“How’s that one book coming along?” your friends asks you.
“Why’s that?” she asks.
“It is so boring! I fall asleep every time I even attempt to read it. The subject is dull, the writing is monotonous, I basically hate this book.”
“Wait… why are you reading it then?”
“I started it, so I’m going to finish it,” you reply.
Your friend rolls her eyes.
The common answer
That’s the response people give when asked why they continue to read a book that they hate. Because they started it. They don’t quit. They’re not quitters. They’re finishers. So they’re going to finish the book.
Does that always make sense though?
It depends on your life philosophy.
My current philosophy is based on personal fulfillment. One where I do things that add meaning to my life, spend time with people that I love, and live a purposeful existence. So in that context, finishing a book for the sake of a gold star doesn’t do it for me.
Why I read
Instead, I read because I love to learn. It lights me up. It adds fulfillment to my life.
Part of it is also the entertainment factor, but more than anything else is the love of learning. And through that lens, it is quite easy to tell what books I should continue reading and which ones I should drop.
For example, just this morning I stopped reading a book.
I originally purchased it because the subject matter intrigued me. I went into it with an open mind. Yet, after getting about a fifth of the way through, it was clear – this book was not a good fit. I wasn’t learning enough (or even entertained enough) for it to be worth my time.
After all, there are a myriad of books out there. It doesn’t make sense to spend time on ones that aren’t getting you to where you want to go.
That’s not to say I’ve always read books in this manner. I have certainly had my fair share of slogging through terrible books so that I may:
- Brag that I read them
- Say that I finish what I start
- Or add more books to my bookshelf
But those reasons are ultimately worthless. What really matters to me is learning. That is what adds fulfillment and meaning to my life.
Your reason for reading
Why do you read? Is it for fun? To learn? Is it to escape? To imagine? Use that answer as a lens to view the books that you should or should not continue.
What do you want out of reading? And, more importantly, is the book that you’re currently reading helping bring that about? If it is, keep reading it. If it’s not, drop it. Just because you started it doesn’t mean you need to finish it.
That said, there are some books that I suffer through. One’s that are generally unhelpful but, I hope, may have some little wisdoms waiting to be uncovered. It’s a risk. And it’s a situation I don’t enjoy being in.
For instance, I vividly recall last year reading a book that was so dull, so insanely boring, that I had to take a nap after each session of reading it.
I put up with it though because I had hope. I believed that somewhere in that vat of tedium would be something useful. There luckily was. But was it worth a month of reading, some 400+ pages, for one little, non-critical lesson learned?
Rule of thumb
Not every book you read is going to be a match. And when it’s not, feel no guilt in dropping it.
It takes practice to intentionally quit something, but it’s worth it. Today, if I read a book that isn’t a good fit, I give it away or bring it back. If I listen to an audiobook that isn’t serving my purpose, I return it.
If it helps, here’s a good rule of thumb when deciding if you should quit a book or not:
- Take your age
- Subtract it from 100
- That’s how many pages you should read of a book before making up your mind
For example, if you’re 30, you should give the book at least 70 pages. At 70 pages, you’ll have a good feel for what’s ahead and can decide if it’s worth your time. When it comes to audiobooks, give it that many minutes. So if you’re 20, give the audiobook 80 minutes.
A starting point for stopping
Do you have to follow that rule? Absolutely not. I often don’t. I’ve dropped physical books after only a couple chapters. Similarly, I’ve dropped audiobooks after 15-20 minutes.
Like the saying goes: when you know, you know.
With practice, you’ll get a better feel for what is worth your time and what isn’t. However, until you get to that point, the rule of thumb is a good place to start. At least until you feel more confident in recognizing what you want.
Moving forward with one less book
Your time is valuable. Furthermore, there are a near-infinite amount of amazing books out there. Don’t waste your minutes on something that isn’t contributing to your life.
Instead, consider what you want out of reading. Determine if your current book meets that criteria. If it does, keep going with it. If it doesn’t, apply the rule of thumb and press on until you hit that threshold. More often than not, by the time you get there, you’ll know.
And when you do, drop it and move on.
You’re not a quitter. You’re deliberate. You know what you want and aren’t open to wasting your time on books that aren’t a match.
I’ll see you at the bookstore.