I gave up on a book yesterday. I know some of you are shocked but sometimes I just decide a book isn't worth it to me. Yesterday the book that wasn't worth it to me was H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. I wanted to love it. I wanted to love it so much. The whole world has been raving about how wonderful and transforming this book is. I wanted to be taken in by the "breathtaking" writing. I wanted it to be "one of the loveliest things" I'd read all year. One of the reviews said, "her book is so good that, at times, it hurt me to read it." All the blurbs I've read about it, all the reviews, all the people who have talked about this book made me believe it would be one of those once in a lifetime type books. Oh, I wanted to love this book.
But I didn't. I gave it a fair shot, I think. The book is 283 pages long and I read 70 of them. That's nearly a quarter of the book and seems like enough of a chance for the book to grab me. I once heard Nancy Pearl (rock star reader's advisory librarian) say that you should subtract your age from 100 and that is the number of pages you should give a book before you decide it isn't for you. I've always liked that guideline...I mean, if you are 99 you shouldn't have to give more than 1 page of your time to a book that you aren't loving! By Nancy Pearl's metric I read more than I should have. So I don't feel guilty about giving the book up. Some books just aren't for me and that's okay.
I don't always use the Nancy Pearl rule. Honestly, I think some books call for more patience and some books are clearly not for me even 5 pages in. So, here are some thoughts I have on when to give a book up and when to keep pressing on.
- Consider the source. The first thing I think about when I'm considering giving up on a book is how the book came into my hands. If it is just something I randomly picked up at the library I'm much more likely to give it up quickly, I have no real stake in the book. If it is a book that was recommended to me, I consider who recommended it to me and the context of the recommendation. For example, if I picked up a book because I saw that my sister gave it 5 stars on Goodreads, I'd probably give it more of a chance than a book I'd just randomly picked up. If my sister specifically talked to me about the book, I'd give it an even longer chance. And if my sister physically put the book in my hands, I'd probably read the whole thing even if it wasn't really grabbing me because I know that a book that meant that much to her will probably be meaningful to me too.
In the case of H is for Hawk, I picked it up based on the buzz around it. I try to read the books that people are talking about. I also picked it up because it is, at least in some ways, a grief memoir and I have read and enjoyed many of those types of books. It was not recommended to me personally by anyone who knows what I like to read so I didn't feel bad when I decided to put it down.
- Consider the reason. When I am decided to give up on a book, I always ask myself why I want to quit reading it. Sometimes I know by page 5 that the book isn't going to be right for me and in cases like that I don't make myself give it any more time. For example, there are some writing styles that just don't appeal to me. That's okay and I don't feel like I need to torture myself just to finish in those cases (I'm looking at you, James Joyce). Some people are sensitive to particular content issues. If you are someone who doesn't want to read books with certain kinds of sensitive situations, don't feel bad for one second about putting a book down if you come to something that makes you uncomfortable!
Sometimes the reason to put a book down is that it just isn't interesting you at that moment. That's okay too. Reading isn't an assignment (unless it is an assignment, in that case I guess it doesn't matter if you think it is boring, you should just finish the book). There have been books in my life that I have given up on at one stage and have picked up later (sometimes years later) and loved. Some books need to be read when you are in a particular mindset.
The truth is, I gave up on H is for Hawk because I found it boring. Every once in a while she would get into something that really interested me (background on TH White, for example) but the bulk of the book just didn't appeal. I don't care about goshawks, falconry isn't even close to my circle of interest and too much of the book was about the specifics. I have read great books about things I don't really have interest in doing myself but that have made whatever that thing is into a metaphor for life but this book just didn't do that for me. I don't feel bad about giving up on it.
- Think about when not to give up on a book. There are reasons for giving up on a book that I don't have patience with at all. I've caught myself thinking these from time to time and I don't let myself give up on a book if this is the reason: "it's too hard" or "I don't understand" or "the characters just aren't like me." I don't think these are good enough reasons to give up on a book. Characters don't have to look/think/be like me to have something to teach me. My favorite books are full of characters that have experiences so far outside of my own experiences that they might have been born on another planet. Those are the best books, the ones that show us something we'd never see without them. Not understanding a book isn't a good reason to give up either, it's a reason to work to understand. Same with a book that seems to hard. Push yourself for those books. The books that are too hard are the ones that will leave the deepest mark.
Life is too short. That's the truth. And part of life being too short means that you shouldn't torture yourself over something that is supposed to be pleasureful. Reading is a glorious pleasure. I think sometimes it should be a challenge. Challenge is good. But there are times when you have to give up on a book. Giving up on books is good too. Yesterday I gave up on a book.
What was the last book you gave up on? Do you have any "rules" for giving up on books? I'd love to hear your thoughts!