… Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush implored us in 1986. Or Winston Churchill did in 1941. They weren’t talking about books but had they been, I would have ignored all three of them.
Recently, a colleague said ‘You’re ruthless’. She was referring, I think and hope, not to my professional behaviour and general manner in the office, but to the number of books it struck her that I give up reading. So I have been thinking a bit more about this.
I do give up reading, and have in my life given up reading, an awful lot of books. Before I started writing this, I googled ‘giving up books’ and the top result was this piece here, the headline of which is ‘It’s Okay to Give Up on Mediocre Books Because We’re All Going to Die’. I would recommend a bigger and more all-encompassing rule which says: it’s okay to give up on good books too, and not just because we’re all going to die.
I don’t have hard data on how many books I have stopped reading in my life, but my sense is that it’s quite a lot, and it’s definitely more than most other people I know. I would argue, though, that because most people I know spend so long ploughing through the books they are clearly finding quite dull but still aren’t giving up, my method still equals more books read overall. I have kept a list of all the (non-work) books I’ve read in 2018 so far, and there are 20 of them. Just looking through this year on my Kindle, I can count a further 13 books that I have started reading and not finished – some of these after reading the Kindle free sample, and others after buying the actual book and reading a bit further. I can think of a further two hard copy printed books I started reading and gave up, so assuming that is the total it would mean I’ve given up 15 books for the 20 I’ve completed.
Is that a lot? Maybe. I’ve given up classics, literary prize winners and shortlistees and I’ve given up massive commercial bestsellers. I’ve given up books that trusted friends have told me I would love, books by authors I have previously loved, books that ‘everyone’ is talking about, and books for which 7 or 9 or 13 publishers offered six figure sums in hotly-contested auctions. In one case, I gave up a thriller because I guessed the twist on page 3. I gave up two books last weekend alone.
This may be a lot and it may show that I am ruthless and intolerant reader. But I have a proposition I like more, and it is this: I have (as Lola might say) a really very extremely incredibly strong sense of the sort of book I will like and I am able recognise it very quickly. What this means is that nearly all the books I finish I enjoy very much indeed. If you’re interested, here is the list of the lucky 20 that have been completed in 2018 and I would recommend almost all of them in one way or another.
And the book I am reading right now is this, The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. It is brilliant, I will most certainly finish it, I knew this within a few pages, and the friend who recommended it to me did so saying ‘it’s OSOT’. This means ‘our sort of thing’, which it undoubtedly is, and that’s a neat summary of what the 15 books I gave up were not, great though they may have been in other ways. They were not OSOT. Or at least (not wanting to speak for her) they were not MSOT. I would suggest that being able to recognise your own sort of thing within a book’s opening pages is a vital life skill that will save you many potentially wasted hours. You’re welcome!
(Footnote: if anyone is curious, it’s a total coincidence – admittedly quite an odd one – that I read The Wonder by Emma Donoghue just after Wonder by R.J. Palacio.)