I found this article while looking for a challenge of reading 50 books in a year. I thought you would enjoy it. I put some additional comments at the end.
Giving Up On Books
by Steve Leveen
When I interview people about their reading and ask, “Do you give up on a book you don’t like?” people usually get a pained expression and say something like, “Well I’d like to be able to give up.I should give up. But I find it hard to.”
Ring a bell? It’s the reading equivalent of the clean-your-plate syndrome.
Perhaps it goes back to school days. Our teachers assigned books that we had better finish if we wanted a good grade. And we had to read
“Many professional readers apply the 50-page rule. If the book hasn’t grabbed them by then, they give it the heave-ho.” that book before we could have another (the clean-your- plate-or-no dessert syndrome).
Yet many of the professional readers I’ve interviewed—book reviewers, editors and booksellers—do give up on books. They have retrained themselves. They don’t give up tentatively and regretfully but deliberately and decisively. And they consider it one of the most important reading skills they’ve learned. The prevalence of this skill among professional readers has made me wonder whether those who give up on the most books might also be those who finish the most.(Didn’t Babe Ruth lead the league in strikeouts as well as home runs?)
The wisdom of giving up on books is compelling. New York University professor Atwood H. Townsend wrote in his Good Reading: A Helpful Guide for Serious Readers, “Never force yourself to read a book that you do not enjoy. There are so many good books in the world that it is foolish to waste time on one that does not give you pleasure and profit.”
Townsend penned that advice in the 1930s, when America was producing some 10,000 books a year. Today the number is more like 150,000. Compare that with an active reading schedule of 50 or so books a year and, well, numbers talk.
“Consider wine tastings. Do we finish the whole bottle for each wine we sample? Tastings wouldn’t get very far if we did.”
To help them know when to give up, many professional readers apply the 50-page rule. If the book hasn’t grabbed them by then, they give it the heave-ho. Nancy Pearl, the librarian and author of Book Lust, reports that some people take this rule further and subtract a page for every year of age over 50. This way a 75-year old would give a book only 25 pages to prove itself. As readers mature they become quicker and surer judges of what they like.
Most of us give up on people faster than books. Imagine you’re at a cocktail party and the first person you chat with turns out to be a stupendous bore. Do you keep talking to him for the next hour because you started with him? To the contrary, you suddenly develop a passionate interest in the spinach dip across the room and excuse yourself.
Or consider wine tastings. Do we finish the whole bottle for each wine we sample? Tastings wouldn’t get very far if we did.
To be fair, some books do take effort to understand and appreciate. I’m thinking of philosophy and science and James Joyce, for example. Some readers claim you learn most from the books you struggle with. But for the majority of books that people open, I’m beginning to think we would benefit by turning the usual finish fetish on its head.
Instead of feeling guilty about giving up on a book, we could set out to give up on, say, a dozen books a year with the understanding that if we don’t do this, we’re just not tasting enough books. And these aren’t just any books but highly recommended books we thought we might really like. If we took this approach, wouldn’t the books we do finish be far more rewarding for us?
Perhaps we should hold book tastings. Better yet, book and wine tastings together. Yum!
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Reader’s Question: Do you give up on books you don’t like?Please click here to respond.
Do you give up on books? Sometimes I do, but usually at 100 pages. I have the idea that there are too many good books out there to waste time on a bad one. Although if you look at my blog you will see that in fact there are some rated low, which means I guess I don't give up on all of them.
I am going to set up a goal of 2008 to determine if I am going to continue after 50 pages. I am going to add to my blog books I gave up on...we'll see if I reach 12 or not. Funny I am thinking about this after coming off 2 bad books. Post a comment and let me know if you give up on books.