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…
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.
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.
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.
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.