Don’t judge a book by its size, or why I sometimes give up on books

To save some space in my carry-on luggage while packing for a business trip, I sought a thin paperback from my pile of books to read. The majority of those books are not compact by any means, but I did find one that I was glad to fit into my small purse. “Excellent,” I thought, until two hours into my four-hour flight from Toronto to Calgary, when I struggled to stay awake. Please understand, dear reader, that no matter how tired I might be, a good book will rarely, if ever, put me to sleep. I can easily fight sleep in order to continue reading, then pay for it in the morning.

I have recently become better at practising self-discipline when it comes to my bedtime, reminding myself that sleep is more important than reading. I turn off the lights before heeding the tempting invitation of “One more chapter.” The book I held in my hands on Sunday evening did not fit into the category of great books that I could devour in one sitting, given the opportunity. I gave the book another chance by continuing to read on my return flight, but didn’t find it any better. I look at it now and wonder whether, 150 pages in, I should continue to stick with it or abandon it altogether.

I used to feel guilty about abandoning a book after starting to read and finding it uninteresting, or simply not enjoying the subject matter, plot line, or characters. I have since become more strict about how I spend my time and am selective about the books to which I choose to dedicate my hours. I have learned to abandon books, yet the feeling of guilt lurks. Do you ever feel that way?

Whenever I start to doubt whether to abandon a book or to continue reading, I revert to a few criteria points:
1. The plot is boring or not interesting to me. This is somewhat tricky. I found James Joyce’s Ulysses boring but stuck with it because, well, it’s a classic. I might need to re-read it several more times before I can fully gain an appreciation for the book.

2. The writing is not great. I love good prose and dislike melodramatic inner dialogue that seems to spin in circles for too many pages. At the risk of sounding snobby, I will also say that I generally avoid books with language that is too pedestrian and books that read like a movie script without intending to be so. When it comes to non-fiction, I am averse to a preachy tone.

3. I dislike or feel unable to relate to more than one of the characters. I consider myself to be open-minded to various views, opinions, and personalities, but some characters can be simply drab. If the plot and characters annoy me, the challenge of continuing the book becomes cumbersome.

4. The book annoys me for one reason or more. This one goes hand-in-hand with numbers 1 and 3 above.

5. The subject matter is disturbing to me. I like some suspense and crime fiction, but tend to choose the classic Agatha Christie books or those inspired by Christie. I don’t mind classic macabre fiction, but generally stay away from thriller-style books the main objective of which is often to simply be sensationalist. I am also drawn to fiction set in WWII era, but can only take so much when reading true accounts of what happened during the war. This is not because I am disillusioned in any way. On the contrary. I am a grandchild of a holocaust survivor and grew up with real stories of the horrors of that time. Rather, as an HSP, I know that for self-preservation, I must approach such material with care.

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How about you? Do you read every book cover to cover, or do you abandon books that do not interest you? What is your criteria for giving up on a book? Please leave a comment below.

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