I’m Learning How to Not Finish Books

Before now, I was one of those readers who only occasionally dropped books even when it became apparent that they were not giving me enough to justify the time/energy I was pouring into reading them.

Does this have something to do with formal education, where students are pushed into reading books they otherwise would not read because of academic pressure? Perhaps. I think it has more to do with some of my favorite books which I read before the age of 20 being books which I initially dropped, only to return to them later and discover they were awesome. After discovering that some of these books which I had initially dropped were wonderful, I lost trust in myself in figuring out if a book was really good before I read the whole thing. That does not mean I never dropped books before finishing them – I think that is practically impossible even for the most committed of readers. I did, however, charge through a lot of books that failed to engage me, simply because I had already started them and I was not sure that they would not turn around.

Then I realized a huge flaw in this approach: my life is finite.

Even if I dedicated every minute of my life to reading books (impossible), I would not be able to read every book which interests me. Since, realistically, I can only dedicate a fraction of my time as a living person to reading books, the constraint is even tighter.

As I’ve read more and grown older, I have a better sense of which books are going to engage me than when I was a teenager. Right now, I would reckon that, if a book has failed to engage me within the first 100 pages, it only has a 1/50 chance of engaging me if I continue reading to the end.

Thus, my new reading goal is: at the 100-page mark, I make a decision to either drop the book or keep reading. And if I’m on the fence, the answer is to drop the book.

I know that this will cause me to drop some books which will turn out to be wonderful if I keep reading. But 49/50 times, it’s going to take time away from reading an even more engaging book. If I want to maximize the number of wonderful books (per my subjective judgment) in my lifetime, I need to drop books that are not engaging me.

What is a book which ‘engages’ me? Any book which makes me want to know what is coming next. It does not need to be full of cliffhangers. It does not even need to be a good book. I have read some really badly written books which still gave me the urge to keep reading.

Likewise, there are well-written books that have failed to engage me.

Just today (the day I wrote this post, not the day the post is being published) I made the decision to drop a book after crossing the 100-page mark. It was hard, because I still think the basic concept of the book is cool, and I really want the book to turn around and be as awesome as I hoped it would be. But, when I was really honest with myself, I realized that the only thing which would keep me going is what I imagined the book to be before I started reading it, not how the book actually is in the first 100 pages. Maybe it is the 1-in-50 books which really does turn around after a hundred pages – but according to the odds, finding a book that engages me based is a better use of my time. Therefore, it has been deleted from my ebook reader.

After the book was deleted, I felt relief.

I really hope that this will increase the number of genuinely engaging books that I read in my finite lifespan.

What about you? How do you decide which books to finish and which books to drop?

3 thoughts on “I’m Learning How to Not Finish Books

  1. Pingback: Revenge & Survival Fantasies > Power Fantasies | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  2. Pingback: What I’m Learning from Not Finishing Books | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  3. Pingback: Testing My Resolution to Quit Books Which Grip Me Not: The Lying Life of Adults | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

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