I vividly remember the first book I never finished. It was Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and I hated it. Up until that point I read everything veraciously and this was the first book that I struggled through, that gave me reader’s block and made me struggle with whether it was okay to give up on a book.
And my answer is yes.
I’ve rarely found anyone who has given up on a book did so without good reason, even if that reason is that they didn’t like it; there’s often reasons why they didn’t. It’s why the book club I run has a rule that you don’t have to finish the book. Rarely do I find that people didn’t finish a book because they ran out of time, and if they did it’s usually because something was preventing them from picking up the book in the first place. But if someone doesn’t finish a book, there’s usually just as much to talk about as those who mercifully struggled to the end. Hated the plot, the characters or the writing style? Great, lets discuss why! Books people don’t finish often make better book club books anyway.
Thankfully it’s not just me who thinks it’s okay to give up on a book, even as a self-described reader / bookworm. Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project (which is a great book) talks about the relief of giving up on a book and letting go of the sense of obligation. And Adele Parks advised a teacher not to force young people to finish a book if they hated it at a World Book Night event I went to. So if authors are advising people to give up on books they hate it seems reasonable to do so.
But when do you give up on books? Writer Jen Doll suggests preserving with 100 pages. I tend to go for 100 pages or 10% of the book before making a judgement, but some times the first five pages are enough. This way I avoid the guilt that comes with leaving a book unfinished; I’ve given myself a point where it’s okay to just admit it’s not for me.
What do you think, am I admitting defeat too early, should I struggle on and finish what I started? Or is life just too short to read books you don’t like?
Wednesday was an interesting day for me; in the morning I went to a social media book club held by two of the students from Birmingham City University’s MA in social media and in the evening was the Birmingham Skeptics in The Pub discussion by Michael Marshall on How PR came to rule modern journalism (more about the latter in another post I think). Wow that was a long sentence.
I pitched up to the Social media book club (or #masocialmedia book club on twitter) after Alina and Grace, the organisers, turned up to my book club last month and invited me along. Sadly the short notice on getting the book and two trips meant I didn’t get to finish the book, but I made a good way through the book of choice; Making Is Connecting by David Gaunlett.
I don’t think it would be fair of me to try and explain what the book is about as I didn’t finish it, but the longer version of the title is a good place to start ‘Making is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity, from DIY and Knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0’. I thought the parts of the book I read were pretty interesting, although very optimistic and could’ve done with being a little more sceptical at times. I sort of waffled through something about Apple and approving/rejecting apps and some issues it got into trouble with that I read a while back, which in hindsight the MA social media students were probably in a better position to talk about than me!
Was interesting to see how a non-fiction book club could work. Seemed everyone (apart from me) read the whole book, with each chapter being given to someone to focus on and lead the discussion, which I think worked superbly and really gave a sense of interaction with everyone. I’m thinking of nicking the idea for my book club, but I’m not sure they’d be overly keen on homework!
I completely forgot to mention it here, but I’ve written a guest blogpost over at Urban Coffee Company‘s website on how to survive a book club. Its about what to look out for if you’re new, have been going to book clubs for a while or are running one yourself – as well as trying to dispel the idea that book clubs are just retired old ladies discussing stuffy historical romances. Kind of apt timing really, given my previous post here was about attending another book club.
It has been up since last Wednesday, but check it out here and let me know what you think.
Not quite as exciting as the title makes it out to be, but earlier in the week I attended another book club other than the one I currently run. I’ve attended two book clubs a month before, which is a bit of a struggle reading two books chosen for you, rather than the ones you want to read. At least it is for me.
We read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Personally I was fairly apathetic about the book, which surprised me as usually I come down on one side of the fence, but this was pretty meh. I just didn’t care about the characters, I didn’t hate the supposed annoying main character, and I thought the book could say more about the environment it was set in. But I just didn’t get the humour, which I’d say is fairly integral to whether you like the book or not. This is a modern classic and yet somehow I managed to miss it whilst studying American literature for two years. That said if Wikipedia is anything to go by publishers rejected the book during Toole’s lifetime for being fairly pointless, which was my summation before I’d discovered that piece of trivia.
Anyway, the book club is The Birmingham Book Club and Popular Culture Meetup Group, which has over 700 members, thankfully about 30-40 people attend the book discussions – which is still twice as many people than any other book club I’ve ever been to. That said it runs smoothly and pretty much like most book clubs; whilst everyone introduces themselves and their feelings on the book at the beginning, the main contributors to the discussion number about 15 – or at least did do at this meeting.
The discussion did feel a bit more akin to English Lit seminars at university rather than a chatty informal discussion about books, which certainly makes this book club different to the one I run – both of which I really enjoy. It’s nice to know if I can manage to read two books a month of someone else’s choosing without distracting myself with my own to-read pile that I can have the best of both worlds.
They’re meeting on Tuesday 12th June at 8pm in The Victoria Pub to discuss The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories. I’ll be at the University of Birmingham’s annual happiness lecture, but you should go.