Up until very recently, I was a firm believer that you should always power through a book to the end, regardless of its appeal, length or quality. This principle was motivated by a number of factors, including:
- a simple desire to find out what happens
- a respect for the time and effort the author has put into producing the work
- a sense of completion at the end that aligns with my inbuilt impulse to neatly box away everything in life
Unfortunately, I have encountered a book which has forced me to abandon this enduring cornerstone of my existence.
Prior to December 2016, I had only failed to finish two books in my life. These were The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens and Villette by Charlotte Brontë. I excuse them from the annals on account of my being a teenager at the time and just plain tired of reading classics. I’ve never gone back to them and probably never will.
But, apart from those two blips, I have been consistent: start a book, finish it, no exceptions. Then, before Christmas, I chose to read a book that changed my attitude.
It was Lovers and Liars by Josephine Cox. I gave it my best shot, really I did. I read it on my Kindle so I can confirm that I persevered through 36% of it before I gave up. This was enough to establish a decent impression of the writing style and to ascertain that it wasn’t likely to improve any further into it.
I won’t go on for pages about its faults but I will admit that the writing was a considerable disappointment to me. It felt clumsy, in the way that the author used dialogue to supply huge information dumps, or allowed scenes to meander without significance to the main plot. I constantly found myself itching to edit. In addition to all this, the story was supposed to hinge on the deep love between two of the main characters who were torn apart early on in the book, and the problem with that was I just didn’t believe it at all. I adore love stories but could not get invested in this one, because the characters seemed underdeveloped and their attachment inauthentic.
At first, I didn’t intend to give up on it totally. I decided to take a break from it as I was getting to the point where I wasn’t looking forward to reading, or just avoided it altogether. As both a reader and a writer, I found this a particularly unhappy place to be. So I told myself I would put Lovers and Liars on hiatus and give something else a go for a while. The ‘something else’ was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and it proved to be a very good decision.
This eighth instalment in the Harry Potter series is actually a play written by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. It opened on the West End in July and the script was released at the same time for those of us unable to go see it in the theatre. Given that it is composed entirely of dialogue without any narrative, I wasn’t sure what kind of reading experience I was in for but it turned out to be an easy read, and thoroughly enjoyable! I really liked seeing what happened to Harry and all his friends and family nineteen years after the seventh novel ended and there were some lovely touches that made it wonderful to revisit that magical world. (And it left me dying to see how they could possibly use Polyjuice Potion on stage.)
But the most important function The Cursed Child served was to remind me what it feels like to look forward to reading. I comprehended just how worn down I’d become from forcing myself to read a book that I found so dissatisfying. And that’s when I decided I wasn’t going to return to Lovers and Liars. It simply wouldn’t be worth the time and energy to get through it. I didn’t care enough to know how it would end to be able to excuse the quality of the writing.
You see, I’ve come to the sad realisation that I will never be able to read all the books in the world, or even all the great books in the world. And, with time so precious, I just can’t devote any more of it to reading something I don’t enjoy. So from now on my policy will be to give a book a decent chance (I think a good third of it is reasonable) and then make a call as to whether I’m happy to carry on with it. Tough but necessary measures!
What about you? Do you find it easy to drop a book you don’t like? Or do you prefer to push on to the end, no matter what? I’d love to hear what you think!