Diary of a Bookseller

Life’s Too Short to Read Bad Books

This one is inspired by the conversations I’ve had with my coworkers in the past few weeks as we’ve all been setting our reading goals.

Diary of a Bookseller #26

I’ll get it out of the way for anyone who needs to hear it: You don’t have to finish every book you start.

There, now that that’s out of the way, the last few years reading was starting to feel like a slog – too many obligations, some internal, some external – trying to meet a specific number of books, write a certain number of blurbs for each publisher, writing a review a week on here, etc. It felt like it had been a long time since I actually enjoyed reading. I had so many rules for myself with books that it had become a little absurd – I was a completionist as I called it, if I started a book I had to finish it. If I started a series, I felt compelled to finish it, even if I didn’t particularly like it. If I was running book club, I had to finish the book, whether I wanted to read it or not.

No more. During the first few weeks of lockdown in the pandemic in March and April 2020, I could not bring myself to read. Nothing was holding my interest, it all felt forced. As the book buyer, I felt like I had to be reading things that weren’t out yet, keeping up with the implied obligation to the publishers to crank out reviews for new books because everything was closed, and how else would they tell people about all the new books if us booksellers weren’t reading them? (A little misguided on my part, they have massive marketing budgets). But it was like being back in school with assigned reading – I’d promised to read things that only vaguely held my interest. I promised to keep running book club on Zoom with books that only vaguely held my interest. I’d over committed and over promised on my reading. I wasn’t doing it for me anymore, I was doing it for everyone else.

Last night was book club, the last of the books that I had no real say in selecting, and the pick for the night was Quiet. Spoiler, I hated it. Second spoiler, I’m not reviewing it. I may even delete it from the Bridge Street book club page. The good news is that it brought us two new book club members, but it also let me let it go. I didn’t finish it. I went into book club for the first time in a very, very long time without having finished the book and without an excuse as to why other than I just didn’t want to give it my precious time.

We don’t have a ton of time. I forget which famous author did the math in an interview about how many books are published in a year and how many we can read in a lifetime if we read a book a day, but suffice to say, it’s really not a whole lot of books that we can make it through, so why would I continue reading books that are a chore?

Now obviously there are times when you have to read a book you don’t want to or when you should read a book that may make you uncomfortable, those aren’t the books that I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the books with a cool cover, the one that you picked up on an impulse, and then started reading and realized you hated the characters, the writing style wasn’t for you, or you really weren’t that into the topic anymore. Let it go. Put it aside. Tell yourself you’ll come back to it eventually if you need to, I certainly have.

Those of us who love reading want to enjoy it, right? It shouldn’t turn into a chore, it shouldn’t burn us out, and we shouldn’t give hours of our lives to books that don’t deserve it. I still firmly maintain that it’s not the author’s fault (most of the time) if I abandon their book. It’s just not the right fit for me at the time. You wouldn’t walk around in shoes two sizes too small all day, would you? Well maybe, that might be a bad example. But I hope you, fellow booklover, see the point I’m trying to make. Reclaim your reading, make it for you, and your happiness. You deserve books that bring you joy.

4 thoughts on “Life’s Too Short to Read Bad Books”

  1. I’ve been blessed to come across some great books in 2022, and that has shown me what I really enjoy. And you’re right. There are so many more books than we can ever read in this lifetime, which is why I’m more liberal with my DNFs these days. Always used to slog through no matter how bad. Now, I just stay mindful and if I ever find myself skimming over paragraphs too many times, then I know it’s time to move on.

    Liked by 1 person

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