When to Abandon a Book

For a bibliophile, the number of books I read a year is relatively modest averaging somewhere in the 45-60 bpy (books per year) range. But the number of books I’ve started and abandoned in a year often rival the books I’ve finished. Sometimes by a ratio of 1:3. Many articles about reading more include a bullet point to the effect of stop reading books that don’t work for you. Way ahead of them.

Before the advent of Goodreads I kept a small notebook for listing all of my books-to-be-read. As I watched that list expand and contract over time, it became necessary to abandon books that did not draw me back to them to find out who did it, if the protagonist would recover, if the secrets of life would be found.

Everyone has their own signatures for boredom or dutifulness. I have tried to power through texts that I find boring out of a sense of duty. Maybe it’s considered a masterpiece, or I want to be able to say I’ve read it, or someone I admire spoke well of it. Do not underestimate peer pressure to read books that don’t fit you. Even worse if you regularly talk to the person who recommended it to you.

It is time to abandon the book when…

You have been avoiding reading because you feel like you have to read THAT book first. Avoidance is a pretty good indicator that you don’t like what you are reading, and you don’t find it compelling. It’s also an indicator that the book is a chore or a punishment. If you feel guilty about reading something else instead of the prize winner, the bestseller, or the masterpiece, then pull the bookmark and move on.

Know first who you are and read accordingly, to paraphrase Epictetus. Have you enjoyed any of the five historical fiction novels that your book club has picked? Do you enjoy biographies that run upwards of 500 pages? Do space battles make you yawn? Does magical realism make you roll your eyes? If you answered yes, then don’t try to talk yourself into finishing something you know you already dislike. I highly recommend branching into new genres, trying new authors, new forms, new subjects, but when you know you have an allergic reaction to certain ideas, characters, or tropes, don’t keep trying them.

You are trying to talk yourself into continuing with a book. When you are enjoying a meal or a movie, you don’t have to talk yourself into staying and finishing it. Same with books. Imagine you are at a restaurant that you thought would be good, but you’re in the middle of the meal and just not sure about how the deconstructed Caprese salad tastes. Would you look up the restaurant’s reviews and see what other diners had to say in order to make a decision about your food in medias res? I don’t know you, but probably not. If you aren’t enjoying the book, and the spell is broken enough that you are talking yourself into sticking with it, you are done with that book for now.

To find out what your own book abandonment signs are pay attention to your self-talk, remember your established likes and dislikes, and notice when you avoid reading. You are the final arbiter of your own taste, and no one needs to waste time reading something that isn’t compelling to them.

For every book you quit because it isn’t working for you, you make room for yourself to discover engrossing worlds, riveting characters, and new favorites.