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How long do you give a book you don’t immediately love?

Jessie Gaynor

August 18, 2020, 10:45am

I used to be a steadfast book-finisher. At least when it came to books I picked up voluntarily, I was committed to gritting my teeth and cleaning my plate (unfortunately, this didn’t apply to the many assigned history texts I was supposed to read in college, which is why I will not be taking any questions about history at this time).

In the past few years, though, I’ve gotten much more comfortable with the idea that plenty of books—great books, even—just aren’t for me. I attribute this shift partially to an age-related increase in comfort about my own preferences (I’m no longer embarrassed to have the wrong opinion about a book. Most days, anyway), and partially to a greater appreciation for that fact that there are so many fucking books that slogging through one I don’t like only eats into my Fates-allotted reading time.

Still, I’m never sure how long to give a book that doesn’t grab me right away. Twenty pages? Fifty? The amount of time it would take me to watch one episode of 90 Day Fiancé before realizing that I’ve actually already watched that episode?

Much depends, of course, on hype, either from people I know or the bookselling machine at large. I’m also more inclined to stick with a book if it makes me laugh even once, which has surely knocked out some worthy, po-faced classics. I’ve lost steam after 100 pages, and I’ve quit in quiet disgust (Really? That’s how you describe an ass?) after five. And of course, these days, I’m more likely to blame quarantine malaise for my disinterest. Do I hate this book, or do I just hate sitting in this chair for the 130th day in a row? I suppose the lesson is that there’s no hard and fast rule, which has never in my life stopped me from wondering if I’m doing it wrong.

As comfortable as I’ve gotten with quitting books from time to time, I do feel, occasionally, a pang of regret (like when you break it off with someone after a few dates and they’re really gracious about it). The nice thing about books, of course, is that you can always pick back up where you left off. Maybe in a different chair.

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