Why I’ll Never Be Well-Read

Because there are too many books. Not only the deluge of new books pouring forth from the Big 5 publishers, small presses, and millions of indies, but all the worthwhile books produced since humans began writing. If I take the time to read a really old book (like Homer’s Iliad, for example) I feel like I’m going to miss a lot of new books. Book FOMO — how silly! Actually, I doubt that anyone can keep up with even a fraction of all the new books, or predict which ones will become classics. So I’m resigned to being spottily well-read. Half-decently read, maybe.

Categories of Books

  • Old, even ancient classics, called by some the “literary canon”
  • Current literary award winners: Booker, Giller, Pulitzer, etc.
  • Books “everyone’s talking about,” many of which have been made into movies
  • Obscure trad-pubbed books
  • Indie books (many of which are obscure)
  • Books that simply must be re-read

At present, I read mainly indie authors, some of whom I’ve met through blogging. I’ve discovered some wonderful authors whose books I will likely re-read. (There’s another dilemma — read old favourites again or abandon them in favour of the new and untried?) But quality does vary; despite reader reviews, there’s no guarantee that every book I pick up will be compelling and memorable. Ebooks are cheap and even free; their true cost is the time needed to read them.

There’s no hope I’ll ever be able to get through any literary canon. My plan for however many years I have left with a functioning brain is to stop worrying about being well-read and just read as many good books as I can. The trick is not to waste time on duds* of any sort, including “duty reads.” “It’s an award winner!” “It has a zillion 5-star reviews!” “The movie won an Oscar!” and “The author is a real sweetie,” aren’t reasons enough to keep reading if the first chapter or two (plus flipping ahead) don’t grab my attention or otherwise fail to entice me.

What about you, fellow bloggers? Do you make yourself read to the last page of a book even when your reading self tells you it’s a dud? And how do you pick books to read — anonymous reviews, book bloggers, word-of-mouth recommendations, or serendipity?

*Dud = any book you find repellent, boring, irrelevant, or otherwise not worth your time. A highly subjective assessment.

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64 comments

  1. Years ago, long before I became a blogger, I was addicted to reading and read everything I could get my hands on.
    Since joining the blog world, I seem to have become something of a critic. Errors shout at me and boring text has me running for the hills. Saying that, I have found so many wonderful reads, so maybe it’s me that has changed…

    Liked by 6 people

  2. I must finish a book to the last page in order to review it so I usually do read to the last page. I only buy books where I have read samples of the authors writing on their blogs or elsewhere and I am rarely disappointed. I feel like you do, so many books and so little time.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I agree if you’re going to write a review, you must read the whole book. And being able to sample the text before committing yourself to a book helps a lot. Even so, some books fail to connect, even if they’re well-written. One thing is certain, there is no shortage of books, including good ones!

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  3. I will never read all the books I want to. I have also become a very slow reader. I try to read a classic every now and then and am always glad I did. I thought I would have more time when I was retired but alas it isn’t so.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. We are the opposite to those who use to live in stately homes. When we were browsing in the library of one such house once I asked a National Trust volunteer, who was cleaning books with a tiny paint brush and a gentle air blower, if the residents of long ago actually used to read the books. YES, the library, shelves packed to the ceiling with books, was their education and entertainment. I imagine that generations read the same books, the classics etc. and well known novelists of the time. Ahead of them lay millions of new books not yet written that they would never read…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s an interesting perspective, Janet. Those stately home people didn’t have distractions like we do, and way fewer books. They could relish the ones they had without worrying about all their TBR piles. (Although that vision of the unwritten books of the future is sort of disturbing. Sort of all the unborn people one will never know…)

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  5. At one time I would read every book I started to the last page. Now I’m older, I can force myself to abandon them unless I am beta reading and I do a lot fo that these days. Some books I enjoy, some not so much. I read mostly indies, but I do grab a bestseller now and again to keep in with that the rich and famous authors produce.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Excellent assessment of the situation! There are some “classics” that I probably should have read when I was a young English major – I never got around to reading “The Great Gatsby” until just a few years ago, and can you believe I’ve never read “To Kill a Mockingbird”? And even an influential book in my field – “Ender’s Game” – I only read a few years ago at the urging of somebody, I forget who. These days, I read books by some of my Indie contacts that seem promising, and occasionally I find something really entertaining, or a real gem, like your Herbert West books. And I’m flattered that you seem to like my books well enough to continue reading them! (Personally, I’m partial to my own books, too!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are plenty of classics I haven’t read and aren’t likely to. As a pretentious youngster, I read Dostoevsky and Gogol in my teens. My school library had them! I’ve forgotten most of The Brothers Karamazov, but I found parts of Dead Souls amusing. I’m glad you like my Herbert West books. One of the things I like about yours is what might be called “distilled wisdom” drawn from your reading and thinking. The best books contain that element.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I rarely don’t finish a book, although a book I’m reading at the moment may become one of those rarities. Maybe I’m just not that picky? But for the most part, once I start, I at least want to know how the story will end.

    I just remembered a book I read a few years ago. I got to the last 5 or 10 pages of it and didn’t continue because I just didn’t care. That’s one of my exceptions to my rule to finish the thing.

    One of the things I don’t do much of anymore is re-read a book I’ve already read. When I was younger, I read Lord of the Rings repeatedly. There were other books back then that I read more than once. But now — in my quest to read as much as I can with the time I have, re-reading something seems like a waste of time. An intrusion on the other good books I hopefully have lined up.

    I read somewhere once about how many books are published each year. The number one person can read in a year is so tiny in comparison to the total number published it’s not even a grain of sand. That’s when I got over my FOMO. Missing out is inevitable when it comes to books.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. If a book makes you want to know what happens, there must be something good about it, even if you don’t really like it. I know what you mean, though; sometimes I keep checking my progress and telling myself to keep reading. I used to read LOTR every few years too; maybe I will again. Re-reading a well-loved book is sort of like eating “comfort food.” As for finding the real gems, I think there has to be an element of magic. If I keep hearing about a book or seeing it in unexpected places, maybe it’s one I should read.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I made a decision this year not to read to the last page if it’s a dud, but I have a hard time sticking to that decision because I keep thinking, The next chapter will be better.

    I pick nonfiction books in subjects that interest me. The brain, how people learn, exercise science, how-to-write books, stuff like that.

    I read newly-released horror because I like to see what’s going on in the genre. Thank goodness for Amazon’s “look inside” feature, because if I don’t know the author, that’s how I tell if the writing sounds compelling enough to me.

    Then there are books I read because authors ask if I’ll read an ARC for review. Usually I’m glad to help out, but sometimes I get backed up and just CAN’T, and that makes me feel bad.:-(

    My final and favourite category is books I choose just because of the prose. William March, Andy Davidson the horror author, a woman named Audrey Driscoll, Sarah Waters . . .. I linger over these books. They take forever for me to read because I like to soak in the poetic prose and word paintings. I hope some day to be able to write like they do.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I like your definition of “dud,” Audrey:) Currently, I choose books according to my two book clubs. I facilitate the one at the library, so must finish and take notes. For the other, two mysteries are available each month, and I usually read one of them. If it’s a dud, I just quickly scan. During the months when book clubs don’t meet (or when I’m caught up in that reading), I choose something by a favorite author or a book that I’ve learned about through blogs. NOTE: One of the goals in joining book clubs was being forced to try new authors and genres, which I’ve certainly accomplished. That being said, I’m often tempted to give it all up and return to my “free for all” method of choosing books. Always nice to have choices…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I don’t feel a sense of obligation to finish a book if I’m not enjoying it. I’m interested to learn that some people think this way. It makes me wonder if this notion applies to other areas of one’s life. Do they watch an entire movie because they’ve invested the time at the start? Do they stay at a social function that is dreadfully boring? Time is such a precious commodity that I can’t see myself adopting this philosophy.

    The beauty of having so many books to choose from is one can always find something interesting to read.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I read for pleasure and escape, so if a book isn’t working for me, I have no problem putting it down and returning it to the library. I must admit that I don’t read very many books these days — my tastes in stories and styles have, unfortunately, grown rather narrow, or old fashion — so it seems like I don’t finish books more often than I finish them. Still, since I read more for the writing than the story, I can enjoy rereading my favorite books. even if i happen to remember the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. As I age, my tolerance for most things has dwindled, including books. I also find that what I liked yesterday, I may not like today. Fickle yes, but life’s too short to waste of books that don’t ‘speak’ to us for whatever reason.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. When I was younger I read constantly. Now I read novels sporadically. I often discard them after a few pages if I don’t like the tone of a story. I no longer want to fill my head with gruesome horror, turgid romance, vile murders or tales of sexual exploitation. I like to read books that offer something new – some new slant or way of seeing the world. I like novels that reflect the complexity of our times without collapsing into despair. I sometimes go back and read old classics but rarely get far with them. The internet has spoiled my appetite for long winded novels. I prefer to read and non fiction.
    So yep – duds don’t rate with me. Life’s too short. πŸ˜€

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    1. I know what you mean about books that stir up negative or disturbing emotions. There’s enough of that in the news! Shorter fiction and poetry are growing more popular; perhaps because of similar sentiments. And several people have mentioned in the comments to this post that they no longer have time to waste on books that don’t meet their expectations.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. These days (daze?) I am a very slack reader…I have three fiction books on the go while the history list is….embarrassing. If I manage to sit down and read double page numbers I feel I have done well.
    I could give a number of reasons/excuses why, but at the end of the day…
    Sigh…head slumping forward in admission…..Not very attentive Reader
    But, I will try harder…I hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. It’s a connundrum, isn’t it? I’ve read mostly Indie fiction the last six years, but a week ago I decided to re-read a seven book fantasy series I remembered enjoying years ago. The reason I’m re-reading the series is not because of nostalgia; it’s because the books are paperbacks, and I’m trying to see if not reading my Kindle at night will help me sleep better. It’s only been a week so far, but I really do seem to be sleeping better. Now if only someone would invent a way to make the print bigger!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I still like my old Sony e-reader. It doesn’t have an illuminated screen and I can increase the font size. Weird thing–sometimes when I’m reading a printed book I forget that it won’t turn itself off when left unattended. Less stressful, and they don’t need recharging either.

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  16. I’m a butterfly with reading I flit from one genre flower to another as the mood strikes. I skip over descriptions to get to the story in almost all books. If the story doesn’t grab me by page 20 I bail. Since I’ve met new bloggers and have read some of their works, I’ll read to the last page to give advise. When I re-read The Far Pavilions a few months ago I was surprised at how much description of the fauna and flora of India I skipped over. The other times I read it was word for word. Guess I’m getting crankier since I’ve retired.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I used to read all books to the end, Audrey, but I stopped a few years ago, for the same reason you give. There are just too many good books and my time on Earth is limited. Reading should be pure joy. I’ll never be well-read either. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I so agree with you about there never being enough time to read everything. I’ve read maybe 20 classics, plus popular fiction, a dozen or so major award winners, and now I’ve added nonfiction to the mix. As I grow older, I find myself less willing to stick with a poorly written book, or a topic that really doesn’t interest me as much as I thought it would. I used to force myself to do it, but less so now, which is a rather freeing feeling. About half my reading is from well-known authors, and the other half is from indie authors who are promoting their debut novels. I’m a hybrid author and a big believer in supporting indie authors, as well as new traditionally published authors, but on occasion a few books are too disappointing to continue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Quite a few people have said they’ve become less willing to read books they don’t find interesting or that are poorly written. Being older makes us value our time more as we see it running out, even those of us who are retired and therefore have more leisure time.

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