On Abandoning Books

Frank Showalter
Feb 13, 2016 · 2 min read

I just abandoned my first book. Fifty-three pages into the three hundred and twenty page novel, I closed it and moved on.

It wasn’t easy.

I used to finish every book I started. Finishing brought a sense of accomplishment. A comfort that comes with completing a task, checking a box, achieving a goal. Letting go of that illusionary security is hard.

But I’m learning.

Forcing myself to finish every book didn’t make me a better person. It didn’t make me smarter or more well-rounded. It just made reading a chore rather than a pleasure.

I turn forty this year. Statistics say I’ve got more life behind me than ahead. Which means I’ll never finish all the books I want to read.

It’s about opportunity cost. I loved the pulp storytelling of Graham Masterton’s The Devils of D-Day. Mark Richard’s writing in The Ice at the Bottom of the World floored me. Clive Barker’s imagination made The Books of Blood unforgettable. Knowing there are more books out there like those, while I’m forcing myself to trudge through a mediocre read, pushed me to abandon lesser efforts.

My shelves hold hundreds of unread books. I’d wager that a quarter of them aren’t worth reading. Maybe more.

Some folks give a book a chapter or two. Others give a book a set number of pages. Neither system makes sense to me. I’ve had books start strong then flounder. And how does one apply an arbitrary page count to books of varying lengths? Fifty pages is a quarter of a two hundred page novel, but only five percent of a thousand-page biography.

I give a book three strikes. I read before bed. If a given book drags for three consecutive nights, I’ll abandon it. Granted, this means I could abandon a thousand-page doorstop with under a hundred pages to go, but I’m okay with that. Failing to recognize a sunk cost is a gambler’s fallacy.

Perhaps, as I discover better books, my standards will increase. Today’s excellence might be tomorrow’s schlock. Of course, that would see me abandoning even more books.

I can only hope.

Frank Showalter

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