When It’s Time to Abandon that Book


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The sun rays are warming away the winter blues as you sit on the beach. You have your beach chair, the one where you can sit low and let your toes massage the sand underneath them. The kids are happily making sand castles and you are settled in to get some great beach reading done. Your favorite beverage is close by so you won’t be distracted by mundane refills tasks as you lose yourself into the pages of the book you so carefully chose for this trip. The book came with a 4 or 5 star rating, so you know it’s going to be great.

Then it happens. A chapter in, your attention suddenly drawn to the intense beach volleyball game happening nearby. You listen for the sounds of your children and realize they are just fine.

You go back the book. Five minutes pass. Now the sand that seemed so soft is beginning to scratch the bottoms of your feet. The kids squeals of laughter nearby seem a little more harsh and loud. So, you decide to  move your chair just a few inches to the left. Settled again, you open up the book and realize you aren’t really sure where you left off. Annoyed, you close the book toss it into the sand and go off to join the kids making the sand castle.

What just happened? I call this scenario book abandonment stage 1. Generally when readers have the right book, the screams from the kids making sand castles wouldn’t faze them even in the slightest. We readers call that “nose-in-a-book-syndrome”. Wild horses running by might get a glimpse as you turn the page, but little more. Join the volleyball game? uh…no! Are you kidding? You need to see what’s going to happen in the next chapter. There’s. No. Time. To. Stop. Reading!

Except when there is.

It’s called Abandon That Book, except when you suffer from the syndrome – I Can’t Abandon A Book, It’s Against the Rules! Blame the keep reading it message on your parents, teachers, librarians, friends, etc. Who knows when you got the message, because it’s very prevalent. I know I lived by it until I was in my 30’s. What? Don’t finish a book I had started? I thought the Book Gods would descend on me and pummel me senseless with old Encyclopedia Britannica volumes until I screamed for forgiveness.

Yet, there was a book one time that I couldn’t stomach one more page. I closed it. Pulled out the bookmark. put it facedown and never touched it again (except to hand back to a teacher). (PS- I bought the Cliff Notes and read as much as I could about the book without really reading it. Yes, I suppose this is called book cheating) That book was Watership Down by Richard Adams and was very popular when I was in high school. In fact, it was pretty forward thinking of my English teacher at the time to assign this book instead of one of the classics. In fact it won a bunch of awards and inspired the 1978 movie and later a television series of the same name. I know there might be gasps from people who are reading this post and saying, “I loved that book! How could she?” However, that one experience was so unpleasant , it ruined my interest to read any other fantasy genre books. The book has a talking animal, rock, spaceship (insert noun here)??  Forget about it! I’m NOT going there.

That experience started me on my path of abandoning books without needing therapy for the decision. It did take me another 15+ years to do it, but I’ve not looked back since. It’s OKAY to put down a book you don’t like! I would even go so far to say to a student who is reading as assigned book that they despise, to talk to the teacher and find another with a theme that is comparable. Suffering while reading should never go hand in hand. There are too many fabulous, wonderful, you will melt when you read them books in the world. How do you know when to give up? There are some signs it’s tie to ditch the book and really get rid of it. Don’t put it on your bookshelf and then feel guilty every time you see the spine sticking out. Donate that book and get it OUT of your house!

The number one reason that you should abandon a book

When you are reading a new book and you  find yourself distracted by everything around you. When you start thinking about loading the dishwasher or wondering when the last time was that you scrubbed the downstairs toilet, there’s a PROBLEM brewing. If you are a chapter or two into a book, or you find yourself ten pages ahead, but absolutely don’t remember what you’ve read, then it’s time. I give myself about 2-3 chapters (50-100) pages before I say enough.

There are too many fabulous books in the world to have to labor through one. When I talk to adult friends about their reading habits, more often than not, the ones who aren’t voracious readers, tell stories of how reading what hard when they were young. The word hard has different meanings for different people. Sometimes hard was a decoding issue. The concept of reading and decoding words was hard because of different issues such as dyslexia or sight problems.

In other cases the word hard referred to the content. It was hard to get into the book because it wasn’t interesting. Asking some readers to read fiction is equivalent to torture. Others prefer non-fiction or forget it.

Know yourself as a reader. If you have tried a genre and it didn’t speak to you, don’t give up on reading. That’s like saying you are going to never drive again, because you learned on a “3 on the tree” old farm pick up truck. There is a world of books out there waiting for you to enjoy. Things have improved!  And don’t forget the audio books. Remember those days when your parent read to you? Listening to a narrated book is the next best thing! Going on a long car trip? Check out a book CD and drive in listening pleasure!

Have a great reading summer! Have you ever abandoned a book? Leave a comment and tell us why!



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5 thoughts on “When It’s Time to Abandon that Book

  1. Hi Mrs. Hembree,
    This happens to me too. I always try to read at least the first chapter and if the book is not ‘speaking’ to me, I set it aside (perhaps I’m not in the right mood for that particular book or genre). I’ll put it in a special drawer I have for such books and try it again later. If I still can’t appreciate it, I give it away. When I was younger, I tried some advanced classics before I was quite old enough to appreciate them, so I’m also a big believer of a book being read at the right age.

    • Hi Judy! I couldn’t agree more! I tell kids all the time that there are some books you just have to wait to read. It’s not about the reading level, but rather the content. Harry Potter is a perfect example. From what I’ve been told, the first couple of books aren’t too difficult or mature, but the content is in the later part of the series. I can’t speak from experience however.
      I’m probably the last librarian on the planet who hasn’t read Harry Potter. I tried, but my experience with fantasy and Watership Down still lingers. I think if I get the audio version and listen to it, I will have a much better chance at enjoying it.

      • My dad gave me Watership Down when I was about 12 y/o and I didn’t get past chapter one! After your post, I was thinking the same thing… I need to retry it now that I’m older : )

  2. At my student’s second library visit at the beginning of the school year, I introduce the “20-page Guide”.

    “It takes some time for an author to introduce characters and create the setting of a story, so you need to read about 20 pages before you know if you really like a book. If, after reading 20 pages, you don’t like the story, then return the book and find a different one. Your teachers and I want you to enjoy reading and there are thousands of books for you to choose from, so don’t read a book you don’t like! If you really like a book, you’ll want to keep reading it, but if you haven’t read 20 pages by your next library visit or by the time the book is due, then you just don’t like that book and you definitely need to return it and choose another one.

    Students always seem shocked when I tell them they can return a book they don’t like and haven’t finished, but frankly, I don’t see us making life-long readers if we force them to read, for pleasure, something they don’t like!

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