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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!

Rebecca Ripperton
 

  • Kelly says:

    I appreciate the thought behind this and may print it out and keep it to think on. My method is merely to go with my gut – when a book just doesn’t feel right, I stop reading it. Hard to describe my process, I guess, but there is most definitely a deep gut feeling I have when I am reading the wrong book.

    • Rebecca Ripperton says:

      Thanks for commenting, Kelly! Gut instincts are a pretty reliable indicator in my experience. There are too many wonderful books in the world to waste time reading ones that aren’t right!

      – Rebecca

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