The Art of Quitting

The art of quitting: what your teachers told you was dead wrong. What great life stories will we achieve by doggedly hoeing our row come hell or high water?

I quit about 50 books a year.  A shocking confession?  Hardly.  I’ve also finished 234 books since I started counting 5 years ago (yes, that’s over 45/year).  Quitting some books makes room for better books.  I’m in and out of 100 books a year, catching a lot of book STDs, also known as “ideas.”

It saddens me to see good people marching through bad books.  Most people quit freely inside the bookstore, but once they take a book home, it’s as if they’ve adopted a puppy.

Books are not puppies.  Atlas Shrugged, for example, was an abusive boyfriend I once stayed with through 1,200 horrible pages due to misguided notions of stick-to-it-ness. I was 17 and very naive.  Now I hit the reject button even if the end is just 50 pages away.

Maybe people are afraid that if they put down uninteresting books, they will never finish any books at all.  But the opposite is more likely.  Quitting is a license to explore.  For example, The Hobbit is charming, but Lord of the Rings is a long walk to nowhere.  Lonesome Dove is a much better book than you probably think.  The Iliad is fraught with modernity (and Helen of Troy doesn’t love Paris).  My first encounter with Michael Chabon was lukewarm but I read Kavalier and Clay until my eyes hurt.  If you want to judge Atlas Shrugged for yourself, read 50 pages and see how you feel. If it starts to suck, whether at page 50 or 500, exiting takes a mere flick of the wrist.

In short, if you have to re-read a page due to non-comprehension or boredom, the writer has failed. The editors have failed. The Pulitzer Prize committee has failed. Get that shit out of your reading queue before it causes constipation.