When to Abandon

I started a new book this week, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, and I have to admit that I’m struggling. I just finished two fast-paced, action packed novels with larger type (at least, larger than the minuscule lettering in the edition I’m reading. I feel like I’m squinting, and I have perfect vision). One of those books, City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg, was over 900 pages, but I still just wanted to tear through to the end. I’m just so used to breezing through a story right now that Alias Grace seems far too slow. Every time I come across another epistle between characters, I want to cry a little, because I feel like I could skip them and miss nothing. The premise of the novel, however, is fascinating, and I want to just scream “GET TO THE PSYCHOANALYSIS ALREADY!!! I WANT TO HEAR ABOUT MURDER!!!!” While I’m normally tearing through books, I’ve found myself finding excuses not to read this week, and I keep eyeing my stack of books, fresh from the library, which are all much shorter.

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The question, then, is when should you abandon a book? I like to give books the old army try. I think the earliest I’ve ever stopped reading was after page thirty. I abandoned that one because I hated the main character, and not in a “oh this character is a bad person but it’s well written” way. In a “this guy is one-dimensional and I don’t like that dimension” way. The book I’ve most recently abandoned is Atonement by Ian McEwan. I made it to page 160 in that one, about halfway through. I stopped because the subject matter was really disturbing me, and at that moment in my life I did not need emotional prodding by a novel.

I know what page number I stopped in Atonement because I still have a bookmark in it, like I’m considering going back to it. There’s another book on my shelf in the same state. I have a hard time saying “no more” to a book. For the other one, which is an academic book, I simply got bored. I liked both these books, I just didn’t want to read any more.

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This phenomenon is sort of what’s happening to me right now with Alias Grace. I think I like it, but it’s not the time for me to read it. So when should you abandon a book, at least temporarily?

It’s tough to put a time  on it. Like, if I’m halfway through, should I go ahead and finish? If the book is 100 pages and I’ve read fifty, the time commitment was not so large that I feel the need to finish. On the other hand, if the book is 1,000 pages and I’ve read 500, I have invested significantly, but the next 500 is a long way to go. It’s also difficult to judge because some books purposefully save the good stuff for later on. Some books have minor annoyances throughout that don’t amount to having to stop. HOW DO I DO THIS?

So, in honor of my dilemma this week, I’ve developed a system through which I can decide to stop reading:

  1. Stop reading if you’ve put in an hour with it, and there is no part of you enjoying it.
  2. Put it aside for the future if you’ve put thirty minutes into it and like it, but for some reason keep finding reasons not to read it.
  3. Keep reading if you’re within 100 pages of the end.
  4. Keep reading if people tell you that they felt the same way, but that it gets better they promise.

How is this? I think this works. By this system, I can put aside Alias Grace and not feel like a bad person, because I can breeze through my other ones and then come back. I did it! I talked my way out of it!

Shout out to library renewals. 🙂

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