The Last Thing I Do Before I Cast Away a Book

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have to finish reading a book, and those who don’t. I am the latter.

In fact, I’m a darned impatient reader. I probably abandon nearly half the books I start. I know I ought to be more selective, but if the writer hasn’t sold me by around page 100, I tend to give up.

Actually, there’s another table we can make here: those people who peek ahead in a book, and those who don’t. I’m definitely a non-peeker. My sister, on the other hand, can’t read a book front to back–she always cheats and peruses the ending long before she’s reached it.

Over the past couple of weeks I’d been chipping away at Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac Mccarthy. It’s been on our bookshelf for, like, a decade, and I knew that it was well-regarded, so I gave it a shot.

Alas, over the past couple of days, I could feel that familiar deceleration that occurs when a book goes from being a joy to a chore. The camel’s back broke last night, and I recognized something about myself. It’s rather obvious, but I’ve never noticed it before: the last thing I do before tossing a book aside is peak ahead, skim some pages and see what’s going on. And remember, I’m a non-peeker.

Why do I do this? Really, if I’ve read a hundred pages or so, are things likely to radically change in the next two hundred? It’s like a final, desperate stab at wanting to like the book. I wonder if this last peek has actually ever prolonged my time with a given book?


  1. I believe that the amount of time you give to a book that you’re not thoroughly enjoying should be inversely proportional to your age. For example, by age 30, you should stop reading after page 100; age 40, page 75; and by the time you reach 80, you should allow yourself to just judge a book by its cover.

    Life’s too short to be wasted on bad literature.

  2. Not all books are as difficult to read as Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. On the other hand nobody would run a marathon by running it without any kind of prior training. Reading books is much like training. The more you train the easier it is. Some books, like the Da Vinci Code, in spite of jumping around in places are fairly linear and easy to read. If you read only these and tackle something like José Saramago’s The History of the Siege of Lisbon (the first chapter has one person talking to another with next to no punctuation) you will have a problem. But if you stick this one out (the one I would start for any Saramago novel) you will find that the rest of his novels will become progressively easy to read. And then if you switch suddenly to something like the Da Vinci Code, you will not be able to get past the first chapter. You will find it boring and badly written and unchallenging.

    Cormac McCarthy is certainly not bad literature. There are a few of us who would recommend Sutree as being his best. If you are used to conventional literature you might find William Gibson’s first novel, Neuromancer, a difficult read. But it is worth putting an effort and the rest of his books will be a clear sailing.

  3. I rarely give up on a book once begun because I hate to think I’ve wasted my time; however, occasionally I succumb. Peaking depends on my level of frustration at the time of abandonment. More maddening to me is a book of which I’ve enjoyed three-quarters only to find the last quarter is overextended denouement.

    All said, if there were no “poor” literature (in quotes because of the subjectivity), perhaps we would not fully savor “exquisite” literature.

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