The difference between a book that’s not right for you, and a book that’s not right for you right now

The difference between a book that’s not right for you, and a book that’s not right for you right now

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.

MMD 2016 Reading Challenge

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?

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85 comments

  1. Christine, Australia says:

    I’m going to have another go at Eleanor Catton’s ‘The Luminaries’, set in 19th century New Zealand. It has an intimidatingly long first chapter, which I was quite enjoying just before I went travelling. But I decided the book was too heavy to carry with me (c 800 pages), so abandoned it for something shorter and physically lighter. But I have been meaning to get back to it – here goes.

  2. Kristen says:

    Jane Eyre. I’ve abandoned it at least twice. It is a strange one for me. I love classic literature (Gaskell, Austen, etc) and I loved the movie but I’ve never been able to get passed her time away at school and get into the meet of the story. I think both times I abandoned were audio books, so today I cracked the cover of an old copy I dug out of my parents bookshelves last Christmas and started reading. I will finish it this time! Even if for no other reason than to mark this off my reading challenge (but I’m really hoping and thinking I’ll love it)!

  3. Carolyn in Utah says:

    There are several books I WISH I’d abandoned but sometimes books have such a huge fan following that I get curious. “Twilight” was one such book I was dying to abandon but wanted to give it a fair shot to see what all the hoopla was about. UGH– hours of my life I wish I had back. I read “House of Sand & Fog” based on an Oprah rave review and I’ve never trusted her reviews since then.
    When I was young I would attempt to read A Separate Peace because it had an interesting cover and it was on our bookshelf at home. I was far too young to understand it but every year I would give it a shot.
    @MaryKate I also did not enjoy The Casual Vacancy at all– it seemed to me that JK Rowling saved up all the F-bombs she could not use in the Harry Potter series and unleashed them all on the pages of TCV. It was truly offensive and unreadable, although I slogged my way through through to the end. Her Cormoran Strike books are really enjoyable, though.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I tried to read the Mitford Series at 18 and was instantly bored. I tried again at 30 and they were perfect. At 18, I wanted adventures. At 30, I want a sweet peace.

  5. Ioanna says:

    I’m quite picky with the books I read and I always feel sad when I have to abandon one but it’s impossible for me to force myself into reading something I don’t really like. This summer I had to abandon Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. It may be considered by many people one of the greatest books ever, but for me it failed to impress me. To tell you the truth – after reading the first 120 pages, I still hadn’t figured out what the book was all about.

  6. Susan says:

    I am considering giving Doctor Zhivago another try. I found my bookmark, and I was already 300 pages in. I can’t remember why I abandoned it. But, my father-in-law is rereading it, so maybe now is a good time!

  7. Jennifer says:

    Absolutely, positively spot on per the usual Anne!! I almost gave up on “Everyone Brave Is Forgiven”, but then listened to an interview with the author. His explanation of his research process and why he wrote the dialogue the way he did totally put the book in a new light for me!
    Ps–are those your bookshelves? I LOVE the color! What is it?!

    • Anne says:

      Those are indeed my bookshelves. It’s a Porter Paint color. I was aiming for Anthropologie orange but instead ended up with a distinctly salmon kind of color.

  8. Jennifer N. says:

    I was a professed Thomas Hardy hater, as I read Tess in high school and hated every second (I did finish it, though). A couple years ago, I decided to tackle Far from the Madding Crowd ahead of the movie release and I really enjoyed it. This has made me wonder if a second look at Tess would be worth the journey.

    • Jennifer N. says:

      Also, I believe Wuthering Heights will be my selection for books I abandoned. I think there is still a bookmark in place from the last time I put it down (about 15 years ago!).

    • Anne says:

      At first glance I thought this said “professional Thomas Hardy hater” which made me chuckle. I’ve never read Tess or Far From the Madding Crowd, though I’ve seen the Hallmark version of the first. I can only imagine it was significantly gentler.

    • Heidi says:

      I can beat that — King’s “Pet Sematary” on the three-hour drive to our new house which — unbeknownst to me — was located across the street from a cemetery. Fourteen-year-old me didn’t sleep for a week… and didn’t pick up another King for a while.

  9. Jamie says:

    About 10 years ago I read a memoir-type book about a missionary couple who was kidnapped and held hostage in SE Asia. It was a page turner, heartbreaking but redemptive at the same time. Would I re-read that book now? Most likely not. Why? Because, 10 years later, I’m married, with kids, and a missionary overseas. The very same parts of that book that drew me into the story would now be major triggers for anxiety, fear, and worry – I could easily internalize that story and let my imagination run wild, right off a cliff! I’ve learned that being aware of those type of emotional or situational triggers in stories is very important to my emotional and reading health. It could be a great story with all the right pieces for me…but maybe the me a few years from now, or a few years ago.

  10. Angel says:

    Well, I could say that it happened to me twice. The first one is The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. I got excited at this book after hearing a review on a podcast. I wasn’t able to get it immediately after that podcast episode and when I got the book, I was expecting to read it with excitement. But when I read the first chapter, I was disappointed. since I want to give it the benefit of the doubt, I read it up to the last page. The feeling was the same.

    Another book is Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. But until now it didn’t get my attenntion. I feel sleepy when I read it. I am still hoping that I will enjoy it someday. But for now, I have to stop reading it.

  11. Hannah Beth Reid says:

    I had abandoned the classic “Rebecca” twice in the last year, so I was happy when it was chosen for the book club I participate in because I would be more likely to stick with it and finish. Both of the first two times I started it were in the winter and while that’s perhaps a good setting for some to read a non-fluffy book, when the book club read it in May, I loved it! I think timing really was everything! Thanks for this post to get us thinking!

  12. Guest says:

    Yes, yes, yes. I could not get into To Kill a Mockingbird when I was younger (it was not required reading for me but I tried because it was a classic). I bought it again in my 20s and still could not get into it. Read it last year as part of the MMD challenge and absolutely loved it. The poor grammar and not-watched-after kids really bothered me when I was younger but being older, I was able to get through those and found such incredible wisdom and depth to it.

    For the second point, a well-meaning neighbor gave me The Shack to read. When I was, what felt like, 20 months pregnant with our daughter. I read a few pages and told her I couldn’t read books about disappearing children at this time in my life.

    Lastly, I have a personal story to illustrate your point. En route to Scotland for vacation, I began reading Bill Bryson’s Notes From a Small Island. I ended up limiting how many pages I could read a day to make it last longer. In the mornings, my husband and I would have breakfast and I would steal away to a local coffee shop to read my allotted pages for the day. It was magical reading about his travels through the UK while looking out over Loch Lomond or the Highlands.

  13. J. A. Hall says:

    I have suffered from serious chronic depression and anxiety for 28 years. Prior to my abduction by this disease, I never abandonded a book, based purely on principle, “thou shalt not abandon any book…”. Since then, my book abandonm ent habit knows no bounds. Some books I avoid simply because of their title, many others I have tossed aside halfway into the first, second or third chapter. A large number of my abandoned babies are books I have yearned to read; but that feeling, I recognize it in an instant, the feeling that stirs in my gut telling me if I read one more page, the monster will be unleashed, is so strong, I have learned to drop many a book without the slightest remorse.

  14. Monique says:

    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’ve tried to read this twice and each time I keep getting distracted by other books. I truly do enjoy it and the characters, but right now it feels like a fall book…because leaves, trees, and autumn seem to go together. I’m going to devote to it the time that it deserves some point this season.

  15. Tammy says:

    I never thought of books as not being right to read now. That’s perfect and I’m going to be aware of that when I decide to abandon another book. I usually give up on a book after reading about 50 pages. There are so many books I want to read that spending time on one that I don’t enjoy is just not a good thing for me.

    When I was in my early 30s, I read Umberto Eco’s book “Foucault’s Pendulum”. The Name of the Rose was good so this one should be too, right? Wrong. For me it was an awful, boring story, but I made myself read it because I bought the book and didn’t want to feel like I wasted my money. I loaned it to my boss who thought it was a great story.

    I decided that if I don’t like a book, there is always someone who will. That being said, I will hang onto books for a while to see if it just wasn’t the right time to read it.

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