Monday, 6 August 2012

When to Throw in the Literary Towel

One of my favourite writers tells a hilarious story about forcing himself to finish reading a novel by one of Australia's late great authors.  He managed to wince his way through to the end, and then promptly raced outside to hurl the tome as far as he could down the length of his back yard.  (You can read the story in his words plus some more interesting things about him and his work here.)

The experience was a lesson in exercising the right NOT to have to waste time on books that don't grab you.  As much as I am loathe to use this now-popular bastardization of the English language, this was the YOLO (You only live once) principle in action.  Life is too short for bad books.

So how do you know when it's time to give in and re-shelf or even re-gift that book you've been battling?

1.  If your bookmark hasn't moved in more than a month, it's time to stop reading.

2.  If you can't remember what happened, it's time to stop reading.

3.  If reading it leaves you physically and emotionally exhausted/ cranky/ borderline psychopathic, it was probably time to stop reading a while ago.

4.  If reading makes you need to go to sleep, it's time to stop reading.  Unless you're having trouble sleeping, in which case it might be handy to keep the book on hand for nights when your brain has trouble shutting down.

5. If doing the dishes/ your laundry/ your homework suddenly seems very appealing by comparison, it's time to stop reading.

6.  If you are able to tell me what has been going on on Neighbours, Home and Away, The Shire or Being Lara Bingle lately, then it's time to stop pretending you've been reading.

7.  If the book is currently being used as a cup holder, a leaning block for painting your nails, a paper weight or toilet paper, it's time to stop reading.

8.  If you find yourself drifting off into thought while you're reading, only to emerge chapters later to realise that you just relived the last trip to the dentist you had in excruciating detail, it's time to donate that book to someone less interesting than yourself.

9.  If the book doesn't inspire you/ make you think about the world in a new way/ teach you something/ know about basic grammar and spelling rules/ feature characters who are realistic and likeable or at least admirable in their unlikableness then it's probably not a good book and you should only continue reading it if you want to use it as a learning exercise in what not to do.

10.  If you are tempted, like the author I mentioned, to physically damage the book, stop.  It's never worth it.

Remember: the book you can't finish now might be the book you devour and love at a later date when the time is right.  When I first read Wuthering Heights I couldn't even tell you what was going on.  It's now one of my all-time favourites.

As for right now, I'll be returning my copy of Ulysses to its spot on the shelf until next Bloomsday.

What have you tried to read lately that you just couldn't finish?

On another completely unrelated note, at work on Sunday, I overheard a mother talking to her daughter.  The daughter wanted to know what "that book up there" was about, the book in question being 50 Shades of Grey.  The mother explained that it was about a relationship between a man and a woman but it wasn't a very good book.  "Why not?" asked the girl.  The mother, trying to be diplomatic, answered that she didn't believe or want to believe that anyone would let someone be that mean to them as the relationship in the book was not a good one.  I thought this was a lovely, concise recap of what irks me about that book and I commend the lady for giving it.  


  1. I started reading the sequel to Christopher Paolini's Eragon, 'Eldest' in ....I think it was 2007-08? It made it all the way to Paris/NY with me and I read it in my hotel room to the point where I could not stand to look at it for another moment.

    I was bored to frustration (so I can relate to this adorable bull dog!)

    safe to say I will be wikipedia-ing the end of the series and chucking Eldest out (preferably across a long distance. That sounds very frustration relieving!)

    Wise points. I find I hit those points of "I can't read this book because ..." too often.

  2. Oh thank goodness.

    I always feel really really guilty for not finishing books. There have been a couple of occasions when I think I haven't been ready to read a certain book yet, and have to leave it be for a year or so and then come back to it.

    You have freed me of my guilt Emily. :)


Leave a comment