When is it OK to bail on a book?

Raise the white flag on crappy books.

Raise the white flag on crappy books.

Let me tell you a story.

I was attracted to this girl that read a lot of books. Unfortunately she would not sleep with me. Something about her already having a boyfriend and not being interested anyway. We had great conversations about books. She recommended that I read some of Hemingway’s stuff. She thought his writing might suit my style. I’d never read any Hemingway.

Guess what? I picked up the first Hemingway book I could find. It was Across The River and Into the Trees. It was the first book of his that I found in the library. I read the entire book. It was brutal.

The book is about this older dude in his 50’s, who is dying. He spends the whole book talking about this young girl that he is obsessed with , who’s maybe 18. He keeps calling her “My love” and stuff like that. Older dude wanting to bone younger chick. The whole book was about that.

I suffered through and finished the book because it was my first exposure to Hemingway. I wanted to read a work by one of the greatest American authors. I told my friend, a retired winemaker who was finishing his own memoir, about my first Hemingway experience. He said, “Yeah, that was when he was older and that’s not one of his best works.”

What I learned is that I should have bailed on the book.

Not every book is great. Your time is limited. If you cast a wide net and read books on a variety of topics; if you read books that challenge you and take you out of your comfort zone, you will find yourself reading a book that just doesn’t work for you.

If you find yourself struggling forward, like trudging up a hill in deep sand, then consider putting the book down. If it feels like torture, it probably is.

Sometimes the best action is to surrender. Give up. Cut your losses and bail on crappy books.

Years later I tried reading another novel by one of the great American authors. I picked up Tender Is The Night because I enjoyed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. What is it about authors writing entire books about an older dude wanting to bone 18 year old chicks? Tender Is The Night reminded me too much of Across The River and Into the Trees.

This time I cut my losses and bailed on the book one third of the way in. It was the right decision.

Both of those books were written by great American authors and maybe both are regarded as great novels. But they weren’t great for me.

There are too many good books out there to waste your time reading something that makes your brain feel like mud.

The problem is that some books are slow to get started, then pick up speed, and explode at the end. These are some of the most rewarding books to read.

So how do you know when to bail on a book or to keep reading when it feels like you’re getting bogged down? It boils down to experience and intuition.

When I was less experienced I’d plow through tortuous, uninteresting books because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. As I dealt with this problem more I got a better feeling of the situation. I understood myself better. I knew when a book just wasn’t right for me, and I’d put the book down.

Experience will teach you when to let go. The important thing to realize is it’s ok to give up on a book, even if the book is considered a classic or written by a great author.

What about Hemingway? Did I miss out on one of the greatest authors of all time? No, I went back and read The Old Man and The Sea. Now that is a good book.

And the girl, what about the girl? I dunno. I moved 3000 miles away and she stopped answering the phone when I would call. Ouch.

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