Why I Stopped Reading Through Books I Don’t Enjoy

What do you do when you're 20-30% through a book that isn't all that interesting to you: plow through to the bitter end, or cut your loses and move on?
Beautiful books, but are they any good? Image credit: Flickr user Michael D. Beckwith, CC BY 2.0.

You know the feeling… You open up a new book and your heart is filled with hope and wonder. What wonderful journey will this book take me on? Then the worst thing happens: the book is just not that interesting to you.

Maybe you don’t even notice it right away, but over time you start to pick up on the tell-tale signs: you fall asleep on it, you find yourself gravitating to the Facebook app rather than the Kindle app, you decide to go work out instead of read, etc.

Eventually you realize you’ve spent an obscene amount of time stuck on this book and you’re at… 28%?! *sad trombone* At first you reason that maybe you’ve been too tired and stressed out to enjoy reading lately, but finally you figure it out: the book has failed you in the worst possible way. If it were wonderful, you’d be done with it already. If it were bad, you’d have had no problem quitting on it. But instead, it’s just not bad.

So what do you do—do you keep reading it to the end anyway, or cut your loses and move on?

Personally, I used to power through it to the end because I hated the thought of having wasted all that time reading that 28% for nothing. I’m a crazy slow reader. Compound that with my general lack of interest toward the book and that 28% has cost me quite a huge amount of time, my most precious resource.

It’s a classic sunk cost fallacy. We assign disproportionate value to something we’ve invested time/money/energy in. We convince ourselves that, because we’ve spent resources on a course of action, we’re better off continuing to invest in it until the end even if we know the result will not be worth the total cost. We would rather spend more than lose some. We make irrational decisions based on loss aversion.

I started a couple of years ago, giving up on books I didn’t think were worth my time. My husband kept making fun of me for making myself miserable dragging on books I didn’t enjoy, and eventually I came to accept that quitting was not the same as failure. It was hard at first, quitting is not something we’re encouraged to embrace. I just had to tell myself it was the logical thing to do when I derived no pleasure from my reading experience, despite of the sunk cost invested in the book in question.

These days? I don’t feel nearly as guilty about it anymore and my drop rate is much higher, probably around 50%. Instead of failure, I chose to view it as necessary time management.

Ariane is a programmer married to another programmer. Together they have two little girls who don't stand a chance against their nerdy lineage. Ariane can also be found illustrating for Intelligently Adorable.