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Our Reading Lives

Why You Owe It to Yourself to Abandon Books You’re Not Enjoying

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Jeffrey Davies


Jeffrey Davies is a professional introvert and writer with imposter syndrome whose work spans the worlds of pop culture, books, music, feminism, and mental health. In addition to Book Riot, his writing has appeared on HuffPost, Collider, PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and other places. Find him on his website and follow him on Twitter @teeveejeff and Instagram @jeffreyreads. He is also the co-host of a Gilmore Girls podcast, Coffee With a Shot of Cynicism.

Time and time again, friends of mine come to me for book recommendations. And if you know anything about me and books, I take the task of recommendations very seriously. “What do you usually like to read? What don’t you like to read? I will make you a personalized list!”

They will tell me about books they’ve liked and books they have not, and they will also tell me that what they’re reading now is boring them. When I ask why they are still reading something they’re not enjoying, they tell me they’ve already started it and won’t allow themselves to abandon it—they’re committed, for better or for worse. And while on some level I find that an admirable quality, I no longer have any tolerance for it with books. You wouldn’t force yourself to wear something if you don’t like how it looks on you, right? Why should your reading material be any different?

In fifth grade English class, we had to keep a nightly reading log for a book of our choosing. I remember my log was pretty consistent in terms of how long it took me to read each book I had chosen—except for one. Since I was eleven and still committed to making myself like typical “boy” things, I decided I was going start reading an old copy of a Hardy Boys book. Despite the fact that I always preferred Nancy Drew, I figured I needed to invest in the Hardy Boys merely because I was told they were for the boys and Nancy was for the girls. Insert eye roll here. Needless to say, I didn’t enjoy that Hardy Boys book. But because I was keeping a reading log, and because I always craved the praise of an authority figure for going the extra mile, I committed myself to finishing it, no matter how long it took me. It’s not like I was missing out on so many better options by forcing myself through it—I would have just gone back to reading Beverly Cleary or The Boxcar Children immediately thereafter—but looking back, I’m mad that I forced myself to read every word of a book I vividly remember hating. I could have been spending my reading time much more wisely—something I’m very strict about now.

Here’s the thing, chicken wing: life is really too short to continue a book you are not enjoying. When consuming different forms of media is something that brings you joy and becomes therapeutic, it’s so senseless to waste your time on something you’re not enjoying. That Hardy Boys book wasn’t even the half of it—I used to be ruthlessly committed to sticking things out, even when that meant reading the same book for six months. Life is too damn short! I know your friend Brenda said she loved Gone Girl, as did five other people you know, but if you start it and you aren’t liking it, say goodbye! Brenda lies! It’s not worth your time to force yourself to invest in a book that you aren’t enjoying, but it’s most definitely worth your time to find a book that you are going to enjoy, no matter how long it takes.

Now, I know at this point some people are thinking, “But I spent money on that book! And it wasn’t cheap either! Won’t it just go to waste if I don’t at least finish the book?” And here’s the thing about that: I like to believe books never go to waste. Believe me, I know the frustration of spending $35 on a hardcover that turned out to be a crappy read. Which is why I would stress and encourage two things: a) visit the library more often, so the variable of wasted money is eliminated, and b) choose the books you are going to buy more wisely.

If you are 100% certain that you are going to love that book and will want to proudly display it on your shelf, then definitely buy it! But if you aren’t sure you are going to love it and it might not bring anything to your bookcase, check to see if the library has it. And in the worst case scenario, you can always keep a book you bought but didn’t like in perfect condition so you can give it as a gift, or you can merely give it away to a friend or donate it. Books are like cats—they have even more than nine lives, so don’t worry too much about the life it has with you.

Worry more about spending your reading time wisely, since in a world where there is so much demanding our attention, it’s important to focus on the right titles for you.