Reading Ennui

Like any writer out there, my To Be Read pile stretches into the next zip code.  I’m constantly adding things, either physically to the overcrowded shelves or other flat surfaces of my office or to the list I maintain online of “Books I Should Check Out”.  I love books.  I love reading.  It’s something I haven’t made as much of a priority the last few years as I ought.

But I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret.

Over the last year, I have begun reading probably 40 or 50 books (maybe more).  And at least half of them have been put down before I reached the last page–often before I’m more than 100 pages in.

See, I’ve been trying to broaden my horizons beyond my short list of must buy authors.  I’m pushing outside my comfort zone and trying out new ones either through the audiobooks at the library or from the used bookstore (so that my investment on a monetary level is minimal).  I’ve found a few authors I’ve very much enjoyed through this process–Kay Hooper, J.R. Ward, Beverly Barton (a lot of whom you’ll see on my Book 100 list).  But more often than not, I wind up putting a book down.

This makes me feel like a quitter.  I really hate that feeling.  I was raised to stick things out.  Suck it up.  Finish what you start.  My first semester of college, I overloaded myself with advanced classes and wound up dropping one.  I felt like a failure (nevermind that I went back as a senior to take that class and passed with flying colors).  Not finishing the books that I start reading leaves me with that same sense of failure and inadequacy.  I’m sure it says something about me that I assume I’ve got some deficiency as a reader rather than the author I’m trying just doesn’t meet some need of mine as same.

But there are at least two dozen books I’ve tried, particularly audiobooks lately, that I checked out because the premise sounded intriguing.  And something just didn’t work for me.  I hated the voice.  Or there wasn’t enough relationship.  Or the heroine was annoying.  I often wind up giving audio books more of a chance than a physical book because it’s passive–the whole listening to something in my car or on a walk.  But when I find my mind wandering or myself forgetting to even turn the Zune on in the first place, it’s usually a sign that I’m not interested enough in the book to finish it.

It makes me feel guilty.

But why should it?  I have only limited time to read.  Reading is (or should be) a pleasureable activity.  The only time in your life you should be stuck reading a book you don’t like is for school (and don’t get me started on how they’re ruining reading for whole generations of students because of the poor choices they make on what to study).  So if a book doesn’t snare me, or if I don’t like the hero or heroine or voice.  Why should I finish?

I’m not every author’s ideal reader.  And thank God for it.  There are whole genres of books that would have no home if that were up to me.  That’s the beauty of choice.

I’ve been making a sort of informal list for myself lately of the books that didn’t work for me.  I don’t allow myself to quit on it until I can effectively pinpoint what isn’t working.  Why I don’t like it.  It’s the flip side of the coin of trying to analyze what I do like about a book and figuring out how I can apply it to my own work. I figure if I learn something from every book I pick up, even if it’s what I don’t like, then it was worth picking it up in the first place.

2 thoughts on “Reading Ennui

  1. Yeah, I know what you mean. For me it’s a little sticky because I do the 50 book challenge every year. WHere I try to read 50 novels. So if I stop before the end, it’s like cheating. But I have gotten to the point where I’ll count a book if I can make it to page 200.

  2. I don’t think anything is wrong with stopping a book if you absolutely can’t handle it. We have a limited amount of free time and unlimited amounts of books. And–it’s not like our word is the final word. Just like there are different dishes for different taste buds, so too are there different writing styles for different readers. When I get into a book that I know is going to go downhill fast (for me), I don’t think that automatically makes it bad literature–just not my thing. So no I don’t feel guilty about putting a book down!

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