Disappointment. There’s no other feeling in the world quite as crushing as disappointment, especially when it comes to reading a book you thought you were going to like. Apart from the fact you’ve already invested time and money into this book, you now find yourself in a horrible dilemma: to finish or not to finish?
Strange as it may seem to the uninitiated, there is a sense of personal failure and social stigma attached to giving up on a book; almost as if we were too lightweight to bear the responsibility for choosing the wrong book. And so, we grit our teeth and read on: another hundred, two hundred, or even four hundred pages of despair, anguish and disappointment.
I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve actually abandoned altogether. Some have sorely tempted me at points but there are an elite class of books which have been so abhorrent to me that I’ve been forced to quit. If you’re reading a novel you’re not too sure about, here’s a few warning signs that it might be time to abandon it altogether,
randomly helpfully illustrated with Star Trek gifs.
When You Know Exactly How Many Pages Are Left Until The End
There are books of all different kinds of length out there. There are long books and there are short books; there are long books that feel short and there are short books that feel long.
Even the shortest little novellas can be a chore if we can only bring ourselves to read one or two pages at a time. On the flip-side, I read the full, unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo, and despite being one of the longest books on my shelf, it was a joy to read and was over far too soon. But with other books (including much shorter books), all I can think about is how many pages there are left until the end. Eventually I find myself literally doing sums to work out how many pages are left, not just once, but once or twice in every sitting. When you get to that stage, it’s time to chuck that sucker out. Life’s too short.
When You Start Making Excuses Not To Read
I read lots. I do it because I like it. I read in the evenings after my daughter’s gone to bed, I read immediately before I go to bed, I read during my lunch break at work and I read pretty much any other spare moment I get during my day when I’m not working, writing or playing with my daughter. But every now and again, with some books, all of that changes:
My daughter’s finally asleep! Time to fire up the Xbox...
Reading just before bed? Not tonight dear, I’ve got a headache.
Work is busy; there’s no time to have a leisurely lunch/reading break.
Spare moments to read? I don’t have any spare moments to read. I’ve got to install a brand new field induction sub-processor!
All these little excuses only make the book last longer and rob me of one of my favourite past times. Time to bite the bullet and read something else.
When You Hope The Hero’s Mission Fails and They Die Horribly
Let’s be honest. Most novels conclude with the protagonist winning, or at the very least growing in some way. They seldom die a meaningless death and the bad guy generally won’t ever win.
That’s partly why it’s so important for the reader to sympathise with the protagonist. Sure, the protagonist should have weaknesses, flaws and outright bad qualities; that’s part of being a believable person. But if you find yourself developing an active hatred for the protagonist, you’re unlikely to find the end of the story satisfying. Moreover, you’ll suffer throughout the entire novel, because following the adventures of a protagonist you hate is a bit like being forced to sit next to a co-worker you hate all day, every day. It grates on your nerves and arouses your most violent instincts. You hope they die, painfully, in a pool of their own vomit*.
If you find yourself hating the protagonist with such a passion, get out of there fast.
When You feel Personally Insulted by the Author
I’ve spoken before about how important themes are to a good story, and how a theme or moral we disagree with doesn’t make it a bad story. Indeed, it’s good for a novel to challenge the things you take for granted and no subject should be off limits. It’s good to be forced to think.
Nevertheless, some novels do it better than others. If you feel personally ridiculed, attacked, stereotyped or preached at by the author, don’t feel bad about abandoning it. Remember, reading a book is a one way dialogue. You can’t answer it back when it offends you in some significant fashion**. All you can do is swallow it or chuck it, and I, for one, see no reason to sit there and be insulted in your own living room.
When You Begin Every Sitting By Telling Your Family How Much You Hate This Book
When we normal people read a book and enjoy it, we tend to read it quietly and despise interruptions. However, every now and then, I will punctuate my own reading sessions with little outbursts to my family, friends, co-workers or anyone else in earshot:
‘I’m really not enjoying this book…’
‘I hope this book gets better or I’ve wasted £12 and untold hours of my life on it for nothing…’
‘Do you think it’s too late to get a refund on this book?’
Sometimes, in extreme circumstances, I will even rant about a book before I pick it up, just to get me in the mood for reading it.
‘Urrghh, well, I suppose it’s time to read another chapter of this horrible little book…’
If you love your family, you won’t force them to share in your suffering. If you can’t read it without whining about it, just stop reading it.
*Unlike with fictional characters, you can’t simply throw away co-workers you don’t like and wishing real people dead will poison your soul. Please, try to get along with them and be kind to everybody.
**Well, you could always write to the author but please don’t; they’re entitled to publish their opinions. Nobody is forcing you to read it.
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