Rebecca Ripperton

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How To Know When To Stop Reading a Book

by Rebecca Ripperton
May 6, 2019

Most of us periodically encounter books that we have to battle to get through. Most of us have also “given up” on finishing books in the past. This can be a tremendous source of guilt. It doesn’t feel good to leave things that we’ve started unfinished; giving up on a book can also feel like a reflection of our character and intellectual habits. How are we supposed to be rigorous and disciplined thinkers if we can’t even finish reading a two or three-hundred page book?

However, sometimes the alternative to “giving up” on a book is worse. In some cases, “giving up” is actually a more far prudent choice than the decision to soldier on. Below are some questions that we use to determine when it’s best to keep reading, and when it’s best to set a book aside and simply move on to other projects.

Is this book worth reading, but above my (or my child’s) current reading level?

If the answer to this question is yes, you’ll want to evaluate just how far above your current reading level the book is. If it’s only slightly challenging, you may want to persevere. But, if the book is far above your current reading level, you may want to set it aside until you’re better prepared to appreciate it. (This question, as you may infer, is most relevant to younger and/or still developing readers.)

Does this book make me more or less curious about this topic?

If a book is diminishing your interest in a given subject, it’s probably a good idea to find a different book on that same topic. Reading should always encourage curiosity, not dampen it.

Would I prefer to read this book at a different season of my life?

If you believe that you would better appreciate a book at another time or season in your life, it may be best to set it aside for the present with the understanding that you’ll return to it in the future. Sometimes we simply aren’t ready for certain books. In those cases, it’s usually better to wait until we are ready than to jeopardize whatever relationships we may have had with them.

Would I want to discuss this book with other people?

Your desire to discuss a book is a good indication of your engagement with it, even if you aren’t particularly fond of the book. And it can be incredibly beneficial to read things that we don’t “like,” simply because such books present us with an opportunity to sharpen our own thinking and ideas. If you’re absorbed enough by a book to want to talk about it, you are likely engaged enough to find value from finishing it.

Am I consistently skimming through the text without registering or remembering what I’ve read?

Just because you find yourself not reading a book closely doesn’t mean that you should give up on the book, or even that anything is wrong with the book at all. Instead, there may be something awry in your reading habits or in your approach to that particular book.

So, before you make a decision about the fate of the book, look at your own reading habits and see where you can make improvements. You may also want to try reading shorter passages, only increasing the length gradually as your attention and interest develop. Some books really are best digested in smaller quantities.

Am I unable to get past how poorly the book was written?

For me, bad writing is often a deal breaker (depending on the content of the book and the context in which I’m reading it). If you still believe that the ideas presented in the book are valuable and worth spending time with, you may want to continue. But if the ideas are unsound and the writing is poor, you may want to consider moving on to another book entirely.

What if I’ve gotten through the first 50-100 pages, but am still not interested?

This can be a hard judgment call to make, and likely requires consideration of other factors. Refer to other questions for insight.

Is this book refining the way I see or think about the world?

If a book is changing the way you see the world or changing the way you think, I would continue to read it as these are the very reasons we turn to books in the first place. We read to learn and to expand our minds (and to simultaneously sate and encourage our curiosity!) So even though you may be struggling through a more difficult book, if it is refining the way you think, it should be well worth the challenge.

Other questions to ask yourself:

  • Does this book make me more or less excited about reading in general?
  • Would I recommend this book to other people?
  • ​Will I regret not reading this book?
  • Do I want to give up just because of the length of the book or is it because of something else?
  • Am I only reading this book because it was a gift from someone I love and/or respect?
  • Am I only reading this book because I think I should?
  • Will I continue to think about this book after I’ve finished reading it?

Share your experience

What about you all? How do you know when it’s best to stop reading a book? Have you ever stopped reading a book and then returned to it years later? Are there any books that you’ve given up on that you later regretted? Please let us know in a comment below!


What We’re Reading This Spring

by Rebecca Ripperton
April 29, 2019

We thought we’d write a shorter post today just letting you all know what we’ve been reading lately, and also asking our readers about what books you’ve been reading this spring.

“The Enchanted Hour” by Meghan Cox Gurdon

From HarperCollins: “A Wall Street Journal writer’s conversation-changing look at how reading aloud makes adults and children smarter, happier, healthier, more successful and more closely attached, even as technology pulls in the other direction.
A miraculous alchemy occurs when one person reads to another, transforming the simple stuff of a book, a voice, and a bit of time into complex and powerful fuel for the heart, brain, and imagination. Grounded in the latest neuroscience and behavioral research, and drawing widely from literature, The Enchanted Hour explains the dazzling cognitive and social-emotional benefits that await children, whatever their class, nationality or family background. But it’s not just about bedtime stories for little kids: Reading aloud consoles, uplifts and invigorates at every age, deepening the intellectual lives and emotional well-being of teenagers and adults, too.”

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My interest in reading aloud was sparked decades ago by the first edition of The Read Aloud Handbook. Ever since, I have been a sucker for any book that had "read aloud" in the title. The Enchanted Hour promised not only to discuss reading aloud, but to put it in the context of the latest neurological research. And how it did deliver! Written in an engaging narrative style, it can't help but resonate with parents, the primary audience for the book, as it did with me. I have just gotten a second copy so I can annotate it, as Rebecca suggested in her Shakespeare post last week. Now I am going to read the book a second time, looking up the notes in the back and marking in the text the lines of inquiry I would like to pursue. Perhaps some may surface in upcoming blog posts! — Lisa

The “Kristin Lavransdatter” trilogy by Sigrid Undset

From Penguin Classics: “In her great historical epic Kristin Lavransdatter, set in fourteenth-century Norway, Nobel laureate Sigrid Undset tells the life story of one passionate and headstrong woman. Painting a richly detailed backdrop, Undset immerses readers in the day-to-day life, social conventions, and political and religious undercurrents of the period. Now in one volume, Tiina Nunnally’s award-winning definitive translation brings this remarkable work to life with clarity and lyrical beauty.
As a young girl, Kristin is deeply devoted to her father, a kind and courageous man. But when as a student in a convent school she meets the charming and impetuous Erlend Nikulaussøn, she defies her parents in pursuit of her own desires. Her saga continues through her marriage to Erlend, their tumultuous life together raising seven sons as Erlend seeks to strengthen his political influence, and finally their estrangement as the world around them tumbles into uncertainty.
With its captivating heroine and emotional potency, Kristin Lavransdatter is the masterwork of Norway’s most beloved author—one of the twentieth century’s most prodigious and engaged literary minds—and, in Nunnally’s exquisite translation, a story that continues to enthrall.”

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My mom gave me a beautiful old set of these books for Christmas this past year, and I've just begun to read the first book of the series, The Wreath. My interest in Scandinavian literature has developed significantly over the past year, so I was especially excited to receive these as a gift. I haven’t gotten very far into the first book yet, but the setting and Undset’s writing are both beautiful, and I’m looking forward to reading more! — Rebecca

“Trees of Power” by Akiva Silver

From the Twisted Tree Farm website: Trees of Power is written by Akiva Silver, owner and operator of Twisted Tree Farm. This in depth book covers the propagation, cultivation, uses, and ecology of trees. It is a catalyst and a guide for those of us who already work with trees or those who want to start.

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A year ago this weekend I was involved with launching a farming enterprise with two of my neighbors on 24 acres of land. Mark Shepard, author of Restoration Agriculture, led the workshop here to build earthworks and plant 1000 chestnuts and 1500 hazelnuts over the course of three days. But Akiva Silver, author of Trees of Power, was the inspiration for it all. Every spring and fall for a half dozen years, he visited our neighborhood, bringing trees to plant and stories about them to share. Because of his enthusiasm for trees we became passionate as well. We were delighted when Trees of Power came out this spring. It included some of the stories we had heard, but so much more too, especially about the importance of each tree in its ecological niche and how best to propagate and care for them, empowering us as planters of trees. — Lisa

The Kitchen as Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking

From Columbia University Press: “From the seemingly mundane to the food fantastic—from grilled cheese sandwiches, pizzas, and soft-boiled eggs to Turkish ice cream, sugar glasses, and jellified beads—the essays in The Kitchen as Laboratory cover a range of creations and their history and culture. They consider the significance of an eater's background and dining atmosphere and the importance of a chef's methods, as well as the strategies used to create a great diversity of foods and dishes. This collection will delight experts and amateurs alike, especially as restaurants rely more on science-based cooking and recreational cooks increasingly explore the physics and chemistry behind their art. Contributors end each essay with their personal thoughts on food, cooking, and science, offering rare insight into a professional's passion for playing with food.”

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The Kitchen as Laboratory is a collection of 33 essays written by different gastronomists, chefs, and scientists about the chemistry of cooking. And it’s just as quirky and technical as I wanted it to be. The essays themselves are fairly scientific, with hypotheses, experiments, data and interpretation, etc. However, the question that each essay addresses is relevant to both cooks and eaters, and the writing is clear and compelling. If you love cooking and also chemistry, this makes for a really fun read! — Rebecca

Share your experience

What about you all? What have you been reading lately? What book is up next on your “to read” stack? Please share any recent recommendations you may have in a comment below!

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