Michael Brown

The Paradise Wars and Clark Ransom Thrillers

Can You Stop Reading A Book You Don’t Like?

Is Stubbornness in the Book  of Virtue?neanderthal

A couple of weeks ago I went to a concert. The seats were uncomfortable: metal bridge chairs that threw my back into a spasm after ten minutes. At the halfway point, already an hour into the concert, I had shifted every way I could in the cramped space (think unenhanced economy on a commuter plane) and hadn’t heard a single Argentinian cabaret song for at least fifteen minutes.

Not only did the chair torture me, the sound system wasn’t the best. The singer was barely adequate, or perhaps would have been in a more intimate cabaret setting, but not in that open stone hall of a house: a house of some grandeur three hundred years ago in colonial Mexico but now was a had-seen-better-days echo chamber.

I had come on the promise of hearing Edith Piaf songs. After all my Belgian mother had played Edith Piaf on our record player while she did housework when I was a kid.

But in agony at the halfway point, and seeing in the program there was going to be only one Piaf song at the end, I knew I couldn’t sit for another hour but also knew I would. Then I got a glance from one of my friends, then another, saying, “Enough is enough, right?”

We all got up and Left.

On my own, I would have stayed until the end. And now I’m wondering why?

Can There Be Virtue in Obsession?

Is it for the same reason once committed to reading a book, I will stick with it, albeit boring, poorly written, or something that elicits little interest? No matter what, I will stick with it.

Sometimes I’m glad to be obsessive. When I was in grad school eons ago, and studying Medieval Lit, a traveling salesman, literally, knocked on my and my ex wife’s Providence apartment and convinced us to buy the Great Books of the Western World, the University of Chicago’s collection of the seminal works of Western Civilization.

Over the years I would read parts here and there. Try a little Kant, and despair. Try a little Aquinas and despair more. Finally, I decided instead of the grand project of reading every page of the Great Works, I would follow their suggested ten-year reading plan. I am now halfway through the third year, reading The Annals by Tacitus. Difficult reading, but not bad, because it deals with the Roman emperors and is source material for many things like PBS’ I Claudius … yet for the most part tedious.

Yet, when I complete one of these Great Books, I feel I better understand how ideas form who we are, and have faith the effort will be repaid through the ideas that inform my own writing.

Does Reading Have Its Own Biorhythms?

There are other times when, in the middle of a book I had enjoyed, enthusiasm vanishes. The book sits on my nightstand or in my Kindle library, and every time I think I should just pick it up and finish, my eyes grow heavy and I begin to fall asleep. Yet, if I turn to a new book that for some reason sparked my interest — about a new way to use a piece of software or promises a new exercise technique can make aches and pain and fat disappear — sleepiness falls away and I can read all night.

I wonder. Are there reading biorhythms? Or cycles of desire the unconscious expresses through what it needs to read?

Maybe I can’t abandon the book that has become boring, because my unconscious knows best? Whatever the reason, I don’t abandon the book. It gets finished one day. Often through sheer determination.

Or am I just nuts? Is there something pathological going on, something akin to a phobia?

The Never Ending Stack of Books by the Bed

There is also the inconvenience: putting aside books, but not dropping them, can lead to a long list of “currently reading” on Goodreads.

This is what is on my figurative bed stand now:

A Brief History of Everything, by Ken Wilber
Nicholas Roerich, Garabed Paellian
Annals, Tacitus
Lovely, Dark, Deep, Joyce Carol Oates
Aeon Timeline User’s Guide
Letting Go, Philip Roth
Aging Backwards, Melissa White
Self-Publishing, Joanna Penn
The Problems of Humanity, Alice Bailey
Getting Results the Agile Way, J.D. Meier
Pure, Andrew Miller

The list always becomes too long. After ten books on the currently-reading list, I reach a limit. Let me read at least five of them before adding more.

There are of course other lists, and lists of those lists. All books waiting for my brain to be sparked.

For example, I have read all of the books now available for Game of Thrones, except for one. And I gotta do that, right? Not doing so would haunt me.

Also lined up are the rest of Dickens and George Eliot, all the contemporary authors I haven’t read, etc., etc.

This endlessness could be crushing. But don’t I have a responsibility as a writer to read whatever enters my consciousness as something I should read?

But time isn’t infinite. Would it be better to read what I feel like reading, rather than what I think I should read?

Really What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

I want to complete my ten year Great Books reading plan. And there’s that collection of great American novels I haven’t read. But what if I don’t complete the plan, don’t read the novels?

What will happen? Nothing, of course.

Just like nothing happened when I left the concert. I would have liked to stay for the whole concert. Had the chairs been a bit more comfortable. The acoustics better.

But once I start a book, I’m afraid I’ll read it until I’m done. For whatever reasons, obvious or obscure, it’s the way I’m built, and I guess that’s ok.

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10 Replies

  1. Micheline Brown

    It must run in the family. I will finish a book even if I don’t like it. But unlike you I will not start another book. I’ve been an avid reader all my life and truly admire anyone who has the ability to write. So I figure if they put the time and effort into writing a book I can do the same by reading it.

  2. Carol Walk

    I used to read and suffer until completed. Now, my life is growing short and I have decided to only do what adds value to my life. If I want to put a book down because it is difficult or painful, that’s not the right reason. It may well add to my life. If I want to put a book down because it is boring; I know how it will end; it’s not well written; the subject matter is not growing me in some way; I put it down with no guilt whatsoever. Well, well, I have conquered guilt in some areas. Que sorprisa!

  3. There’s always Cliff notes …

  4. Michael Brown

    Yes there is :)!

  5. Michael Brown

    Well I think it’s something I need to learn 🙂

  6. Lori

    I never stick with a book I can’t get into… life is short… why waste it!!! There’s always something else to do!! Unlike a bad movie… I can always get other things done during it 🙂

  7. Anne Foley

    I like your question. I only read one fiction book at a time. Thus the motivation to finish – to get to the next book or project. And so I have, in the past, found myself bogged down in a book and through sheer will dragged myself to the end. I don’t imagine authors would like to think readers are finishing their books with this attitude. I found myself dissatisfied with endings of enough books, that most recently I’ve let a book go and not finished it. I have to say it was empowering -after all I own the book; it doesn’t own me. And, so far at least, I haven’t lost sleep wondering about the end. An analogy would be when as I child I was forced to clean my plate – it’s good for you. As an adult I leave behind what I don’t like or want from a meal. Again very empowering!!

  8. Micheline Brown

    As an aside to my previous comment. I pretty much only pick up books by authors I like or recommended by someone whose judgement I trust.

  9. Chris

    Currently re-reading Team of Rivals in hard-bound; just finished “The Nightingale” on my Kindle app; am working through several of “The Great Courses” audio books; finishing up the eighth consecutive season of “House” on Netflix; and I could go on about other works-in-progress–media-much? I will finish everything eventually. Or not.

  10. Ed Tuder

    It’s liberating to learn somethings, be they books, movies, plays, are not worth finishing. If not engaged, or don’t care about the characters, just move on. There are better ways to waste time, which is finite

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