It’s a new month, and a new category for the 2016 MMD Reading Challenge! This month we’re tackling “a book you previously abandoned.”
Let’s talk about this.
John Irving wrote, grown-ups shouldn’t finish books they’re not enjoying. I’m an abandoner. If a book isn’t working for me, I often—but not always—put it aside.
But there are many reasons to abandon a book—and this category prompts you to revisit a book you previously abandoned. Not because every book deserves your second chance, but because some books do, and it would be a shame for you to miss out on those.
I’ve learned that there’s a difference between a book that’s not right for me, and a book that’s not right for me right now. And understanding this difference has, perhaps ironically, made me much more comfortable with casting a book aside. In reading, as in so much of life, timing is everything.
When I reflect back on why I abandoned certain books—books that weren’t bad, but just weren’t right at the time—three reasons keep coming up:
1. We’re not ready. To understand this reason, picture a classroom full of sixteen-year-olds—or worse, twelve-year-olds—struggling through Jane Eyre. This is an amazing book, no doubt—but it’s one a whole lot of teenagers have a terrible time wrapping their brains around. Would they enjoy it in ten years? Maybe, maybe not. But the odds of them hitting it off with Jane are exponentially greater ten years later, when they can approach the work with more reasoning skills and more life experience.
My daughters ask me periodically if they’re ready to read Jane Austen yet. You might think I’d pounce on this, because I love Jane Austen. But I always tell them some version of probably not, but it’s up to you. Their odds of actually enjoying Austen improve with every year that goes by.
I adore Crossing to Safety. It’s a lifetime favorite title. I didn’t read that until my thirties, which is a good thing—I don’t think I would have appreciated it half as much—and maybe not even 10%—if I’d read it in my early twenties. And if I’d read it in high school? Disaster.
2. Wrong circumstances. Every reader has a painful story from her own life to illustrate this point, so to show you what I mean, I’ll turn to fiction.
In the book One True Loves (a Summer Reading Guide pick for 2016) Emma’s husband disappears at sea (it’s a very Castaway) kind of situation. Devastated, she moves back home to her parent’s house, to her childhood bedroom, and she gets so bored that she finally cracks open the books that her bookseller parents have given her over the years:
“You read all the way through to the end of one, only to find out that the husband dies. You hurl the book across the room, breaking the bedside lamp. When your mom comes home that night, you tell her what happened. You ask her for books where no one dies.”
That book might have been wonderful—maybe she would have loved it five years before, or even ten years after—but it’s wrong now.
(I love what happens next:
“Two days later, you find both of your parents in the living room with a pile of novels on the coffee table. They are skimming through them one by one, making sure every character lives to the end. That night, you have a new stack of books to read and you open the first one confident it won’t break you down.” )
3. Wrong setting. We choose the right book for the right setting so naturally we don’t even realize we’re doing it—until we get it wrong. If you’ve ever taken a deep philosophical book to the pool (where you’re supposed to keep your eyes on the kids) or tried to read a fluffy beach read curled up by the fire with a blanket and cup of tea, you know what I’m talking about. (Well, unless you like your philosophy with a side of splashing and your beach reads to warm your January soul.)
Sometimes we read because we have to, but when we get to choose, we want our books to match where we are—our moods, our season, our time of day. We may not appreciate a great book if we’re trying to read it in a setting that doesn’t welcome it.
Of course, sometimes a book is just no good, and there’s no sense in revisiting one of those. But if you abandoned a book for one of the three reasons above, this is your chance to circle back and give it another try.
I can’t wait to hear what you pick—and why.
What are you reading for this category? Tell us your title and why you picked it in comments. And you know I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts on the above: what books have you read before you were ready, or in the wrong circumstances or setting?