Anyone who reads regularly will be familiar with that feeling of struggling through the first pages or chapters of a book, pushing on because you’re waiting to see if it will get interesting. At some point the book either gets better and grabs your interest, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, you have two options:
1) force yourself to read a whole book you’re not enjoying, or
2) give up and start a different book.
Believe it or not, when I was younger I always selected option 1. I had the slightly obsessive compulsive attitude that once I’d bought a book, or been gifted it, or even once I’d borrowed a book and gotten a decent number of pages in… I had to finish it. Even if I hated it.
Needless to say, this added a great deal of anxiety to the book choosing and buying process. It added even more anxiety to the book receiving experience. What if my uncle or auntie gifted me some horribly boring book for Christmas? I would be forced to read it. All the way through.
Funnily enough, it was only about 4 or 5 years ago that I finally broke the habit of finishing every book I started. It was about the time I started a Masters program and gave myself permission to read more books in general (during undergrad just about the only thing I read was course readings because I felt I couldn’t spare the time for anything else). As I began to read and discover more books, I quickly realised that if I attempted to finish them all, not only would I occasionally be stuck reading things I didn’t like, but it would slow me down and inhibit me from discovering other better books.
Breaking the habit gave me a great feeling of release, and reading became more enjoyable and relaxing. If I bought a book I didn’t like? Yes, I’d wasted some money, but it wasn’t worth wasting time on it too. If I bought an audiobook I didn’t like? I’d just return it and get another one instead, which my Audible subscription allows me to do.
Nowadays I think I am still generous with how long I give a book before I give up. If it’s just a bit slow, annoying, or just not very engaging, I might give it about 100 pages before I bail. With an audiobook, I try to give it at least an hour, possibly two. However, if the writing is terrible from the get-go I may abandon much earlier in both cases.
I’m particularly generous with Epic High Fantasy novels, because I know they take a while to warm up. I’ve been bored or annoyed during the beginnings of some that I’ve then come to love. For example I really disliked the beginning of Hyperion – I found it clunky, slow and cliché and didn’t like the characters. It improved vastly once the pilgrims started telling their tales and it’s now one of my all time favourites.
The Name of the Wind was also slow to start, but improved, as did the The Lies of Locke Lamora. In fact, I found the whole first half of the The Fellowship of the Ring rather painful (if you’ve only seen the film, you’ve been spared a very dull section focusing on a character called Tom Bombadil… it contains a lot of singing and a whole lot of nothing very interesting). The rest of the series had me enthralled. If I hadn’t stuck with these books I never would have discovered how great the story became.
Nevertheless, there are other books to which I’ve given more than enough of a grace period, and they’ve still failed to hold my interest. I’m not sad to have abandoned them. More often than not, a Wikipedia search reveals that the story didn’t get any more interesting.
All in all, I’m very glad I’ve finally let go of my compulsion to finish every book I start, but I’m also glad it left me with the patience to give each book a fair go.
How many pages do you give a book before you give up?