In a recent “chain letter” that has swept through my Facebook feed, people are given a list of 100 “classic” books and asked to indicate which they’ve read, either in full or bits and pieces.
You may or may not be surprised to learn that I’ve read, from cover to cover, 33 of those 100. And although that’s a relatively large portion of the list, I’m sad to say that there were 12 books of which I’d only read portions.
Some of those 12, such as A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, I haven’t read in full because there’s a million of them. Same goes for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories — there are dozens, and frankly I’m just not that interested.
But what about some of the others? What made me pick up a book and then drop it, unfinished, several days or weeks later? For that matter, what’s a good reason for leaving any book unfinished?
When I stop reading
Several of the books, including Jane Austen’s Emma and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, have been adapted into films. With both of these books, I’ve seen so many adaptations (or seen just one adaptation a zillion times — I’m looking at you, Gwyneth Paltrow!) that reading the book is rather dull. I know the exact plot, and can quote whole sections. I’m so saturated with film that paper and ink won’t fit. I know, shameful.
As for The Chronicles of Narnia, I get it: it’s an allegory. Aslan is Jesus, and Eustace is a rotten little puke who deserves to be turned into a dragon. Yes, it’s well written, and yes it’s popular, but I hate being hit over the head with allegories. It hurts and makes my eyes water.
Some classics are also just off-putting to me. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is well known for being creepy, but have you ever tried to read Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida? It’s revolting, and is probably something I’ll never read.
But almost worse than all of these reasons is the final one: the book is boring. I hate situations like this the most because I generally have high hopes for the book…only to have them dashed by flat characters, unexciting prose, and/or general plot muddiness.
Don’t waste your time reading a book you’re not enjoying — especially if you’re only reading it because it’s everyone else is.
I’ve discussed my 50 page rule before, but it could just as easily be the “3 chapter rule” or the “100 page rule.” If you’re not a fan of the book by the time you reach your rule, don’t feel guilty about dropping it.
Also, don’t equate putting a book down with “giving up.” Just because my first attempt at reading Austen’s Persuasion or Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina ended with my setting them aside, doesn’t mean I won’t pick them up in the future and love them.
Life is a series of experiences, each of which affects the way we view the world — including books. So don’t give up on that “boring” book just yet. Set it aside and read something else, and then come back when you’re ready to try again. You might just surprise yourself.
Above all, remember that there are millions of books out there. Read what you love.
What book(s) have you tried to read, but given up on? Has a film adaption ruined a classic for you too? What do you think of allegories?