I almost never give up on a book once I start reading it. But I'm trying to change my ways. Most recently I made this decision with a book that I would have thought was written with me in mind -- historical crime, set in Victorian England with a literary bent (Thomas de Quincey is a character as well as the inspiration for the title).* And yet ... as I found myself struggling to get through this book, looking for reasons to read something else and realized I had met superlibrarian Nancy Pearl's Rule of 50 -- I decided the hell with it. And returned the book to the library. And I feel much better!
I'm not sure why I'm so averse to quitting a book even when I'm not enjoying it -- something of the contrarian "this book is not going to defeat me just because I dislike it," something of the Protestant "you must finish what you started" ethos, I suppose. And there are those rare cases when your experience changes radically during the reading itself ("The Shipping News" by Annie Proulx is probably the best example I can think of offhand). And there are cases where you're just not in the right frame of mind to read a particular book -- quitting means you can go back and start afresh. Sometimes it seems like a whole different book. I recently had this experience with "Gods of Gotham" by Lyndsay Faye -- the first time I tried to read it, the period jargon drove me nuts. I went back because friends and literary sources I trust said it was good -- and I loved it. Go figure.
I should quit more books, and I'm going to try to do just that. I work in a library so I borrow or get free advanced copies of way more books than I buy. This way, maybe I'll take more flyers, get deeper into the backlist of the writers at the upcoming Key West Literary Seminar. I'll have more time to walk the dog, go to the gym, clean the house, prepare elaborate meals.
Or maybe I'll just watch more baseball and bad TV crime shows. Either way, I see it as an improvement to my quality of life.
* One reason I may NOT return to this book -- and I'm serious -- is because the chapters that detail the actions of De Quincey are entirely in italics. I realize this was intended to set those sections of the book apart. But there's a reason italics are generally used sparingly in print. Because it's annoying to read in long stretches. Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky. But when the first section popped up -- and I realized it was going to be more than a page or two -- I found myself seriously irritated. And when I realized that this experience would be repeated throughout the book, that was another persuasive reason to just quit reading.