Are you throwing away the best years of your life on books that just aren’t worth it? When I looked back on the books I read last year, there were some that I could barely remember reading (more worryingly, some of them were books I’d read and reviewed).
I’ve become increasingly impatient of bad books, and if I’m not enjoying a book from the start, I’m much more inclined not to finish it than I used to be. About the only time I do plough on is if it’s an author I’ve previously enjoyed or a book that everyone insists is great. (The silver lining is that I find the reviews of books I’ve hated much easier to write!)
But what to do about books that I don’t hate but are just okay? The kind I finish, give four stars to on Goodreads and never think about again? There are so many great books out there that I’ll probably never get to, shouldn’t I stop wasting my time on books that are just alright?
In practice it’s not that easy. Isn’t it inevitable that large chunks of our lives will be just alright? Alright conversations, alright holidays, alright meals. Saying you’ll only read great books is like saying you’ll only go to great parties. You just don’t know till you get there.
Sometimes I’ll deliberately choose not to read a book I think will be great. If I’m feeling all scratchy and tired on a wet Wednesday night, I know I’m not going to read with my full attention. I’m not going to be moved by lyrical prose and attuned to every nuance of character in the way I’d like to be. I wouldn’t want to disrespect a great book, or let it go to waste. I just want something that’s good enough to turn the pages and help me unwind.
And don’t you sometimes need something that’s comfortingly ordinary, just for contrast? It’s like when you’ve been on holiday, dressing up and eating out all the time, and you just can’t wait to get home to your old cardigan and beans on toast.
Still, I do want to try and read fewer alright books. Lately I’ve felt that about most of the books I’ve read, which makes me suspect it’s not them, it’s me. Perhaps I need to read fewer books of all kinds.
So I’m going to cut back on the books I request for review. A good test is to only ask for books I’d otherwise be willing to buy. I’ve tried this before and failed. There are so many books on offer, and there’s always the fear of missing out.
I’ve discovered a few favourite authors by reviewing books I wasn’t sure I’d like. More often though, I’ve felt I should take a look at a book because everyone’s talking about it or because it’s a big name or just because it’s shiny and new.
It’s such a privilege to live at a time when we have so much access to free and cheap books, podcasts, TV etc. But it does bring the challenge of how to choose.
What about you? Do you feel you read too many ‘alright’ books? Or is that just the price you pay for being open-minded and reading widely?