The Joy of Not Reading

Don’t get me wrong. I am still reading, but lately I’ve been abandoning some books. It all started when I thought I should work my way through some of the un-heard books in my audiobook files and unread books in my e-reader. Most of them have been there for many years, silently waiting for me to pay attention to them.

Audiobooks by VectorStory via thewalrus.ca

I realize now that there are reasons why they have been wasting away without me. They are just not very good. One was quite well-written but dreary. One was irritatingly condescending in tone. One exuded a philosophy of life that shouted inexperience. One was written with a Victorian English upper-class pomposity that annoyed me. One could have been written as an essay instead of a book. One was a cringe-worthy tale of an affluent white man assessing an inner city in India.

All these books had some good reviews, and some had reviews that indicated they could be either loved or hated. Now that I have tried to read them, I can appreciate both the loving and the hating. They aren’t completely awful, and they have some good qualities, but when I chose to decide where I wanted to spend my reading time, they didn’t make the cut.

Ebooks from libwww.freelibrary.org

That is what is new. I learned I could abandon a book and leave it unfinished. I tried this for the first time a few months ago, and now it has become a lot easier to do. When I think of it as decluttering, it is possible, almost guilt-free, to tell the software to “Mark as Read” a book that I have not, actually, finished.

Last year I spent several months sorting through boxes of memorabilia and old files, and I threw out, or gave away, or sold, or shredded most of it. What I am doing now with these books is an electronic version of that. It feels slightly different from shredding paper files, though, because I feel a different connection with books. Books feel more significant.

Once, I took pride in my book collection. It seemed like both a status symbol and a personal accomplishment to have my own library. As time went by and I moved houses several times, they became a burden. Then, a couple of houses ago, I decided they had to go, and I gave away nearly all my books.

Collection of Old Books from Bluesnap via Pixabay

As anyone who loves books and has de-libraried will understand, it felt as though I was tearing out a piece of my soul to part with them. There were lots of novels I would never read again, reference books that were no longer needed, textbooks that were out of date, but they were mine and I had read them all.

Having books is a bit like having a friendship; you don’t have to stay in touch to know they are still a friend. But, friends don’t have to be packed in boxes when you move house, and they don’t take up permanent space in your living room.

When it comes to an audio- or e-reader book, it is now a lot easier for me to realize when I am not enjoying the contents, or if the tone is bothersome, and to just abandon it. Why would I devote myself to a friend who drains me when there are so many good, uplifting, friends out there just waiting for me to spend time with them?

11 Comments

  1. One piece of advice from a friend in retirement is to quit reading a book if you don’t like it. It has taken me awhile to implement this, but it is a relief when I do let myself give up on a book. I agree there are a plethora of books I will enjoy reading; no need to blunder along with something I don’t enjoy.
    I like your use of “Mark as Read” to mean “I finished reading it”, or “I’m finished with it”!

  2. Terry Pratchett became my all time favourite author but even he wrote some pretty mediocre books in his time. Well,this is my view any way.
    I have tried a couple of times to grind my way through the ones I initially could not finish only to find myself abandoning them once again.
    His illness contributed towards this lack of prowess I ‘m sure but it is a shame his publisher felt the need to push substandard material.

    On saying that I’ll bet there are any number of Pratchett fans who would recoil in horror at my comment, mumbling “Heretic!”

    1. It’s interesting that we feel a sense of obligation to our favourite authors. It is as though we don’t want to disappoint them by not finishing one of their books. Like you, I have ground my way through a few less-than-brilliant books by some excellent authors.

  3. I like that term – de-libraried. When we made a cross country move years back, I got rid of the books and the bookcases. I have been an ecstatic library patron ever since. I do ebooks and regular books, and gave myself permission a few years back to chuck any book I wasn’t enjoying. It helps when you can just ‘return’ and you have actually shelled out hard earned cash for it. Happy reading.

    1. I have returned to a love of the library after many years away from it. During the pandemic, when the libraries were closed, I bought books from a bookstore online. Now that the libraries are open again, I’m enjoying the system they have for putting books on hold. I have a list of books I’ll be ready to request very soon.

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