We’ve all been in that dead end relationship. The one where no matter how much time you put into it, you never make any progress. The one where no matter how hard you try you just can’t muster up any affection, much less love.
Somehow, no matter how bad it gets—and believe me sometimes it gets very bad—you feel guilty about moving on. Maybe you were raised to stick things out, to eat all your vegetables, and to keep going.
I am here to liberate you from these soul sucking leaches on your time and joy. I too once struggled with misplaced commitment. I want to set you free.
I’m talking about books, of course.
My Breakup History
I can list three books that I broke up with. A biography of Mark Twain that betrayed its subject with its humorless and uninspired prose. The Book Thief because after a quarter of the way through I just didn’t care, and the Grim Reaper POV seemed too deliberately, pretentiously clever.
The third book was Prince of Tides. I made it nearly half way through that one before I shelved it. I didn’t hate it; this was a classic case of “It’s not you it’s me.” A few months later I went back to it.
Maybe I just needed to be in South Carolina to finish it. Maybe I needed to feel the hot dampness of the low country to put me back in the mood. I’m glad I finished it.
All great fictional families are dysfunctional and crazy, but there is a special kind of crazy reserved for Southerners–our own special breed of neurosis. And this is an incarnation of that dysfunction that should not be missed.
Ask yourself these questions to determine whether it’s okay to say “It’s not me; it’s you” to that novel.
- How old are you?
Nancy Pearl, a librarian and bibliophile, has a quick and dirty formula for how long to keep reading that is based on your age. It is not a new concept that the older you get the less tolerant you should become of bad or boring books, but Pearl makes it easy to remember when to call it quits.
In a nut shell if you are under the age of 50, you read fifty pages. If you are over 50, you subtract your age from 100, and read that many pages to determine if the book has hooked you.
Which means if you are writing for the 99 year old market, you better write one heck of an exciting first page.
- How lazy are you really?
Sometimes it isn’t the book; it’s you. We all have lazy brain moments (or days), but if your intellectual indolence is pathological, don’t quit that book quite yet.
Pushing through to read something challenging can be like a workout for your gray matter–quite unpleasant at the time, but ultimately rewarding. And it gets easier the more you practice.
- Why did you start?
If this question of quit or continue comes up while ocean waves are rolling onto the sand at your feet and the wind is whipping your hair and the sun is so bright the pages almost blind you. If you are sitting in a lounge chair poolside and sipping you beverage of choice at 11:00 a.m. and wondering if 10:30 a.m. was too early to wake up.
If this is your scenario, you are on vacation, and on vacation you read what you want.
Pulp novels, detective thrillers, predictable romance, epic fantasy tomes, comics, glossy magazines or the history of 14th century wood working tools. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. You read what you want.
However, if it is instead a cold night at 11:00 p.m. and the book in front of you was written by twelve people you’ve never heard of and it cost you more than the average annual income in West Africa, then it is probably a text book.
I do not advise quitting that.
At 11:00 p.m. I might suggest calling it quits for the night as retention and comprehension are probably low.
(Note: This is only valid if you actually go to bed. This does not make it okay to close the text book and spend the next two hours watching YouTube videos. Not that I would know anything about doing that.)
- Who wrote it?
If the author is not related to you, all the above rules still apply. If you see the author at Thanksgiving and Christmas, you better finish that book because when someone in your family writes a book, you read it.
It doesn’t matter if it isn’t your genre. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like steampunk, space-western, cannibalistic-pirate thrillers. You read that garbage, and you like it because that’s what family does.
And who knows, your crazy cousin may have just let you read the next Firefly before anyone else.