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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This can be a hard judgment call to make, and likely requires consideration of other factors. Refer to other questions for insight.
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.
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!
In an earlier post Not Just at Bedtime we suggested reading aloud at meal-time. In this post we present the possibility of reading independently at some of your family meals.
When I was growing up in the 1950s as the middle child of five, our family breakfast was definitely not a formal affair. We all walked to public schools in different directions that had staggered starting times, so our breakfasts were staggered too. Choice of cold cereal with topping of fruit was what was typically set out for us on the counter separating the kitchen from the dining room. With only four stools, we had to take turns. Eating breakfast in that way, I read the backs of more cereal boxes than I care to count. How I wish there had been some more interesting reading material laid out next to the boxes of cereal!
If you want to try this out with your family, I suggest you gather a few books at the right reading level for each of your children, books that they can read easily and will especially appreciate. Hardbacks work best because they are more likely to lie flat when open. But don't offer up your prized books for breakfast reading. Expect that cereal and milk will find their way onto the pages, so worn copies from a thrift shop will be a better fit. Only put a few out at a time and rotate them regularly so there is always something new on the "menu."
Below are some ideas for types of books that you might use in this context. I purposely chose books from a variety of genres to get you thinking about the possibilities.
In the Dolch Basic Vocabulary Series the emphasis is on presenting interesting subject matter in a literary way, all the while employing a simple vocabulary with an average of less than one new word per page. The pages, which feature large text and spacious margins, do not have the look of a "school reader," so they are a good match for students just beginning to read independently at home. Stories vary in length but most are five pages, and typically take less than five minutes to read. Sample pages from the three titles pictured above appear below, followed by a graphic showing a list of all the titles in the series.
The STEP-UP books are fine choices for children once they are comfortable with reading and are ready to explore on their own. According to the publisher, in the STEP-UP series,
Below is a list of the books in two categories of STEP-UP books: Nature Library and the Story of America. Then sample covers are displayed for three of the titles in the Nature Library and one in Story of America, followed by sample page spreads from these same volumes.
I have long been a fan of the minute biographies illustrated by Samuel Nisenson with text written by others. Each biography spans one or at most two 8 1/2 x 11 pages. There is an illustration by Nisenson at the top of each biography that draws the reader in and sets the stage for the story that follows. While each biography includes an outline of the individual's life, the focus is on the major impact that he had in his field of endeavour, whether for good or ill. The stories are interestingly told with enough detail to fix the reader's attention, but with more to discover upon further inquiry.
Below are sample covers for three books in this series along with sample page spreads.
Here is a list of all the books I know about in this series. If you know of others, please let me know. For all titles Samuel Nisenson is the Illustrator.
100 Greatest Sports Heroes by Mac Davis
History's 100 Greatest Composers by Helen L. Kaufman
History's 100 Greatest Events by William A. Dewitt
Illustrated Minute Biographies by William A. Dewitt
Minute Biographies by Alfred Parker
More Minute Biographies by Alfred Parker
Last, but not least, a set of riddle books, enjoyed by everyone! Zany illustrations and easy to read text in Bennett Cerf's Book of Riddles, More Riddles, and Animal Riddles will have your young reader in stitches.
Some days a child may want to read a book at their reading level, but other days they may want to read an easier book, or one that particularly catches their eye, regardless of reading level. Let them decide!
Sad to say, I strongly suspect that all the books featured in this post are no longer in print. Most, if not all, can be purchased relatively reasonably, though, at used books sites such as bookfinder.com. You may also want to keep an eye out for them at library sales or thrift shops. To preview titles at Internet Archive click on the text links above, the page spreads of the STEP-UP Books, and the covers of the riddle books. When you arrive at Internet Archive you will be able either to Borrow the book immediately or join a Waitlist to access it at a later time. Examining the full text at Internet Archive can help you decide what books might be worth purchasing for your family.
If you are inspired to try serving books for breakfast, please let us know in the comments how it goes! Do you have suggestions for other books that would be good to offer for morning fare?