When to Stop Reading

One of the things I’ve started doing since reading for an agency is to stop reading a book. What I mean by that is if I’m not pulled into a book within the first fifty pages, I stop reading. I put it aside. I move on. I used to be one of those people who powered through books even if I didn’t like them (I can remember two that I stopped: one of the Little House on the Prairie books because Laura was about to do something that was going to get her in trouble and I couldn’t take it, and The Scarlet Letter because I was reading it in the summer and the first few pages were just too boring). But after reading many partials and fulls, I got used to the freedom of putting something aside (literally rejecting it) when it didn’t hit my stride. More than that, I realized that not all books are for me. There are many great writers out there with many great stories to tell, but I’m not going to enjoy reading all of them. Furthermore, I have a huge metaphorical stack of books to read and only so much time to do that reading. Why waste my time on books I don’t like?

On the other hand, you have people like my mother, who keep reading even when they find the subject matter difficult. She was recently trying to get through The Secret Life of Bees, but the violence made her put it down before the fiftieth page. I told her she should feel free to stop reading and to find something else. She, instead, skipped to the end (to make sure everyone lives happily ever after), read the appendix with a discussion from the author, and then returned to read the whole book. Because she saw promise in the themes of the book, she was determined to keep reading, even though it was a painful process.

Former agent and current blogger Nathan Bransford recently took a poll about whether people keep reading or not. The majority, it turns out, read like me. But I think every writer admires and yearns for readers like my mother, who will stick with the writing even when it’s hard just to see how it turns out.

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2 thoughts on “When to Stop Reading

  1. I am your mother!!
    I also have a huge list of books-to-be-read, but they usually come to me with a recommendation by someone whose taste I trust, or with many rave reviews, or because they’re by an author I already like. So I convince myself that they are books worth reading before I even start them… And then I can be critical of whatever in them that I don’t like because I know they’ll prove to be worth my time overall.
    BUT I am completely powerless, once I pick up a book… For instance, I’d never read Othello, so I just started it last week, and I had to read BOTH long introductions to my copy because I KNEW that if I just skipped to Act 1 Scene 1, those introductions would nag me until I gave up and went back to read them…
    Must read… everything… between these two covers… just in case…

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