Here’s to Giving up

. . . on books you don’t enjoy reading, that is.

For most of the new year, I’d been working on Adam Levin’s mammoth (i.e., 1,030-page) tome The Instructions. And for most of that time, I was waiting for it to go somewhere. Finally, on page 272, I put it aside for a little while. I picked up Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics), have found it to be awesome, and am now reconciling myself to the fact that I probably won’t be going back to The Instructions. It will join Chris Adrian’s The Children’s Hospitalon my bookshelf as over-long, over-hyped novels, published by McSweeney’s, that I found to be all sizzle and little steak (though in both cases I didn’t/won’t finish, so I should really be less confident about dismissing them; all I can fairly say is that both novels completely lost forward momentum, making their enormous length (700+ pages in the case of The Children’s Hospital) unjustified and thus all the more tedious).

It got me thinking about the ethics of giving up on any book, no matter how little I’m enjoying reading it. I’m sure lots of people are like me in that the thought of giving anything up carries a certain stigma. Even considering giving up on a dull book is a new phenomenon for me. I suspect the stigma of quitting comes from years and years of schooling, when I literally couldn’t have stopped reading something for fear of failing class. But bundled up with that fear is the idea that with any book, no matter how dense and seemingly terrible, if you can just push to the end, there will be something revelatory in the experience of having finished it; that’s very much the implicit promise an English teacher makes when he/she assigns you to read 1984 or Julius Caesar.

But once you recognize a stigma as coming from your years of schooling, it’s fun to celebrate the fact that you’re no longer in school by defying said stigma. I’m going over my list of books read in 2010 (yes, for the first year I kept a list) and realizing that it was a banner year for flaunting my ingrained prejudice against quitting books. I thought I’d share my list of abandoned books (which I also penciled in, mainly so that, if I’d ended up reading like 17 books, I could comfort myself by looking at all the books I also spent time on without finishing), for whatever such information is worth. Read the rest of this entry »