When and HOW do you decide to quit reading a book?

In school we had to read a book to the end whether we liked it or not.  We were taught that every book had a lesson or a theme that applied to life.  Now that I’m no longer under a teacher’s thumb and I pick what I want to read, it took me many years to realize I don’t have to finish every book.  Even if everyone else loved it. It’s one of the beautiful freedoms we gain as we become older and start making our time more precious, and start focusing on who we are.

But how do we decide to give up and close the book covers?  And how far do we read to make this decision?  I’d love to know what others do.

As I am now 50.022 years old, I give up on books much earlier.  Maybe too early? If I find myself not thinking about the story when I walk away from it, then I may give it one more chance before I return.  It’s not about intrigue, it’s more about the characters and whether or not I want to hang out with them.  But I wonder if I’m missing out on something because I gave up too early. Do you?

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Susan Henderson
    Jan 18, 2014 @ 01:07:23

    I just want to say how much I love your blog. Every post.

    About 10 years ago, I started the habit of only reading books that I either loved or that had held up for so many generations, I trusted there was a strong reason for it. It’s been wonderful. I read based on my mood (let’s say I’m in a melancholy William Maxwell mood and I want to linger on sentences or I’m in a fiercely quirky mood and need a Shirley Jackson fix) and sometimes I read based on my fixation of the moment (Harlem, ghosts, people with deformities, farming communities, gypsies). I hop from bestsellers to classics to nonfiction to poetry. All that matters is I’m captivated within the first three pages. That’s as far as I’ll go. Sometimes I start a book I know I’ll love when I’m in a different mood but for the moment I’m not engaged. What I love best about getting older, and you’ve said it too, is that no longer throw away my time on things that aren’t meaningful to me and I no longer worry (for the most part) about how I’m perceived by others. I’d never trade these years for my youth. I’m way happier and more fulfilled now.

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    • Amy Wallen
      Jan 18, 2014 @ 01:49:30

      Susan, I love that. A book per mood. And three pages is a pretty stringent test. I usually try for 50, then maybe 100. But as I get older and time is more and more valuable, I’m going to go with the 3-page rule.

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  2. billie hinton
    Jan 18, 2014 @ 01:07:40

    Hi, Amy! I’m closing in on 54 in February so am loving this blog. 🙂 I am so careful about the books I put in my reading “pile” – I really don’t remember ever not finishing one. There have been a number of books that I started, set aside, and came back to years later, because I think I wasn’t quite ready for them.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m not pulled in enough and I consider quitting it – but usually if I read on I get past that. An interesting example – everybody and their mother told me I had to read Olive Kitteridge and that I would love it. It seemed like a book I WOULD love so I bought it and kept it by my bed and when I started it I really didn’t like it that much. But I kept going. It took me awhile – probably two weeks or so – to get through it. Then I got the very last page and that blew me away. I need to re-read it sometime to see how I find it now.

    I think on some level I just really want every book to knock my socks off – and I’ll give a book every chance to do so.

    I am finding that something has shifted in this half of life. I used to feel I couldn’t FIND enough books to keep me satisfied – I read quickly, I was always afraid I was going to run out of books to read. Now I am feeling like I don’t have time TO GET TO all the books I want to read.

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    • Amy Wallen
      Jan 18, 2014 @ 01:50:45

      Billie, I had the same reaction to Olive Kitteridge and I am so glad I stuck with it. It’s a book that stuck with me over the years. Again, I really want a story to sing in my ear after I put the book down, whether I’m still reading or finished it. Glad you like the blog!

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  3. Mary Rickert
    Jan 18, 2014 @ 16:10:06

    I’ll stop reading anything when I notice that I am not paying attention while “reading” it. If I am working on my grocery list with one part of my brain and reading with the other, I stop. That’s basically my standard. When I was younger I might have been more inclined to attribute the lack of attention to the work, but now I tend to think it’s more complicated than that. I can think of one book I absolutely adored, but when I back to it years later it didn’t even make sense to me. I’ll take a year to read a biography, My Wars Are Laid Away in Books by Alfred Habegger, for instance–about Emily Dickinson. Loved that book, but it wasn’t exactly captivating. I don’t always want to be captivated, actually. But I have to care.

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  4. Susan Henderson
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 19:33:00

    I don’t give up on books so much because of plot. It’s more about language. I can tell by page 3 (and honestly, usually much earlier than that) if something will be worth my time. I’m fine swimming around in an Olive Kitteridge or Donna Tartt book until I’ve found my footing because the language has held me there.

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  5. Jennifer Simpson
    Jan 23, 2014 @ 16:38:52

    Can’t believe you almost gave up on Olive Kitteridge! I just (finally) read it and found Olive fascinating. And I’m in love with the structure of the book –how we get to know Olive through so many lenses, and thinking: can I apply that to memoir? or should I just start writing fiction 🙂

    I usually give a book a couple of chapters (which thanks to grad school doesn’t take much time at all). Then it sits on my nightstand mocking me for a few months. The stack grows as I pile books I want to read on top until one day I remove all the books to dust and then the unwanted book goes into the giveaway pile by my front door.

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    • Amy Wallen
      Jan 23, 2014 @ 18:53:26

      Jenn, I do believe we can do different lenses in memoir. With attitude and dialogue and gestures, and just the interactions and the arc of the interiority. That’s my MFA lesson for today. But I would love to see a memoir written like Olive Kitteridge. She was so honest about her feelings. And isn’t that what CNF is really all about?

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I like to hear what you think, if it's not mean spirited.

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