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How to Abandon a Book

Abandoned Book

Americans are ferociously pragmatic. We nurture an appetite for quick and easy.

For practical. Effective. Profitable.

We love racy articles on how to retire early. How to cram for a test. How to shave a pound off our tummy.

And we want these articles to hammer home the point in 5, 10 or 15 easy steps.

Don’t make me think. At least not too hard.

That’s the prevailing MO.

Naturally, this pragmatism MUST be avoided when it comes to cherishing a spouse, attending a cocktail party or raising children.

But I do strongly believe some things are in lock-step with expediency…

Like reading books.

The Bookworm and His Perennial Pain

Why this near-demonic urgency? If you’re like me, you have a stack of unread books on your desk. On your shelf. In your car. And…

list of books you’d like to knock out by year’s end.

To make matters worse, every single day you hear about one more book you want to read.

What is a bookworm to do? My answer: Be ferociously pragmatic.

What Ferociously Pragmatic Looks Like

Perhaps this means you have to occasionally barrel through a 291 page book in two hours. Or clear a Saturday to motor through three books by Milton Friedman, Jonathan Franzen or Seth Godin.

Take your pick.

But whatever is on your reading list one thing is clear: You must have a purpose. You must know what you are doing. And you must know when to quit a book when it’s lost it’s capacity to satisfy you.

In other words, you must know when to abandon it.

The Little Secret to Abandoning Books

You probably didn’t know this, but there’s an instinct to abandoning a book. Sort of like foraging for food. Except you are foraging for information. You are following a scent. An information scent.

And if while reading a book you lose that scent, you should stop and move onto something else.

For me, 50 pages is the limit at which I will endure a book that’s lost it’s scent before I abandon it. Take  Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story  for example.

This was the first book I picked up by Shteyngart. I completely ignored his first two books, and would’ve done the same with this book if not for this trailer.

I busted a gut watching that video and figured I’d enjoy reading the book. I dig people with a wicked sense of humor.

But just two pages in I closed the book.

Why? I can’t stand gimmicky books about a protagonist’s journey to self-discovery.

It’s the same reason I did not like Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated, Egger’s  A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or Smith’s On Beauty.

They’re self-indulgent and creep me out. Why waste my time?

Instead, I read Jonah Lehrer’s Proust Was a Scientist and a play by Skakespeare. One modern and one classic. I found these to books to satisfy my current reading goal, which was to round out some thoughts I had about classic literature.

They both kept the scent I was after.

The Risk I’m Willing to Take

In one night I read scanned 200 pages of The Shack long after it lost the scent I was after, which was nothing more than a marginal grasp of it’s content.

This brings me to my next point.

What if the LAST 50 pages of a book are magic? Well, that’s a risk I’m willing to take. However, if I hear enough people endorsing the last 50 pages of a book, I’ll go back and read those 50.

Maybe.

Bottom line: Know when to stop reading a book that is bad. Whether “bad” means the writer is second rate or “bad” means the book isn’t giving you want you need.

Life is short to waste on bad books. And that’s my prevailing reading MO.

Your Turn

Are you a purposeful reader? Do you have a reading plan? How long before you abandon a book? Or do you feel guilty not finishing books you’ve started?

Love to hear your thoughts. Brutal and all.

Comments

  1. I’ve been a bookworm all my life and have never abandoned a book… until a couple of years ago. I would stay up as long as it took to finish it, even when my interest was long lost. I tried it once and I felt like I have just killed somebody :)

    As it became physically impossible to go through all of them, definitely a bigger murder scene, I accepted my condition and started ditching them. I always read the final pages though. Makes me feel better about the abandon :)

    • Wow, Andrea, you must have had some serious guilt, eh? I’ll read the last pages of a book, too, even if I intend to read the whole thing. What can I say, I hate surprises. Makes me nervous. Love your blog title, by the way. ;)

  2. Awesome post Demian!

    It’s my first time here. I have a huge collection of books, and people always ask me if I’ve read them all. My answer is ‘no’…then they look at me funny, like I’m some kind of fraud.

    My brother reads any book he starts from first page to last, before he buys another one. I can’t do this…I abandon books all the time (yes, I feel guilty)

    but my rebuttal to people is this. I at any moment have at my disposal a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips. I don’t have to go anywhere.

    If I want advice on copywriting, marketing, writing fiction…all I have to do is go to my bookcase and within minutes have two arm-full of books on that topic.

    BTW, I read “The Shack”, all of it, I don’t know why, I didn’t see the hype, a million people can be wrong.

    I’ve also read a lot of gems, that I never thought I would read. Unknown authors and titles that turned out to be amazing reads.

    from one copywriter to another, Thanks! I will return…

    • Zac, really good to hear from you. Glad you swung by and commented. It’s nice to see another direct-response minded writer. [I peeked at your blog.]

      And with you on this: own lots of books I haven’t read. Dabbled in, but haven’t read. Ben Johnson said, when a friend saw him fingering the titles of books on an acquaintances bookshelf and asked what he was doing, said, “It’s not so much that you know a lot about a topic but where you know to find out more about it.” Or something to that effect.

      Look forward to learning more about you, sir. Thanks for swinging by!

  3. Jeff S. says:

    Nice post, I wish I found this earlier. It would have lessened my guilt of not finishing books! I have read about 10 books this year and a few were so dry that I found myself reading pages and not knowing what I read after two minutes.

    I’ve always had the philosophy, if you spend money on books, then you have to finish it. But you know its time to abandon a book when your mind frequently wanders about something else!

    • It’s been a REALLY long time since I bought a book…the way I do it is get all my books from the library…if I like it enough, I’ll buy a copy. Like I said, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve spent my money on books. I figure if I can get them at the library, even if I love them, then they’re as good as mine. ;) Thanks for swinging by and commenting, sir!

  4. Great post Demian. I really need to get better about doing this. For some reason, I just can’t give up a book yet…especially if it’s one I bought (I’m a little less hesitant with library books).

    I just equate that with me giving up or not following through with my intentions…but I think I need to reframe that. I need to see it as freeing my time up to spend it on another book that’ll interest me more. And that’s it. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Thanks Jaemin! I know it’s not easy, but once you get into the habit and realize how much time you don’t have to read, you get a little aggressive. ;) By the way, what are you reading?

      • At the moment, I’m reading Proficient Motorcycling, The Power of Full Engagement, and checking out a sample of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story. What about you?

  5. Nice! You’ve said perfectly what I’ve thought for years!

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