When To Give Up On a Book

05Jan07

Finished a book tonight for my reading job, which thankfully has started up again after a very loooooong holiday hiatus. I was getting used to having my evenings and weekends to myself, but if this had gone on any longer my paranoia over being replaced by somebody faster than me would’ve driven me bonkers. If you’re new to this blog, I don’t post reviews of my work reading, but use these posts to muse about reading itself.

I hate giving up on books, because I feel a threefold sense of responsibility: to the writer, to Literature, and to myself. This is especially acute when I’m reading a classic work–I feel like I need to push myself for my own good. It’s much the same feeling that impels me to complete a run even when it’s going badly because I’m tired or unmotivated. I’m not really a quitter.

If I’m going to give up on a book, I like to do so before I’ve hit page 50 for a short one or page 100 for a long one. I recently gave up on a four-part series on page 300 of book 3, and it just about killed me. The other day, I gave up on Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children on about page 75 because I realized that I didn’t care about any of the characters or what happened to them, and that I had ceased to process with my brain the words my eyes were pulling from the page. Since I knew it was a hot title on BookMooch, I decided to swap it for something that I’d actually enjoy and give it to someone who’d appreciate it.

But this hardly ever happens. More typical are the books that languish on my nightstand. I bought Marguerite Duras’s The Lover at a used bookstore sometime in 1998. It sat next to my bed until I moved in 2003, then sat next to that bed until I ditched it on BookMooch just two months ago. And it’s a short book! Probably very good, too. I’ll never know. I keep thinking if I put Tess of the D’Urbervilles face down I can pretend like she hasn’t sat there, forlorn, for the last two years.

It all goes back to Anna Karenina–but that’s a tale for another day. Maybe when I actually get around to reading/re-reading it…

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3 Responses to “When To Give Up On a Book”

  1. “I keep thinking if I put Tess of the D’Urbervilles face down I can pretend like she hasn’t sat there, forlorn, for the last two years.” — That’s exactly why my living room is a mess. I keep all my unfinished books around my favorite reading chair, open, with bookmarks in them, with notepads and pens next to them, as if I just put them down momentarily to refill my cup of tea.

  2. 2 Wesley Dumont

    I’m just relieved to know that even the best of readers don’t always finish their books.

  3. I try to contain the mess as much as possible 🙂


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