When it comes to reading books, do you have commitment issues? And by this, I don’t mean fear of committing to a book. I mean the opposite: fear of abandoning a book, even if you don’t like it.
I’ll confess, I’ve struggled with book commitment issues. I have slogged through countless books that I didn’t love. Some were in genres that didn’t grab me. Some had interesting premises but mediocre language. Some were exquisitely written but had nothing to say. Still others maimed the English language in service to not a single good idea.
But all had one thing in common–once I had begun reading, I couldn’t convince myself it was okay to stop. I felt committed to finish them, no matter how painful the journey.
We humans are an odd lot. We commit to the strangest things.
Chairs, for example.
Have you ever gone to an all-day class or meeting and sat down in a random chair, then belatedly noticed a group of people sitting across the room, having an entertaining conversation without you? Did you get up and move to join the “fun” group? If you’re like most people, the answer is no. What’s more, even after we leave for a lunch break, when we return, we keep our original seat!
There it was, the perfect chance to escape our solitary confinement and move to a chair near the “cool kids,” but we didn’t take it. We had somehow entered into an unspoken commitment with our chair—an unbreakable contract we were ashamed to regret. It’s a chair, for Pete’s sake.
For most of my life it’s been the same way with books. Once I started with one, I felt compelled to finish it, no matter what.
It’s a commitment level many married couples would envy.
Does this commitment stem from guilt? Shame? Fear of hurting the book’s tender feelings? An irrational anxiety that if I abandon the fruit of this author’s hard labor, the capricious gods of publishing will notice and curse all my own future publications?
Whatever the reason, I eventually realized I had commitment issues. As they say, recognizing you have a problem is the first step towards resolving it. The first two books I couldn’t finish were James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans and Jane Austen’s Emma. I was in high school at the time and had been a voracious and somewhat precocious reader my entire life, so even I was shocked at my desertion. The fact that I remember exactly where and when I finally threw in the towel on both of them tells you how profoundly I was scarred by the experience.
It was years before I quit another book. It was 100 Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. I know, I know. Such an important book. A must-read. Your favorite book. Blah, blah, blah. I struggled to the half-way point, thought “This would have been a good place to end this story,” closed the book for the night, and never picked it back up.
The older I’ve become, the more complicated life has become. A husband, a child, aging parents, business responsibilities, branching career paths—all of them have conspired over the years to limit the hours available to lose myself in books.
That’s why I finally realized I needed to face my book-commitment problem head-on. An estimated four million books were published in 2019 in the U.S. alone. With that many books coming out every year, do I really want to waste my time on unsatisfying books? When I find myself with a few precious, hard-won hours of free time, don’t I owe it to myself to spend them wrapped in amazing stories and writing that makes me catch my breath?
It’s still hard, but I am getting better at putting down books that don’t light me up.
If you, too, have commitment issues when it comes to reading, I hereby give you permission to break your book bonds and abandon books that don’t love you back.
Now if I can just find a way to break up with chairs.