Pleasure reading should be pleasurable

Makes sense when you think about it, right? Yet so many of us feel obligated to finish a book once we’ve started it, and feel guilty if we set it aside. We really should read it, because a friend recommended it, or it got a good review, or it’s on a topic we really ought to know more about, or everyone else is reading it, or we put it on our to-read list four years ago (but we can’t remember why), or it’s a classic…fill in the blank however you like.

But unless a book is assigned reading for school or work, then presumably you’re reading for pleasure, and pleasure reading should be pleasurable. Not that you shouldn’t ever explore a new genre or try a book that you find a bit difficult, but if you’re 25 or 50 or 100 pages in and you’re just not that into it, then by all means, put it down and pick up something else instead! You have this librarian’s permission.

This is something I have worked on for years myself. I was inspired partly by Knopf editor Marty Asher, who said something along the lines of “I don’t have time to read anything but great books” (and that was almost a decade ago). Of course, you might well think a book is going to be great and it turns out not to be: you can only judge so much by the cover, title, author, first sentence, first page, flap copy, reviews, etc. Most of us don’t choose books we think we’re going to dislike on purpose.

And yet it can be so hard to put down a book we’ve invested some time in already. It feels like giving up; it feels like failure. And who knows? We’re optimistic; maybe it will get better in another 25, 50, 100 pages. But no: at some point you begin to feel certain that this book is not the one for you, at least not right now. (“Every reader his/her book, every book its reader“).

One side effect of my free time having been somewhat curtailed of late is that I have become much better at putting down a book that doesn’t hook me quickly. This is usually not a reflection on the book’s quality; it’s just not for me, not right now. For example, I have decided to return M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead to the library – despite the fact that it was personally recommended to me by a reader I trust, and that it was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults – because I just can’t get excited about the siege of Leningrad right now.

What can I get excited about? Young adult fiction, apparently: I’ve read nine YA novels so far this year, including some truly stellar books (all right, let’s name names: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Like No Other, Dumplin’, Roller Girl, Echo, A Step Toward Falling, Bone Gap, Rain Reign). I’ve also read (and re-read) some excellent picture books. And, I got to read Gayle Forman’s upcoming adult novel Leave Me, which is just as good as her YA; I read it in just two days, and I have a three-month-old baby, so that should tell you something. (The thing it should tell you is “read Leave Me“!)

So there you have it, from a librarian: if you don’t like what you’re reading, and you don’t have to read it, put it down and read something you love instead. That’s the beauty of the public library: millions of books just there for the borrowing. Don’t do what I did and spend an entire month trying to slog through a book you aren’t that excited about: you’re not being graded, and ticking a box on a checklist you made yourself isn’t nearly as satisfying as spending time reading a book you love. In fact, I think there’s a song about this. Let it go…

[All that said…my library is hosting a 2016 Reading Challenge with some interesting categories, and one book can count toward more than one category. Click through to read more if you’re interested in participating.]

9 thoughts on “Pleasure reading should be pleasurable

  1. Yes, if you’re not actually enjoying a book, or some aspect of it, it’s not going to do anything for your intellectual growth or aesthetic sense, and furthermore, you’re not having fun. So why keep going?

  2. I was inspired by the miniature version of this post that showed up in your last letter to put down a book I’d started but couldn’t get into, so thanks! (I feel like I should thank Lyra, actually.) And speaking of YA, I just started listening to All American Boys, and it’s fantastic so far.

  3. We love this suggestion, and pass those same thoughts on to our patrons almost daily. Reader’s advisory is up, and I think it is because we give permission to put down uninteresting material. We love your blog, keep up the good work.

  4. Jenny, I think being a mother has made you an even better writer. Your humor really came out in this (particularly that last line) and I LOVE IT!! And I’m with you about giving up on some books. Life is just too dang short.

  5. I wish that I could get the teachers at my school to look at this more. They want students to take AR tests and don’t give them enough time to choose books. I have tried to talk to the teachers about letting children choose books they want to read based on a hook and a page, but they keep insisting they choose books because of “points.” I am trying to get students to love reading and having to “get points” is getting in the way. The children tend to choose books based on how many points its worth rather than the hook or the summary.

    • Have you read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller? I enjoyed it very much, but its intended audience is classroom teachers and school librarians. It’s wonderful and accessible, I highly recommend it to support your argument that students should have at least some choice in their reading – that’s how they’ll get hooked!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s