The time it takes to quit on a book

99DaysIf Stephen Chbosky wrote that we accept the love we think we deserve, is that also true for books? Do we read the books we think we deserve?

I don’t have a lot of complicated habits when it comes to reading but I try my damndest to stick with this one commitment: to finish every story that I have started.

Out of respect to the authors who have labored to produce their works, I feel compelled to at least read the book till the last page before I could pronounce any judgment on it. There are moments when some books make me want to yank my own hair out due to intense boredom: when plots seem to unnecessarily drag on for ages and ages and nothing really happens and you realize there are still 9873363820 more pages before you get to the end.  There are times when I stumble on the occasional misfortune of reading crap literature—when the plot is so convoluted and predictable and the characters drive me crazy with either a.) their mediocrity or b.) their stupidity or god forbid, c.) both.

And yet, I struggle through a thousand yawns and yikes just to make it to the epilogue. Mostly, I do this just so I can justify my dislike for the book. I strive through the agony of every chapter because I want to be able to confidently say that I have the right to say it sucked, that I gave it a chance and it didn’t redeem itself, that my patience as a reader is steadfast and that I am not eternally perched on my literary high horse of snootiness. Yup, I am conceited like that.

But what if you just can’t really go on anymore?

As of writing this I can think of about five books in my life that I have read and didn’t finish. Most of these are due to circumstances involving life drama and bad timing. Somehow, I manage to get at the middle of the book and then I get busy because of work or whathaveyous and then I just lose my momentum and strangely develop an amnesia of sorts because the next thing I know I’m already moving on to another book and whoops a whole year has passed already?  Is it the book’s fault for not being enthralling or memorable enough to make me want to get back to where I left? Is it my fault for being weak to distractions and for being absolutely horrible with priorities?

I’ve been contemplating this because I’ve just had my first DNF (Did Not Finish) book for the year and I’m still feeling torn and miserable about it. Fact: Katie Cotugno’s ‘99 days’ is not the most terrible book I’ve read this year or at any time period, for that matter.  There are far worse books than this one, trust me. The first book that I’ve read from her is ‘How to Love’, which I finished last month, and while I find the male love interest exasperating and insufferable, the writing style made up for it by being sentimental and graceful and heartbreaking in the right places. So I thought: there can’t be any harm in reading another one of her works, right?

For this month I’m actually reading about teens suffering from depression, contemplating suicide or are admitted to treatment facilities. I’ve just finished book three and feeling a little glum myself, so I decided I’d cheat a little by reading a light, fluffy romance on the side and I truly don’t know what possessed me to pick this book out of all things. Perhaps I got the impression from the title that it’s going to be short and sweet and summery and basically everything I’ve been craving for lately.

Katie Cotugno has the strange case of inverse writing dilemma as compared to other authors. Her plots are beyond promising and her sentences are skillfully-crafted and sincere. But her weakness lies in her struggle to create likeable characters who can elicit sympathy from readers, and in my opinion, that’s a serious fatal flaw she must work on, stat.

In How To Love, I found myself hating the male protagonist for the first time in forever. See, I only feel two kinds of emotions for boys in fiction: either I adore them to death or I have zero feelings for them at all. I don’t recall ever having such an intense dislike for a male love interest but I kid you not: Sawyer will test the boundaries of your patience and compassion. As a consequence, you also feel a kind of extended hate towards the heroine who loves him because GIRL WHAT DO YOU EVEN SEE IN THIS GUY PLEASE ENLIGHTEN ME I BEG YOU.

And then Katie Cotugno repeats the same exact mistake on this second book: her heroine is so self-absorbed and the cast of characters surrounding her life are all awful, not one of them remotely charming. And the worst part? The heroine’s life decisions. She gets scandalized for cheating on her boyfriend with her boyfriend’s brother, and then she flees town, comes back home for summer, gets a clean slate and a second chance to turn it all around and whaddayaknow, SHE CHEATS ON THE SAME GUY WITH EXACTLY THE SAME GUY, AGAIN.

My fury, ladies and gentlemen, rarely reaches this level. I mean, I like my characters flawed, sure, I didn’t say I like them stupid. There’s a massive difference.

I just stopped. Did a few breathing exercises for a couple of minutes, got up and drank water and tried to calm myself down. And then I continued no further and grabbed the next book on my TBR list.

I’ve been reminding myself that I should not permit books to become an obligation or a baggage; that I should never consider it like homework. I know reading won’t always be fun, that there will be plots and themes that will make me uncomfortable, that there are times that I should challenge my reading horizon by expanding on genres that I don’t normally read.

But there are books that are just not simply meant for you and I know better now than to force my way to finish them. Unhappiness is only healthy when that’s what the author wants you to understand or feel. Sadness is not merely the absence of a happy ever after—sometimes it’s the theme, the moral lesson, the story itself. But if it’s becoming an unintentional by-product of a crappy story and infuriating characters who make stupid decisions in life, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you didn’t make it to the end and ditched it for a story worthier of your time. You’ll be doing yourself in favor.

Life is too short to be wasted on bad books.


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