A few days ago, Clare from The Literary Omnivore and I had the following conversation on Twitter about a particularly bad book she was reading:
ErinReadsblog: Do you abandon awful books or just plow through? I find they often slow my overall reading down because I’m busy avoiding them.
litomnivore: I plow. I’m a completionist. Although, this one is a bad thriller, so I can narrate passages in my Batman voice and giggle.
Aside from providing a fantastic (and unexpected) mental image, this brief discussion made me think. I’ve considered which side of the fence I’m on regarding “awful books,” but Clare’s comment made me realize I’ve never gone any deeper than just picking a side. I’ve definitely never thought about how to make reading an “awful book” more fun (Batman voice, anyone?). So today, I’m taking a look at how I cope with the dreaded “awful books,” and why.
A definition, to kick things off:
1. to struggle or deal, esp. on fairly even terms or with some degree of success (from Dictionary.com)
I like this definition because it puts me on equal footing with my book, so that we become two entities sort of sizing one another up. Like two people, my book and I may not see eye to eye. In such situations, I have to figure out how to deal with this lack of alignment. (Lucky book…its inanimate-ness exempts it from such strategizing!)
Whereas Clare is a self-proclaimed “completionist,” I am firmly in the “life is too short to read bad books” camp. Which would make me…an abandonist? Or at least, I am when it comes to reading for pleasure. Of course, different reader-book relationships require different coping strategies. I find I have three:
Coping Strategy 1: Abandon the “Awful Book”
If I chose the book to read for pleasure, I give it about 50 pages. If, by then, I’m not feeling it, I give myself permission to set it aside. Otherwise, I’ll just feel guilty about not reading it, and it will weigh me (and my reading) down like a big, papery albatross.
It sometimes takes me a few days to realize I’m not crazy about a book. If, one day, I realize I haven’t read much lately, one of my books is usually to blame. I feel obligated to read the “awful book,” but I don’t want to, so I just allow my reading in general to taper off. So, my rule is: if I’m not trying to find time to spend with a particular book, it probably just isn’t for me. I can get rid of it altogether or just save it for later, but it gets removed from my current reading rotation.
Along these same lines, Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recently posted an article about reading and happiness. In it, she advocates reading something you actually want to read instead of something you feel like you should read. She quotes Samuel Johnson: “What we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.” I do find that’s true for me, and I often feel like I’m squandering time and brain power when I struggle with a book that doesn’t really appeal.
Coping Strategy 2: Read the “Awful Book” as Quickly as Possible
If I’m reading a book I’ve agreed to review, I force myself to read it in order to fulfill my commitment. I might skim, but I’m not a big fan of DNF (did not finish) reviews, so I do try to get through the whole thing. I let myself scribble snarky, sarcastic notes about the book as I’m reading, which I then tone down for the actual review.
I often choose to focus solely on the book in question until it’s finished. My reasons for doing so are twofold: first, I get it over with as soon as possible, and second, isolating the “awful book” prevents me from comparing it with whatever other (hopefully better) book I’m reading.
Coping Strategy 3: Read the “Awful Book” in Small, Spaced Out Chunks
If an “awful book” is for a book group, class, or other meeting, I try to space out my reading so that I take lots of little bites instead of one big, slimy gulp. By breaking it up into chunks, I only have to read a little at a time. It becomes like a daily chore, unpleasant but necessary.
After I wrote strategies #2 and #3, I realized that they are a drastically different approach to the same kind of book: one I have to read but just don’t enjoy. Why not just read the “awful book” for book group super fast and be done with it? I suspect it has something to do with having to remember the information. Whereas an “awful book” can be quickly read, reviewed, and forgotten, it must be remembered for longer if it is to be discussed with other people. Breaking up the text helps the book stick. In addition, an assigned book has a deadline by which it must be read. While a book for review may have an approximate goal for completion, the deadline is usually both more flexible and up to me to reinforce. I could put it off indefinitely! Better to just read it and be done.
So there you have it…my in-depth look at how I cope with “awful books.”
What about you?
Are you a completionist, an abandonist, or both? Always, or just in certain situations? Why do you think you cope with “awful books” the way you do? And of course, do you–like Clare–have any creative coping techniques? I’d love to hear from you!