Book Abandonment, and Why It’s Okay


Readers often feel a sense of guilt when abandoning a book. It could be simply that we’re not quitters, determined to finish a project or task no matter how unenjoyable. We’ve committed to this book, checked it out at the library or paid good money for it at the bookstore, and we are damn well going to finish it. Even if it’s the last thing we do.

Maybe we’re also competitive or, if you will, gluttonous. We want to read as many books as we can get our hands on. We’ve told ourselves we were going to read X amount of books this year (I’m currently behind on my personal 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge). If we can simply push through this book, it’s one more toward that goal, but in doing so, we end up slowing ourselves down.

The reasons we choose to give up on a book vary. It’s naive to assume that because you like a book everyone else you know will too. Reading is subjective. Sometimes your favorite blogger or Goodreads reviewer will fail you.

Here are a few reasons it might be time to let a book go.

The writing isn’t very good.

I recently read a YA book that centers around bullying, suicide, aliens, and the end of the world. After reading the synopsis, I was hooked. Some of my favorite reviewers were praising the book, many hinting at an ending so satisfactory it could smooth out any bumps along the way.

But a chapter in, I could already tell that the ending would have to be pretty spectacular in order to do that.

I slogged through the book anyway, for two whole weeks, sighing and figuratively shaking my fist in the air each time I came across another scene that felt like filler or another passage of dialogue weighted down with more meaning and vocabulary words than any teenager I’ve met could muster. How did this book have over four stars on Goodreads? How had it become a starred review on Publishers Weekly? What was wrong with all of them, or, more likely, what was wrong with me that I couldn’t find any redeeming qualities—certainly none worth two weeks of my life—to make reading the book worthwhile?

The most grating thing of all was the portrayal of the main character’s inability to move forward after his boyfriend’s death. A repetitive inner monologue, something along the lines of “My boyfriend died. I’m sad. It was all my fault,” soon made me want to grab the main character by the shoulders and say, “You know what? Maybe it was your fault actually.” You damn whiner.

Yeah, I went there.

My point is: a book that’s poorly written and edited will drive you crazy, clearly. Leave strong sentiments for the books you actually like. Trust me, it’s not worth it. But hey, maybe you’re a hate reader.

You don’t have time.

I find that if a book is really good, I make the time for it. I put the laundry off for another week day or miss out on a few hours of sleep. I make this time even when I don’t actually have it—when I should probably just set the book down, step away, and focus on real life and all its demands. Even if they simply aren’t as interesting.

Other times I bury my nose in a book day after day, week after week, being distracted and pulled away but returning nonetheless out of sheer determination more than genuine interest.

As readers, both can be detrimental to our mental health in the worst cases and prevent us from fully absorbing the text in the best cases.

It isn’t the right time.

If I had a list of my top 10 favorite authors, Margaret Atwood would likely make that list. Yet I often find I have to be in a particular mood to truly enjoy Atwood’s works. There’s a quality to them, the way she carefully chooses each word like a poet, that makes me want to immerse myself in her writing.

The truth of the matter is sometimes a book can make us think too much or feel too much, which may or may not be exactly what we’re looking for in that moment. Other times, books are simply fun or entertaining—an escape from everyday life. In either case, we seek books out because they’re what we need in that moment. Moments pass, and that’s okay.

The book is “good” but not your cup of tea.

Ever read a book that just wasn’t doing it for you? It isn’t always the case these books are “bad”—they simply aren’t your thing. For some of us, whole genres of books often fall into this category. I don’t pick up romance novels for this very reason.

Other times it’s the characters themselves that turn us off a book. We can’t relate to them, their personality is grating, or perhaps (beautiful writing aside) character development falls flat.

It’s too much work (too literary, too many words to look up, etc.).

There’s a fine line between reading challenging books that teach you something new or open your mind to different ideas and pushing through a book simply because everyone else seems to think it’s a “must-read.” Or because a Forbes article said it would make you richer/smarter/more attractive. Or, even, because it’s a classic.

Of course, as any longtime reader knows, books can surprise you, picking up speed or transforming into something else entirely with each layer. We often give authors the benefit of the doubt, as far in as 100 pages or until the bitter end, on the hope that around one more curve lies a thing of beauty.

I do this more than I care to admit. Yet when I finish these books, I don’t feel any sense of accomplishment. I don’t wish I could go back to their pages, as if they were still fresh and new, so I could experience them again. Many times, I couldn’t even summarize their plots for you, as if I’ve erased them from my mind altogether. The guilt can have a way of stopping you from picking up that next title on your to-be-read list. What if it’s also a disappointment? This is how I know that, for me, it’s time to stop reading books I don’t enjoy.

This is how I know it’s also important to come up with a strategy you can implement to prevent the guilt from happening in the first place. A good book should make you hungry for the next one, not kill your appetite.

To lessen the guilt of book abandonment, try:

  • Checking books out at the library
  • Having several books lined up in your reading queue
  • Skimming books as much as possible beforehand


What books have you abandoned? What was your reason?

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