I heard an agent once, talking about how she decides whether she’s going to read a manuscript. She said that if she likes a book, she knows she will be taking it to bed with her. Therefore, any book that wants her full attention, has to convince her that it’s worth taking to bed or else she’ll just stop reading.
What a fantastic mental image this conjures of a literary agent and book in a bar. The book is throwing out its best lines, and she’s trying to decide whether she’s taking it home with her for the night. Hilarious.
But also true. We take books to bed. Consider those first few pages like a kiss on the front porch. If the kiss doesn’t get you excited, why on earth would you take that book to bed?
In my experience, there are three reasons people try to read books they aren’t really into. As a public service, I hereby give you permission to stop reading that book if:
You feel like you should read it because everyone else is loving it.
A twenty-week run on the best seller list does not mean you have to love it. Likewise, just because something is “a classic” doesn’t mean you must enjoy it. If you’re not digging a book, it’s not because there’s something wrong with you. Stop reading, put it down, and find a book that grabs your attention – one that keeps you reading late into the night simply because you love it.
You’re worried you will offend the author if you don’t finish it.
Don’t worry. You won’t. There are of course exceptions to this one. If it’s a book written by a close friend or family member, you may have to push through, but most of the time, the author will never know (or care) if you finished it.
If it’s written by a friend of a friend, someone you might run into at a party, practice this line: “Oh, yes, congratulations on your book. I bought it. It’s on my shelf, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.” You bought their book. They will love you. You don’t really have to read it unless they become a close friend.
You have an overdeveloped sense of duty.
In the US, there are literally hundreds of thousands of books published every year. The number has skyrocketed since self-publishing became an accesible option. If you read one book a week, you will only read 52 out of those hundreds of thousands. Don’t waste your time on books you don’t love.
As a side note, I used to feel squeamish about saying I had read a book if I hadn’t finished it. No more. I stop reading a book for two reasons: 1) I finished it OR 2) I read enough to get a sense that it’s not for me. Either way, I read it. There is no rule that says one must disclose how much of a book one has read.
Go ahead, stop reading.
The thing that has been really liberating to realize is that it’s not my fault if I don’t care to finish a book. It’s not my job to like it. It’s not even the writer’s job to try and write something I will like. It’s their job to write what they love to write. And it’s my privilege to read what I love to read.
How long do you stick with a book before you stop reading? Or do you finish every title you pick up?