Life is too short to read books you don't like.



The earliest memory I have of forcing myself to read a book I don't like was To Kill a Mockingbird. I was 11. Mockingbird was, and is, the only English classic I've ever read in my life.

Different from the reason so many American children had read it, I read To Kill a Mockingbird voluntarily. Nowin hindsight, To Kill a Mockingbird tells a very good story. But did I possess the intellect to fully appreciate it at that age? Frankly, no.

I didn't enjoy it. But when I decided to read it, it felt like injustice to start a book without finishing. So I did. It must've taken me months, but I finished it.

Little did I know that this odd, slightly self-punishing habit, would prolong until — well, until recently.
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If I could send a piece of advice to 2019 me, who wanted so much to read more books, but couldn't seem to, I would tell her: Put it down — whatever novel you dreadfully sit with every night.

For those who call ourselves bookworms, it feels like blasphemy to quit books like that. Maybe somewhere in the world, an author chokes each time their book is left unfinished. But typically, every 'successful' reader in life I've met, if there is such a thing, has told me: Read what you like.

This means to read what you want, when you want. If a book is no longer speaking life into you, you are allowed to leave it and move on. 


What happens to the book, then? One option is to come back to it another time. If not now, you might love it someday. If I'd done this with Mockingbird, for instance, the impression it left me would've been much more profound. So remember the beauty of owning books: The ability to read them whenever you're ready.

The second option is to trade it with a friend. If it's not working for you anymore, there might be a friend who could appreciate it. You can give it away, or if they're up for it, could even set an exchange.

James Colley in his piece, The Joy of Not Finishing Bookswrites it this way:
"I am not saying you shouldn’t persist with a book because it’s difficult at first. Sometimes overcoming that initial struggle is what makes a story beautiful. [...] I’m talking about the moment we all know too well when you’re three hundred pages deep, you’ve tried time and time again to engage, and yet you still don’t care in the slightest about these people and their problems."

There are obvious ways I can tell when I'm no longer enjoying a book: I keep flipping back to the last page number to calculate how much more of it I have left. 

Maybe I'm a bad reader. But also, maybe it's just not the book for me at this time. Not every book has to (or will) be groundbreaking. But it should, at the very least, give us the value we bought it for: enjoyment. 

Why, then, do we stubbornly persist in reading books we don't like? I wish I could say it was perseverance that led me to finish Mockingbird, but it might've been something else. Michael Simmons writes, "At some point it becomes a calculation of ego. When a book is finished, it becomes a trophy. When it's left half-finished, it becomes an albatross."

I feel that reading, out of all hobbies, has an oddly large amount of guilt associated to it. There is guilt in the number of unread books we have. There is guilt in buying books faster than we read them. There is guilt in not finishing a book once we've already started it. Thus, the act of force-reading, as I call it, is the guilt manifest.

And when force-reading, my internal monologue taunts me: You're not a quitter, are you? Which leads me to my next advice: Find the path of least resistance.

So even if, instead of a book, you want to sit with a random essay or op-ed tonight, do so! If you prefer Kindle over paperback, or vice versa, stick to that! Leave a book to start another one, re-read one you didn't finish - if there's no academic reason you're reading, don't treat it like homework.

How I first started reading again (after months and months of neglecting it), was to start in the most minuscule way: by telling myself to read one page a day. 

This sounds silly - you can't just stop at one page of a story. But that was my goal: Not to read more yet, but to simply, read. The purpose was to set into my brain the autopilot of picking up my book, in my case, every night. One page. That's almost nothing. But little by little, that number will naturally grow, and with a goal that small, I'm less tempted to bail.

As Amber Rae says it, The light way is the right way.

Full disclosure: I love all the books in these photographs.


I've spoken in a previous post about that Amber Rae mantra. And with this, we'll be entering the D&M part of the post today. (There's no With Risa post without one, really.)

My pattern of force-reading books, well, forced me to think:

In what other areas of life do we stubbornly persist?

How many times do we treat ourselves unkindly, by staying in situations that no longer serve us? These situations can be: relationships, friendships, commitments, work ties, or other things you perhaps had thought of by now. 

In case it wasn't obvious: quitting a book doesn't equal quitting a job. But I'm bringing up the topic of letting go today, because, the same way we refuse to let go of books — despite knowing it's no longer beneficial — is the same response of refusing to walk out of something we know is anchoring us down.

When I think back to my 10- or 11-year-old self powering through To Kill a Mockingbird, I don't remember perseverance. I remember staring at its pages in the backseat of my mother's car, being so hard on myself internally for struggling to understand racial inequality in 1930s America.

The same way force-reading is detrimental to your time, and the same way we do it for the sake of our ego, there might be other things we do that masks a self-punishment mechanism. The same way I can tell when a book isn't serving its purpose for me - that flip to the last page number I mentioned - when something isn't reaching your purpose for you, you're probably also constantly glancing at the exit sign.

There is perseverance (which should always be your guiding rock), but once beyond that, there is also the gut feeling of, Something needs to change. I hope you lean into that feeling curiously.

You deserve to fill your life in the most enriching way possible. There is a radical art to letting go of things. I invite you to try it with me.

Find the courage, dear reader, to keep the good, and gracefully let go of the rest — and yes, to let go even of the ones with a really good front cover.

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What books are you reading lately?

Signed,
Jo

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