Last month, Sonya Chung had a post at The Millions on breaking up with books: quitting a book mid-read.
Now, I’m a big fan of Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50: if you’re under fifty years of age, read the first fifty pages of a book and, if you’re not enjoying it, stop; if you’re over fifty years of age, subtract your age from 100, read that many pages of the book, and, if you’re not enjoying it, stop. I apply this rule often—there is just not enough time, and I am blessed to live a life filled with far more free books than I can possibly read. However, some books I’ve really tried to keep reading, hoping that if I just keep slogging through it I’ll love it.
These tend to be books that were recommended by people who are important to me, whose opinions I respect, and who know me well. With those recommendations behind them, they’re books I should really love, right?
Alas, it is not always so.
My mother is an avid reader, and her particular Genre Of Choice is historical fiction, which I often appreciate as well. I also minored in Medieval Studies and am particularly interested in the British Isles. So, logically, my mother suggested I read one of her all-time favorites: Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman, historical fiction set in thirteenth-century England and Wales. The historical research is impeccable, the sense of place and time is excellent, the book well written… but after a couple hundred pages of constant wanting to throttle the main character, I realized that I would be happier if I didn’t put myself through several hundred more pages of wanting to throttle the main character, who was showing no inclination to open her eyes and abandon her naivete.
And then there’s one of my dad’s favorite books, The Book of Flying by Keith Miller. It’s fantasy about a librarian, a book about books, totally my kind of thing! And a hundred pages in, the writing was oh so beautiful, but it felt like nothing had happened. It was like reading Ursula Le Guin, and I’d already accepted that I am a deficient fantasy reader because I don’t particularly like Le Guin’s books. So I gave up.
It’s not just a family thing. One of my dearest friends recommended The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne Valente. Once again, the writing was gorgeous, and in this case, the form was brilliant—layered folktales, overlapping stories blending and developing and unfolding and interlocking. The problem was blood: the magic in these stories required women’s blood. Lots of it. I reached a point where I couldn’t deal with another woman tearing into herself—and I didn’t particularly want to deal with it.
I still respect and value the literary opinions of my parents and my friend—and have read and enjoyed other books recommended by all three—but these books and I, we just didn’t mesh.
So, dear readers, what books have you been recommended but abandoned (or wish you’d had the guts to abandon them?) Or did you soldier through and find the payoff? What other books did you stop reading, for whatever reasons?