How Much is Enough?

You are one of two types. There are only two.

  1. You finish every book you begin.
  2. You stop if you don’t like a book. You are the “so many books, so little time” type.

Am I right?

Which one are you?

I’m the second type. There are so many books I want to read. My TBR list is incredibly long.

I start a lot of books. I don’t finish them all. In fact, I don’t finish many of them.

I’m not bothered by that. I don’t feel guilty. I’m, as they say, choosy.

The question, however, is: how soon do you know when it’s safe to stop? Because I certainly have had experiences where I didn’t think I was going to like a book in the beginning and, in the end, I was really glad I read it. Maybe it was assigned for a book club. Or maybe I was stuck somewhere, like on a long plane flight, and didn’t have any other options. So I kept slogging and it wound up being worth it.

And I’m guessing that’s what motivates you Type #1s to finish every book. Because you never know. Because once you’ve started, you’ve made a commitment.

But I have no such scruples. My life is littered with discarded books. Once in a while peer pressure persuades me to give a book another try, but mostly, once I’ve stopped, I’m not going back.

How do I know when I’m finished?

Mostly it’s just a feeling. The writing doesn’t resonate with me (it’s too simple, too straightforward, boring). The plot doesn’t interest me. In one recent book, the author’s ornate and verbose writing style was appealing at first. I admired his sentences. And then they became tedious and showy.

I do know what I like when I find something good. There’s nothing I like better than a book that pulls me in right away. I read a few sentences, and I’m engaged, off and running. That happened for me recently with Rebecca Makkai’s I Have Some Questions for You, and with Virgil Wander by Leif Enger.

Sometimes I read 20 or 40 pages, or sometimes even as much as 100, and I just think: I’ve tried. I’ve tried, and I can’t.

Occasionally, it happens much later in the book. I’m currently reading In Memoriam by Alice Winn. That was one of those books that pulled me in right away, and I loved it. It’s so well-written, and an interesting story. And it has quite a lot of WWI battle scene gore, but that didn’t scare me off; I loved the characters and the story.

And then, at the end of Part 1, came a plot twist that felt so derivative, so unoriginal, that I stopped reading. I mentioned this plot problem to my friend Andy Kahan at the Free Library of Philadelphia (he’s an excellent reader – I love to compare notes with him) and he said: “oh, it kicked you out of the book?” I thought that was such a good way to put it. Yes, it kicked me out. And I haven’t had the strength or the interest to dive back in. As I write this, the book is eyeing me from my kitchen counter. “Are you coming back?” it’s asking me. I am forced to reply, that, despite my investment in reading the first 147 pages, “I think not.”

But we shall see. I’m home sick today, and I don’t have anything else to read.

Please share your thoughts with me about this issue of when/whether to quit at lynn [at] lynnrosen [dot com]

Author: Lynn Rosen

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