Some months ago I took a book out of my book club. It had won a Booker and four friends raved about it, so I nabbed it.
48 pages in I found myself bored and restless. I persevered for another three pages and then I did something I very rarely do (particularly with a Booker), I gave up on it.
The following week I returned it to The Good Book Appreciation Society, defeated.
More recently I tried the first book in ‘The Trilogy’. You know the one. Please don’t make me mention it by name and admit to picking it up. Anyway I read the first sixty odd pages, but there were all these strange Swedish names and the story line was so all over the place that I just couldn’t do it.
Concerned I’d become the kind of person who can’t finish a book, I phoned a friend. She told me I needed to persevere and that it got really really good around page six hundred. I instantly gave up on principle. That trilogy will have to remain unread by me. Call me a quitter but I simply refuse to ‘persevere’ for five hundred and forty pages.
I totally get that sometimes a book doesn’t grab you at first, and I’m all for giving it a good go until you get into it. But at some point I think one has to call it quits and not feel too guilty about it. The question is – when is that point?
How long do you give a book?
I did a survey around some of the other writers at work. One said that he will generally give a book till half way. You see, for me that’s too far. Once I hit half way I reckon I’m over the hump, and then I’m committed for the long run.
Another said she never gives up. When she starts a book, she always finishes it. Show off!
Another writer I know never finishes a book. He’ll review the entire thing with a knowledgeable tone while scratching his beard thoughtfully, but when pressed we always discover he didn’t actually make it past page 56, the last page and the back cover blurb.
As an author I know that most readers will pick my book up in the shop, read the first page and then decide whether or not to take it. Based on that I guess a vast majority of readers will give up on a book after the first page. Sheesh, tough crowd.
I suppose it’s all a matter of time. We all have so little of it, and there’s so much to read, why should we ever have to ‘persevere’, even for just a page.
But still, every time I don’t finish a book there’s that little nagging voice, what if I’m missing something amazing that’s just lurking around the very next corner?
Another friend has a theory that specific books come into your life at a certain time, and for a certain reason. Like you can pick a book up on a dark Tuesday in September and can’t make it past page sixteen. But pick it up the following February on a Friday afternoon and it’s an entirely different story. The book speaks to you then. It’s the right book for that time and place.
So, not to be defeated, I took that Booker back out last week. I whipped past page fifty with ease and next thing I knew it was 2am and there was no way I was putting it down.
So now I’m thinking I might have to review how long I give a book.
(This piece first appeared on http://www.booksa.co.za/)