Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

How to know when to break up with a book

It’s always difficult to know when you should give a book a second chance and when you should just give up. I feel like I’m at the stage now where I should just give up reading Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

I bought the book last year, two weeks before my final exam in anticipation of being able to read for fun again. I sat down after the exams had finished, ready to get back into reading for pleasure. However, it was much more difficult than expected.

It could have been because I jumped straight back into reading too quickly after revision, but I still haven’t made it past the fifth chapter. It’s such a shame because everyone I’ve spoken to really loves it and it topped the bestseller list for such a long time. Just this week a member of The Boar exec wandered into the office holding it having almost finished it and when I was Books Editor, countless writers recommended it to me.

It doesn’t matter how many second chances I give it

Taking a complete break from it, I put it away and decided to start reading other things. Since then, I have read about 30 books for my course, and a few for pleasure – including Alan Rusbridger’s Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now and Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of AuschwitzRecently, I picked up Honeyman’s novel again in a bid to get to the end. With hundreds of five star ratings on Goodreads, it’s clearly very popular and highly regarded, so why can’t I get to the end?

In January, I set myself a goal to read for pleasure at least three evenings a week and I was doing so well in keeping to this resolution, lasting a full two months before ultimately failing this week. I’m completely blaming this on picking back up Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine because I just can’t get into it. It doesn’t matter how many second chances I give it.

The correlation of picking up this book and failing my goal is definitely a sign that I should put Honeyman’s novel back on my shelf until I find a better home for it. When you find that you can’t bring yourself to pick up a book to read even just five pages, it is a clear indicator that the book should be shelved.

The true test to knowing when you should put down a book lies in how little you read it

This is in great contrast to when I was reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz recently and almost gave up because I couldn’t get on with Morris’s portrayal of some of the characters, Lale in particular. But the true story of Lale and Gita was so compelling I knew that I couldn’t give up reading. With Honeyman’s novel, I find neither the characters nor the storyline compelling in the slightest. In fact, I don’t even find it interesting. I come home from university in the evening to read for fun, as I have been doing for the past two months, but find myself putting it off until I really need to go to bed.

The true test to knowing when you should put down a book lies in how little you read it. If you find that you are actively wanting to read, but just not that book, it is clearly down to the book itself rather than simply a lack of desire or energy in pleasure reading. I simply can’t force myself to read a book such as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine in the time I schedule to read for pleasure as, in forcing myself to read it, it’s no longer fun.

I’m disappointed, because there was so much hype surrounding the novel which I simply can’t get on with. But it’s okay to give up on reading. There are only so many second chances you can give a book. Just because everyone around you enjoyed it, it doesn’t mean you have to. Think about that seminar where half of you enjoyed reading Frankenstein and the other half of you simply detested it. The same thing happens with contemporary literature – even if it’s the most hyped-up text ever, it doesn’t mean that it will be universally enjoyed.


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