On Giving up on Books and ‘Book Guilt’

I hate giving up on a book once I’ve started it. I like to call this “book guilt,” and from talking to a few others, I’m not the only one who has it. Recently, I’ve tried to let it go.

A few months ago, I started a book called Fall; Or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson. It’s a huge, sprawling epic released in 2019 about a billionaire tech CEO who has his consciousness uploaded into the Cloud. Neal Stephenson is a widely acclaimed author in science fiction, and I was excited to start it. It’s a cool concept for a book, and something I’ve wondered about often (uploading our brains onto computers).

About a quarter of the way through, I lost interest. The novel moved slowly and was bogged down by tedious details. No wonder it’s more than 900 pages! Stephenson writes about the intricate details of his characters’ life and it was plain boring – like them going over contracts, reading the news, buying books.

(I was happy to learn I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like the book. Goodread users give it 3.6 out of 5 stars).

The same thing happened when I started Stephen King’s The Shining. I’d never read a Stephen King book before. He’s the modern “king” of horror fiction in many peoples’ eyes, so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. But I found The Shining to be incredibly dull.

The novel centers around the Torrance family, who are down on their luck after the father, Jack, loses his prestigious teaching job. Jack is a stereotypical writer-alcoholic with a bad temper (which is why he lost his job). The young son, Danny, has telepathic powers. The wife, Wendy, is also a stereotype: a worrying wife who just wants a white-picket-fence existence, but is instead helpless against her husband’s rages.

The Shining is a famous book and was made more famous for its film depiction, starring Jack Nicholson. So, I already know how it ends. I got to the part where the family moves into the secluded, haunted hotel in the Colorado mountains and, after trying my hardest, had to put the book down.

Life’s too short for book guilt

Ugh. Two well-esteemed authors and two books I couldn’t finish.

This brings me to my point: book guilt. For the longest time, I felt like I had to finish a book once I started it, but those days are long gone. Life’s too short.

Also, it’s another reminder to me that all taste in literature and art is subjective. King and Stephenson have many dedicated fans and awards to their name. Stephen King also has quite a few zeros in his bank account. But their novels just didn’t resonate with me. They seemed just … boring.

Give me the weird stuff – unreliable narrators, books with multiple points of view, stuff that jumps from different eras and not in chronological order. The weirder, the better for me.

(Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash)

I guess my book-guilt is a kind of perfectionism. When I put a book down, I feel like a quitter. I also feel like I’m missing out. What if it gets better? Why does everyone else love this but I think it’s rubbish?

This is a problem, I suppose, for a book nerd. I talked to a friend recently who told me she used to do the same thing. As she got older, though, she had no problem abandoning a book she didn’t like. I’m starting to feel the same way. Why slog through something like it’s a summer reading assignment from school?

Alas, I moved on to more fruitful reading after my hangover from The Shining and Stephenson’s book. I read a delightful novella called Silver in the Wood that was a modern re-telling of the Green Man myth. I’ve read a few books of poetry, too, including one strange collection from Margaret Atwood.

So, all’s well that ends well.

My message to you: Give up the book-guilt, if you have it. Read freely and, if you don’t like, drop that book like a bad habit!

(Cover Photo by Daniel Álvasd on Unsplash)

2 thoughts on “On Giving up on Books and ‘Book Guilt’

  1. Like the term “book guilt” and I agree with your post, But, sometimes I am glad I didn’t give up when a slow-starter redeems itself. Have you tried King’s On Writing? Great book for authors.

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