For most of my life, I dealt with a horrible book-reading condition that required me to finish a book once I started it. If I read even a few sentences, that was the book I was reading until it was done. Most of the time it was no big deal because I know what I like and I rarely chose wrong. But even my favorite authors write books that sometimes don’t click with me. Didn’t matter though. I just *had* to finish what I’d started…which led to some excruciating reading experiences. A book that should take about a week to read would take a couple months. Rather than looking forward to sitting down with the novel every chance I got, I’d set the book down and do *anything* else but read. Eventually I’d slog my way through it, occasionally being rewarded when the story picked up speed, but usually feeling disappointed by the waste of time and lack of enjoyment.
Thankfully I was able to break this tedious habit at around age 25. The book that did it was Robert Jordan’s Winter’s Heart, the 9th book in his Wheel of Time series. The Wheel of Time is a fantasy series dealing with magic, war, intrigue, etc. Think Game of Thrones Lite. It’s a series I had been reading for years, a series of massive doorstopper-sized books, a series I had invested dozens and dozens of hours into. While I thoroughly enjoyed the first handful of books, the storylines started to really draw out and get soooooo sloooooow. When Winter’s Heart released, I bought it right away, but wasn’t as excited to jump right into it as I was with previous installments. And rightfully so. I want to say the prologue alone was something like 125 pages, and it was brutally slow. Gone was the action and intrigue, only to be replaced by detailed descriptions of people’s clothing, buildings’ architecture, and foods’ taste and smell. I made it around 100 pages after a couple weeks, and during one two-to-three page stretch I said to myself, “Why the hell am I still reading this book? I’m bored out of my mind and getting absolutely, positively no enjoyment from this.” And just like that, the curse was snapped. I put the book aside and moved on with my life.
Now, don’t get me wrong…this was still a tough transition. I was still far too forgiving, and still dove much too deep into books that didn’t deserve my time. But fast forward another decade, at this point around age 35, and I’d become unflinching when it came to ridding myself of books that brought me no joy. If a book wasn’t grabbing me within a few pages, I’d set it down and try a new one. I might be willing to give one of my favorite authors fifty pages or so, but that’s usually the cutoff.
Hmm…three paragraphs in, and I still haven’t gotten to the point. Probably time, huh?
In the last year or so it’s hit me that there’s no way I’ll get to read all of the books I’d like to get to in my lifetime. I just turned 40 late last year. On average, I’m past middle age (the average life expectancy of a U.S. male being somewhere around age 76…females get a bit longer, at around 81). In recent years I’m finishing approximately 20 books per year, give or take, which means I have roughly 720 books left to read if I stay healthy enough throughout the course of my life. That seems like a large number — I’m sure there are people who won’t read 7 books in a lifetime, let alone 720 — but for someone who enjoys reading, that 720 will get eaten up quickly. I’d like to read the entire Nameless Detective series by Bill Pronzini, of which I’ve only read 9 of the 40+ novels. I’m also a fan of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels, of which I’ve only read 10 of the 50+ novels. I’m hoping to read series I haven’t even started yet, like the Travis McGee books by John D. MacDonald (20+ books) and the Harry Bosch novels by Michael Connelly (almost 20 books). I’d like to keep reading new books by my favorite authors as they come out (Stephen King, Robert McCammon, Lawrence Block, Caroline Kepnes, etc). I’d like to try new authors I haven’t gotten to yet. And…well, you get the point.
To bring this back around to my opening, there’s simply not enough time to waste on books that are not clicking with you. A book should grab you from the onset, transport you almost immediately into a world you want to experience, a world you’re sad to leave every time you have to close the cover, and worse, leave forever when the story is over. I have such fond memories of books that made me laugh or cry or think about a topic in a different light. Unfortunately, I also have memories of books like the aforementioned Winter’s Heart. So I would encourage you to just let a book go if you’re not being fulfilled. Yes, you may have spent a good chunk of money on it. Yes, the plot may pick up if you give it another few pages. Yes, the book may have come recommended from a friend who enjoyed it. Yes, the book may have received critical praise. But this is you and your time we’re talking about here. If you enjoy reading, use your time wisely. Read books that speak to you, entertain you, or educate you. There are plenty of books either in your pile of purchases or waiting to be discovered on the shelves that are more worthy of your time than the one that’s holding you back from them.
Until we meet again…