When do you abandon a book? A moral or literary dilemma.

Sweating my way through another insomniac night recently, I read an interesting Zite article on my iPad. “When do you abandon a book” brings up a problem that I am finally

Oil on canvas portrait of Empress Catherine th...
Oil on canvas portrait of Empress Catherine the Great by Russian painter Fyodor Rokotov (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

old enough to deal with: admitting when  a book isn’t grabbing me and not feeling it’s my fault. For years, I’ve plowed through every book I started whether on paper or on cd. I’ve felt that I was somehow inadequate and a quitter to abandon a book that just didn’t capture my attention. That the fault lay with me and not with the author.

Maybe it’s all those years ago of schooling and being an “English Literature” major where you are required to read every  Shakespeare, Proust and Homer epic because you had to and not because you wanted to. The habit of plowing through books became ingrained in my literary psyche.

But I am older now, and if not wiser, I am certainly more aware of the limits of time and imagination. I don’t have the years left to read lousy books, or books that simply aren’t on a topic or in a style that excite me. I certainly can’t waste time on trashy novels (except on vacation  or an intercontinental flight when standards fly dissipate in high altitudes. So, I’m holding out against E. L. James’ erotic tale 50 Shades of Grey no matter the hype or heavy breathing.).

With this new confidence, I will knowingly check out several books on tape from the library at at time. If I haven’t been grabbed by the middle of the 2nd CD, then bye bye book.  In hard or soft cover, I will read up to page 100. By 101, a book is history if I’m not hooked. With a Kindle or iBook download, the 100 page limit still stands in giving a book a chance.

Books don’t need to be easy but they do need to be compelling. I just finished listening to 19 CDs of Catherine the Great. Told through diaries and journals of the period, I learned so much about Russian history in the time of the Czars and of Catherine’s extraordinary accomplishments, including bringing Enlightenment ideas to the Russian establishment and dealing with a reputed 19 lovers.

I belonged to a book club for years and one of my frustrations was reading blah novels just because it was the month’s pick. I looked forward to their summer hiatus where I could read (or listen to) any books of my own choosing like Verghese’s powerful Cutting for Stone and Ann Patchett‘s  latest novel State of Wonder.

I do suffer real regret at the end of great book where parting is such sweet sorrow. It’s equally hard to start a new book after losing a loved literary companion. Currently, I’m on the 2nd CD of The Forgotten Waltz and despite the author’s Booker Prize credentials, I’m thinking this story will soon be heading back to the library. The 2nd CD rule is infallible.

I’ve come to the point in my life that starting a book is like going on a blind date. You need to give a book a chance…but you know by the end of a grande coffee whether there’s a future there!  Is there an attraction, a magical frisson of interest, a scent of good things to come? If not, you move on. Life is too short to read dead end books or start dead end romances.

So, abandoning a book is no longer a moral question for me, a statement of personal failing. It’s a statement of belief that the right book is out there for me. I may have to kiss a few frogs, but when I find a keeper…I’ll keep driving just to keep listening. Which may be good for my literary life but costly at the pump!

Do you have book abandonment issues? Do share…

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