Knowing When To Say When: On Giving Up On A Book

Well, I’ve done it again. I have failed to make it through Cryptonomicon. So far the third time has not been a charm. Interestingly, I stalled at almost exactly the same place as I did during my last attempt, right around page 600 in the paperback edition. I’m somewhat ashamed giving up on the book, especially since I made a big deal of announcing my third attempt to get through it. So I am giving myself one more chance at redemption. I’ve got a long drive today and I plan on listening to the book the entire way. I should be able to come close to finishing it. But this is really the last chance. I can deal with shame. What I can’t abide is spending time on a book that just isn’t doing it for me, when there are too many other books I want to read.

Most of what I read these days is nonfiction and it is unconscionable for me to spend as much time on fiction as I have on Cryptonomicon. I spent at least 10 days trying to get through it. During that same period of time, I could have made it through three nonfiction books. I made the sacrifice because the themes in Cryptonomicon would seem to be right up my alley. It’s got late 1990s tech, so there’s nostalgia from the dot com boom. It’s got crypto; it’s got information theory, which I ate up this summer. It’s got World War II history, which I enjoy reading. So why can’t I get through it? I don’t have an answer.

Actually, I broke my own rules this time. Long ago, I learned the importance of knowing when to say when with regard to a book. If a work of fiction doesn’t catch my interest after a few pages, I’m out. With nonfiction, I like the rule I once heard: give it 100 pages minus your age. This year, that means giving a book 51 pages, and then I bail. Time is too precious to waste it on books that aren’t good fits. This is by no means a slight to the authors. In just about every case, I’m sure the fit is bad on my end. Cryptonomicon is teetering on joining a cadre of eight other books I’ve failed to make it through this year, including:

To be honest, the pressure was already on even before I started reading Cryptonomicon. I should have had 50 books read by June 30. As of this moment, I’ve completed 48 books and I’m about 9 books behind my pace for the year. I gave Cryptonomicon far more time that I should have. I didn’t trust my instincts, and that always gets my into trouble, where books are concerned.

So, with Cryptonomicon finally set aside, what is on tap for me? Here’s some of what I am looking forward to reading over the rest of the summer:

My usual caveat about the butterfly effect of reading applies here. But this is the list that I am currently looking at tackling the rest of this summer.

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  1. Lol this post cracked me up

    I had a similar problem with PILLARS OF THE EARTH

    started it in 2008, stopped, restarted it, stopped in the same place, years later tried again and finally finished it earlier this year. After all that, it was pretty good. Not sure it was worth the decade plus effort to read it though.

    1. David, I tried reading PILLARS OF THE EARTH back in 2014 or 2015 and I didn’t make it very far either. I’ve wanted to try it again because I have a fascination with long books. But right now there’s too many other things I want to read so it will have to wait.


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