A message to those who feel the need to finish every book they start.

Delivered: The permission you needed just to let it go….

Hands up if your bedside table is stacked with books you’ve taking months to read?

Trendy winners of highbrow literary awards that you felt shamed into reading by your more cultured colleagues.

Old classics you missed in high school, without knowledge of which you feel robbed of a bunch of cultural references.

Non-fiction epics that, you’re sure, would enrich you with all of the knowledge about guns or steel or freakonomics, if only you could get past the first chapter.

You know you should sit down some rainy Saturday and just finish that book you were given for Christmas. But the truth is: you’re not enjoying it all that much. You keep finding yourself checking your Facebook news feed instead, then re-reading each sentence until you lose your thread in the narrative.

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“You know you should sit down some rainy Saturday and just finish that book you were given for Christmas. But the truth is: you’re not enjoying it all that much.”

Yep, whether it’s a hangover from the days we had to plow through lengthy tomes for school assignments, or whether we should blame our parents’ lectures about following through on commitments, many of us feel a solemn duty to read every last sentence of a dull book.

We Need to Talk About Kevin author Lionel Shriver has admitted to falling victim to this particular brand of reader guilt: As she writes for The Guardian, the “dumbest childhood vow” she ever made was to finish every book she started.

“Maintained well into adulthood, this policy turned reading the first page of any volume into a miniature death sentence,” she writes. “I imagined my compulsive completion a sign of adult seriousness.”

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“Go find one…. that speaks to you and makes you want to stay awake another five minutes to keep reading,” Rebecca Sparrow advises.

But here’s the thing: pushing through with a book you’re just not feeling is not helping anyone; it’s not proving anything impressive; it’s taking up time that you could be spending on something that speaks to you; and — if you’re zoning out every third paragraph — it’s probably not even teaching you very much.

“In truth, (my vow to finish every bood) was a vanity – a poorly thought-out and typically adolescent caprice,” Shriver admits.

Author and Mamamia columnist Rebecca Sparrow agrees, telling Mamamia: “I think life is too short to keep reading a book you think sucks.

If you’re reading a book because you think you’re meant to and everyone else is reading it and blah blah blah Booker Prize blah blah blah — well, get over yourself. Life’s too short,” she says.

“There are a million books out there that will make your heart sing,” she adds. “Go find one.”
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Sparrow suggests: “If it’s a book that’s been recommended to you by friends who think you’d LOVE it then sometimes it’s worth sticking with it – at least for another chapter.”

 

This is not to say you shouldn’t push through for a chapter or two to gauge if you and the book have any solid future together: “Granted, it’s a good idea to give some books a chance even if they don’t grab you at first, especially if they come recommended by someone you trust,” Shriver concedes. “But 50 pages is plenty, and with some books I have an allergic reaction after two or three.”‘

Sparrow concurs. “If it’s a book that’s been recommended to you by friends who think you’d LOVE it then sometimes it’s worth sticking with it – at least for another chapter,” she says. “After all, maybe you’re not ‘into’ the book because you’re preoccupied and can’t relax and concentrate.”
But once you’ve “got what you wanted” from a book — for example if you’ve read a book just to see what the fuss is all about — you should feel okay with trying something difference once you’ve “got the drift of it”, author of A for Angelica Iain Broome suggests.

“I remember doing this a few years ago with Me, Cheeta by James Lever,” he writes in an article on his blog. “It wasn’t a bad book but half way through I had the urge to move on. I’d got what I needed from it and could understand why some people loved it, but it wasn’t my cup of tea particularly. So I stopped reading.”

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“If  you push through past the first 50 pages or so and your eyes are still glazing over, I hereby give you permission to ditch that book you’ve been struggling to read for weeks or months.”

 

So if you push through past the first 50 pages or couple of chapters — whichever comes first — and your eyes are still glazing over?

I hereby give you permission to ditch that book you’ve been struggling to read for weeks or months. And, in fact, I hereby declare it your own fault if you push past that point and find yourself dreading your pre-sleepp reading hour.

As Shriver says: “I have occasionally heard from a reader fuming because he or she did not enjoy one of my novels yet still read to its bitter end. I reject this fury out of hand,” she writes. “Continue suffering and it’s not the author’s fault. It’s yours.”

So, when you get home tonight, be ruthless with that stack of pages on your bedside table, and keep only the books that will make you want to stay up way past your bedtime to eat up chapter after chapter.

Yeah, your sleep might suffer — but your bedside table will finally be free of the weight of the pages you used to aresentfully anticipate reading.

Most importantly, you’ll rediscover what’s so wonderful about books: their ability to inspire curiousity and joy. Because, as Sparrow puts it: “It shouldn’t be a chore.”

Do you always push through with books you can’t stand?

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