About ten pages into the book I was reading, my mind was already turning off and wandering. I found myself reading a page, then would set it aside to do more fun things – you know, like laundry, cleaning, going to the dentist.
In retrospect, getting myself to read was like pulling teeth.
For a full month I persisted, waiting to be wooed and hooked. I was, and still am, convinced it was the longest month in history. The entire time, NOT finishing the book was not even an option on the table. It had never even occurred to me that it was permissible or acceptable to just STOP READING.
Perhaps it was partly fueled by this specific book being part of my 2019 Reading Challenge. I viewed it as required reading which I had an obligation to finish and to report on after – here, take a look for yourself if you are interested. Or perhaps it had to do with both the financial and time investment put forth already. Or my fierce sense of finishing something, anything, EVERYTHING that I start. Or it could be an intense case of FOMO – thinking I will miss out on some big twist or hidden masterpiece.
trauma experience left me wondering “Is it ok to stop reading a book?” and then the subsequent follow-up question “WHEN do you stop reading?”
Should I stay or should I go?
A few factors are definitely associated with the agonizing decision of giving myself permission to stop reading a book.
Guilt. Yes, believe it or not, I struggle with feeling guilty. About who? Myself, the author? Who knows? I have a feeling that I owe it to the person that poured out their blood sweat and tears into those pages, that slaved away to create something and let us all share in it. Maybe it comes from being an aspiring author and an intense amount of empathy for anyone that goes through the process. I guess I feel that I owe it to them.
I struggle with strong feelings of FOMO on all aspects of life. Apparently, if the legends are true, this was clear since the days of being a toddler. I was a force to be reckoned with, wrestled to bed, naps and to leave the scene of any activity. I am afraid that if I put down the book, the lives, the stories and the events that continue to unfold even without me reading them, will yield something extraordinary and I would never have known or been a part of it.
More on point though, is it probably has more to do with grit than with guilt. I set goals and stick with them, or at least I like to think so and do everything in my power to reach the end. For this particular book, I was reading it as part of my 2019 Reading Challenge. Therefore, it was a goal. If I were to stop, would that mean I failed to meet the challenge? This is probably somehow directly related to both my book review projects at school that I always exceeded in order to gain extra credit and to just share my love of reading, or even the summer reading programs at the library where I had to track my completed books in order to receive a star on the paper.
When we invest time or ourselves into something, people typically want to see it true. It isn’t just me. I swear. There is actually a term for it called “sunk costs“. It is defined as a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Any money invested in purchasing the book, then the additional investment of time spent reading is definitely a sunk cost. It is hard to let go of things in this category, however, research also shows that we get better at letting those sunk costs go as we get older. So yeah, for aging.
How letting go can be healthy
Sometimes a book starts with a slow burn. You turn on, wait, slowly the fire that was lit starts to get a bit stronger, eventually intensifying. I’m familiar with this and have found a few treasures that took a bit more to hook me in.
But what I am really referring to is the ones that ten pages in, it feels like Chinese water torture. Each page, dripping in your mind, being forced to deal with each word, each sentence with no end in sight. You keep flipping the pages to see when the next break is, how many more pages until the end, how many more words until you feel satisfied you put in enough time for the day.
Boring books not only waste time and money, but they can end up giving you a distaste for reading or at the least, prevent you from reading something you find engaging.
The entire month that I put into reading that book not only could have been spent doing other things, but even reading several other books in its place. In other words, a boring book slows down your reading productivity so that you end up reading far less.
I can barely even count finishing as a win or a trophy on the shelf since it in just two months time I am sure that I will forget even the basics of what I had read. It will just be an empty status with no meaning to me tarnishing the other treasures that surround it.
At least if I don’t finish it, I can look at the book on the shelf with pride and move on. An equivalent of looking through an old photo album of exs from long ago when you smile and remember, yea that didn’t work out and then move on to the next better one. It might even bring forward a smile, feeling like I had a little control or freedom.
So, unless you absolutely need to finish reading a book for a class, position or job, or fixing that electrical problem that is zapping everything in your hands as you assemble your newest gadget, putting down a book can be more beneficial. Just like pruning a tree or plants, or even bad relationships, removing the dead parts that suck the life out of the rest of the body is a very healthy and fruitful practice.
When to let go
I sat down and thought about this quite some bit.
Sometimes reading something that didn’t necessarily catch my interest immediately helped me to read more diversely and introduced me to new ideas, writing styles or content. I might not have found many books or genres that I ended up loving.
There must be some sort of balance, some sort of guideline that would allow someone to explore but not feel obligated, to tackle something but not feel like a chore.
To find some answers on this I took to the internet and found something called the ‘rule of fifty’.
Author and librarian Nancy Pearl writes on her blog about her rule:
People frequently ask me how many pages they should give a book before they give up on it. In response to that question, I came up with my “rule of fifty,” which is based on the shortness of time and the immensity of the world of books. If you’re fifty years of age or younger, give a book fifty pages before you decide to commit to reading it or give it up. If you’re over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100—the result is the number of pages you should read before making your decision to stay with it or quit.
Doing this gives you a chance to try new books, even exploring new genres, topics or authors without feeling like you are obligated to complete them. Its sort of similar to a working interview or dating. It should be enough to expose both the benefits and weaknesses, without forcing you into the commitment. If you head into the book with that in mind, its already an agreed upon exit and also relieves you of extra guilt.
Some further ideas
Of course, if you are needing a little extra convincing or are hesitant still there are some options to help ease the pain.
Read a LOT of reviews, summaries, listen to a podcast or interview to get a feel for the book you are looking into purchasing or reading. Do your research!
If you feel compelled to read about a topic, but are intimidated by the content or find it too complex, try reading books that cover the major points or re-tellings of classics. Shakespeare might be boring or difficult but you want to understand what everyone refers to or the hype is about – read the cliff notes or a re-imagined version, like Marget Atwood’s “Hagseed” in place of The Tempest.
Audiobooks are a good way to explore new authors or works. Sometimes a narrator has a way to pull you into the book in a more compelling manner or you can listen while driving to long distances so you don’t feel that you had wasted any precious time.
Amazon has options for unlimited books and libraries are usually stocked with new releases, best sellers and hard to find books as well. Take advantage of free resources in order to offset any financial commitment or costs.
– I admit I am preaching, but can I practice it? Only time will tell, and I sort of hope, I don’t have to find out in the near future.