andy: I try my best to make it through to the end.
Joe: For a normal-length book, I need to get about halfway through. If it hasn't grabbed me by then, I'm done. For novellas I just read the whole thing, even if I'm not into it.
Bec: It depends on the book and how much I really want to like it!
3. If a book loses your interest, do you bail in the middle or do you stick it out?
Caitlin: I hate abandoning a book midway through. Once I've invested time in it, I feel like I have to finish!
Adam: There's too many good books out there to waste your time on something you hate. Bail as soon as you can.
Joe: Bail in the middle.
Rachel: Generally, if I put the book down and never hear the siren call to pick it back up then I'm done, no matter where I originally lost interest.
4. Do you ever revisit books/authors/genres at a later date to see if your tastes have changed, or are you a once bitten, twice as shy reader?
Cody: Yes. I read Lolita over a couple years, because I'd get a little overwhelmed and need a break. But the third time I picked it up was after college, and I think I was more comfortable reading it than I was at first.
Rachel: Yes! This usually happens when I am spring cleaning all my shelves of abandoned books. I'll pick up a book and think "why on Earth did I put this down?"
Andy: When I find myself not liking something, I usually don't go back for more.
Joe: If I want to get through even a fraction of the recommended books/authors I know of, I don't have time to revisit the ones I did not like.
Caitlin: In general, I think enduring classics are worth another shot--there must be a reason they're so popular, right?
5. Are there any books you contemplated ditching in the middle, but ended up really enjoying and/or are glad you finished?
Adam: Even though I said I'd bail on books as soon as possible, most of the time I'm actually glad when I finish a book that was a struggle to get through. Maybe I should rethink how I approach difficult books.
Andy: The Vorrh, by Brian Catling. It's a novel written by a performance artist and definitely felt like it. Despite the hyperbolic reviews on the cover (Iain Sinclair promised something about rearranging my molecules...) I wasn't enjoying it. I'm glad I finished it though, it helped me shape a stronger opinion and determine what I liked and didn't like in the end.
Joe: Two that come to mind are both by China Mieville: The City And The City and Embassytown. The situation was the same for both: I went into it expecting to like it (since I usually enjoy Mieville), but after reading a not-insignificant amount, it hadn't grabbed me. But I stuck with it and even realized in retrospect that I appreciated how they began. Now they're both some of my favorite books.
Rachel: My favorite book, The Remains of the Day, was a book that I set down about 15 times. Yet within a day or two, I found myself longing for the character's distinct voice and curious about the slow revealing of his life story. It did not let me down because the very last page devastated me.
Cody: I remember when I read A Little Life, it took me about 80 pages before I was hooked. But then I was incredibly, deeply, hooked. I think I stayed up all night to read the last 250 pages. And it was one of my favorite books last year.
Bec: I contemplated ditching a series--I am that one in a million person that wasn't blown away by My Brilliant Friend. I enjoyed it, but didn't quite understand the hype. When the second book came out, I decided to give it a go. Within two pages, I was emotionally, intellectually, and viscerally caught up in the book, and there was no way I was putting it down. I enjoyed everything about it, and even stopped a few times while reading to try and dissect the sentences and paragraphs to work out how and why the writing was so perfect. I came up with no answers, but am forever grateful that I gave in to the hype!
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