I can usually tell in the first three pages whether I will like a book or not and, once I start reading, it’s relatively rare for me to abandon it partway through. However, there have been exceptions and I’ve noticed over time that these exceptions fall into a few distinct categories.
As an adult this category doesn’t come up terribly often, but the first books I abandoned were The Scarlet Letter, which I tried to read aged twelve and Sense and Sensibility, which I tried to read aged thirteen. I have since read and enjoyed both of these novels and am certain that when I first approached them I just wasn’t quite ready for the older language utilized by Hawthorne and Austen.
I used to never read short story or essay collections, mainly because I found that reading them cover to cover made the individual pieces bleed together in my mind. They didn’t remain distinct from each other the way a single short story read in a magazine or for a class did. Because these collections are composed of distinct pieces, it is also easier to put them down at the end of one tale and not feel the experience was incomplete in the same way setting down a novel would be. I think my Goodreads account would tell you that I’m currently in the middle of at least two or three essay collections. I still intend to finish them. It’s just a matter of time, surely.
I’m a bit ashamed that I’ve been known to put this type of book down. When I was studying English Literature at uni, I never had any trouble slogging through long texts such as Don Quixote. Since then, however, even if I’m really enjoying a long novel, I find myself easily distracted by other, newer, shinier books. I find myself falling into the trap of “Oh, I’ll just give this a quick read and then pick the other one up where I left off.” This type of thinking is all the more easy to justify if I’ve hit a slow bit in the long novel, such as the fifty-or-so-page-long section on the battle of Waterloo in the middle of Les Miserables. Without the pressure of coursework to push me through these Catalogue of Ships-esque segments, it’s harder to remind myself that the tale will be engaging again if I just muscle onward. I’m also not the type of person who can skip past a dull section, for some reason I’m compelled to read every word or admit defeat. This may also be why I’ve never become a speed-reader.
Giving up on books isn’t something I’m proud of. When I pick a book up, it’s like sitting down for coffee with a friend, an event you don’t walk out of without explaining yourself. And yet, the time we can dedicate to reading is limited. If the newer, shinier book is the one I will enjoy more at this particular moment, is it really so bad to put down the longer, weightier tome, even with all its gravitas? Maybe letting War and Peace be usurped by The Perks of Being a Wallflower isn’t a crime.