You don’t have to feel guilty. It’s okay to abandon books.
There were times when I still operated under the same rules and guidelines I had in childhood, like never quitting something once you’ve made a promise, or completing a task no matter what. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I realized I could jettison these principles when it comes to books.
Abandon books? It’s a surprisingly prickly subject.When I talk to other people who love to read, they fall into two camps: those who finish every book they start, and those who are willing to dump a book when they lose interest. I am a member of the second group of people, because my time and brain space is too precious (and limited) to waste on books that feel like difficult assignments.
I remember the first of my abandoned books. I was reading When Will There Be Good News (Amazon), by Kate Atkinson. I had chosen to read it because Stephen King had recommended it in one of his year-end wrap-up lists in Entertainment Weekly. I like and trust Uncle Steve, so I gave it a try. I had read Kate Atkinson’s Human Croquet, which was written very well, but not my cup of tea. She loves to explore the dark underbelly of mankind, and I can only read so much of that sort of fiction. (Reality is enough for me.) So, when I realized that When Will There Be Good News had a similar scenario that plays a big part of the story (slight spoiler, it involves horrific things happening to a child), I thought, “How am I going to get through this?” And then I thought, “Why am I making myself read this?” I thought of how, every night, I would pick up the book with dread, not wanting to try to push through another chapter, another paragraph. I put the book back on the nightstand and a huge burden was lifted. I felt liberated, buoyant, powerful.
That night marked the beginning of a new, and wonderful, stage of my life that includes abandoned books.
I now give myself permission to stop reading a book when I figure out I’m never going to like it. Don’t get me wrong; I give it some time, a few chapters or a few nights, before I decide to label it as “abandoned” on my Goodreads. But once I make that decision, I set it aside, guilt free. I simply do not want to waste any of my play time on a book that’s more like work.
So why are there other people who refuse to abandon books? I think two reasons are possible. One, that they feel like they’re quitting or being irresponsible. These feelings hearken back, no doubt, to childhood. Two, that they can’t admit that they’re wrong. They made a decision to read that book based on some decision-making process, and by God, they know what they’re doing, right? So, it must be good, right? None of these people will never know the light feeling, the freedom, that comes from dumping a book, and thereby dumping an unpleasant task with which they’ve charged themselves.
Of course, everyone who abandons books does so for different reasons, because we all have different tastes. Here’s a sample list of my abandoned books (I have bookshelf full of them on Goodreads), and why I dumped them.
The Time Traveler’s Wife
I started reading The Time Traveler’s Wife because I’d heard lots of good things about it. Plus, it was being made into a movie, so it had to be good, right? I couldn’t get past the first few chapters. The characters were one-dimensional and boring. Plus, I couldn’t get past the creep factor of a grown man being in love with a little girl, luring her into a field, alone. Yuck.
The Iron King
I confess I didn’t allow myself to abandon the first book in this series, The Iron King. I read it almost two years ago and I’m still steaming with anger as I write this. The lead female character is so weak, so stupid, so opposite of what I like in lead female characters, that I cursed quietly every time she got herself into yet another dangerous (and stupid) situation. And her attraction to the brooding, dark fey prince was so cliché I couldn’t stand it. The only reason I started reading The Iron Daughter, the second in this series, is because I couldn’t find anything else in the library’s digital collection to read. However, I chose to read nothing rather than continue to read this mess.
The Paradise War
I started reading The Paradise War because my husband bought it for me. It had everything I usually like in a book: a setting in Scotland; adventure and mystery; some time travel hijinks. But the writing was so ghastly I couldn’t continue.
The Color of Magic
My cousin recommended the Discworld series to me, and like a fool, I thought I would start at the beginning. It was only after abandoning The Color of Magic that I went searching on the Internet and discovered that, in general, Discworld newbies should never start with this one. It was Terry Pratchett’s first, and it shows. It’s thick with unnecessary verbiage. However, his later books show that, with practice, he was able to put his prodigious writing talent to good use. I have thoroughly enjoyed the Tiffany Aching series, the City Watch series, and the post office series.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Speaking of thick verbiage, oh my. I have more than one friend who loved Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and there are plenty of Amazon reviewers who advise me to just keep trudging on and eventually the book will wow me, but I can’t. One hundred pages in and nearly nothing happened. How can so many words be spent with so little to say? Good luck to anyone trying to digest this tome. You’ll need a machete.
The Weird Sisters
I started reading The Weird Sisters because it got good reviews and it had a high rating on Amazon. Also, my aunt mentioned how much she liked it. But it couldn’t keep my attention, however. The writing was fine, and certainly the plot and characters would appeal to lots of readers. However, reading this book, I realized that if there isn’t something paranormal, sci fi or fantasy about a book, or if there isn’t a murder mystery set somewhere in the U.K., I’m just not interested.
You can see what else I’ve abandoned at Goodreads.