6 Reasons It’s Totally OK to Give Up on a Book, According to Librarians and Podcasters

published Jul 21, 2021
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There’s nothing better than cracking open a new book you’re excited about — and few things are worse than discovering that it’s just not your thing. You may find yourself coming up with excuses not to read, lingering on the same page instead of whipping through chapters, and setting it down in favor of a different book or your phone. 

When it comes to the written word, everyone has their own preferences and interests, so not every book is going to be a slam dunk every time. If you’re really not feeling your latest read, it’s OK to let it go (or “DNF,” meaning “did not finish,” as they say in the book world) and find something more your speed. These insights from expert readers like librarians and book podcasters will help you figure out when it’s time to say goodbye — and when it’s a good idea to power through.

It’s OK to stop reading a book if…

…You gave it a fair chance.

Don’t give up after page one. Maddie Rudawski, the community engagement librarian at Anoka County Library in Blaine, Minnesota, takes a page (pun intended) from a famous librarian when advising patrons to give a book a decent chance before setting it down. “My simplest advice is shamelessly stolen from librarian superhero Nancy Pearl. She calls it the rule of 50: If you’re 50 years old or younger, give a book about 50 pages and if it doesn’t hook you, give it up,” she explains. “If you’re over 50, subtract your age from 100 and give a book that many pages before deciding whether or not to give it up.”

Bethany Pierce, a cataloging and metadata librarian at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in Fort Mill, South Carolina, also loves the classic Nancy Pearl tip. “I generally give something a solid three chapters (or around 50 pages) before I give up on something,” she says. “Especially if it’s fiction! I tend to give nonfiction fewer pages, but I’m very picky about the nonfiction I read.”

…You’re not clicking with the voice and tone.

Every writer brings a different vibe to their work, from academic to conversational to experimental, and some forms may just not work for you. Pay attention to what you like and what you don’t connect with to inform future reads. “I can often tell if I’m not responding to a book early on. Usually, it’s a tonal or voice thing for me,” says Dina Del Bucchia, a co-host of the book podcast Can’t Lit in Vancouver, British Columbia. “If I am not interested in the voice and it doesn’t capture me, I usually stop reading if I have the option! I don’t mind a challenging read at all, but I have a hard time with a book that doesn’t have the tone I’m currently interested in reading. And sometimes that means it’s not the right time for me to read that book.”

…You don’t like the characters or can’t easily jump into their world.

If you’re constantly fuming at the main character or confused about what, exactly, is going on in their world, that could be a sign to move on. “If the main character’s arc feels unearned or their behavior feels inauthentic, it doesn’t work for me,” says Melissa Baumgart, a writer and the co-host of the Truer Words podcast in New York City. “Characters can make all sorts of terrible mistakes and do unlikable things and the plot can get really out there, as long as it is compelling and makes sense for the world the author has established. If you don’t understand why anyone is behaving the way they are, whether you agree with their choices or not, that’s a sign to try something different.”

…You’re not reaching for it at every given opportunity.

“I know a book isn’t right for me if I don’t find myself thinking about it in moments where my mind wanders, or if I have a free moment and don’t automatically reach for it,” says Tess L., a reference librarian at a small private graduate school in Atlanta, Georgia. “When I’m really into a book, I’m reading it basically any time I’m not working or driving.”

Credit: Sandra Rojo

…It’s not the right place or time for you to read it.

Rudawski doesn’t put pressure on herself to get through something she’s not vibing with, and gives herself the opportunity to try again at a different time. “I also think it’s important to recognize that sometimes you’re just not in a place (mentally, emotionally, whatever) for a book, and it’s okay to set it aside and revisit it later.”

A book you’re not loving today could end up being your favorite of all time in five years, so leave the window of opportunity open. “Sometimes a book just isn’t right for you in that moment, but if you revisit it a month or a year or even ten years later, you’ll connect with it then,” says Tess. 

…Reading it feels like a homework assignment. 

You don’t need to fake your way through that literary classic, nor do you need to reach for the CliffsNotes to pretend like you read it. You likely won’t be quizzed on this — and life is too short to spend precious time slogging through something you’re not in love with. “I used to be a big stickler about NEVER giving up on a book,” says Pierce. “But there are just. so. many. books out there, I don’t think you should force yourself to read something you’re not connecting with. Reading should never feel like a chore!”