Is It Worth The Struggle?

We all come across those books we start, get a little ways into and then the going just gets tough. Then we have a choice to make: put it down and walk away, or struggle through in hopes it will work out in your favour in the end (with the chance it won’t)! It’s kind of like the latter is rolling the dice and going all or nothing using your precious time as the bargaining chips.

I don’t have any rules for how to decide this. I don’t struggle through everything, I don’t always DNF and I sometimes might return to DNFs (or sometimes not). The books I’ll choose to struggle through are often ones I’m curious about for reasons of enlightenment. I may not enjoy the process of reading a story, but I might still learn something from it…or about the world…or about the time it was written…or about me! Books I’ve struggled through to the end despite not having the most enjoyable experience have included (but are not limited to!) The Handmaid’s Tale, The Great Gatsby, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Heart of Darkness. I found most them just OK (one of them I’d say headed into dislike territory)…but I don’t regret making myself keep going because I still gained enough for the experiences to have been worth it for me.

In fact, generally speaking, I feel a sense of accomplishment when I struggle through a book and (I know this is terrible) a sense of satisfaction at having gained the right to say “I think book SUCKS and I know this because I gave it ALL the chances and read it ALL the way through from COVER TO COVER*! I understand its points, I think they were badly or ineffectively made and this piece of crap is overrated.” Only a truly sadistic and petty human can feel the sense of self-satisfaction I feel being able to say that after what has ostensibly been a total wast of my precious, precious time.

*In fact, I really like to give disliked stories (classics in particular) the benefit of the doubt and I will even look at study notes (ie Sparknotes, Cliff Notes, etc) to make sure I haven’t just missed some massive point the book has been making and calling it a fault. But I have consistently found that I have understood what was being put across but just didn’t connect with the literature. #Validation!

But what else would I be doing with my precious, precious time!? If I’m honest, probably something stupid. If I felt like reading a different book at that time, I would have been. But I wasn’t. So the only other thing I’d be doing is probably asking the internet stupid things like “How wealthy is North Korea and how does it make money?” or “What is the difference between ale, beer, larger and stout?” or “Cee-lo and Gnarls Barkley the same person?” or “When is the Saga volume 5 bind-up coming out????!!!!!????” These are all actual searches I have made in my free time. It is probably a better use of my time to be reading some culturally relevant piece of fiction that I don’t connect with… Or is it?

The truth is, objectively, I flip flop between thinking struggling through a book is always worth my time or sometimes not worth the hassle. I get the argument that life is too short for not always doing what you want. However, I also feel like enriching myself as a human being – while not always the most fun thing – is worth my time. Loads of good things aren’t fun. Training for a marathon sounds just completely awful to me, but I know I would feel like I’d accomplished something ma-hoo-ssive if I struggled through the training and completed one!

So what’s my point here? Well, I’m not sure there is one. Personally, I’m more willing to struggle through something I might learn from (academically, emotionally, culturally, etc) than to even pick up something that seems like a superficial, copycat waste of time. This is probably why I pick up a fair few classics. Classics have stood the test of time and much literary critique. Contemporary titles…haven’t had enough time to really be turned over yet and can sometimes be vapid, copycat versions of classics.

Obviously, it would be ridiculous to assume that all classics are worth the struggle and no contemporary works are. There are always exceptions to the ‘rules’. Which is why I prefer not to think about rules for whether I stay with a book or not. I like to think getting halfway through a book means I’ve sampled enough to justifiably put it down, but I have got to the very end of books that made me realise I was wrong about them all along. Likewise, I have got only a few pages into others that have signalled to me very loudly that they were not meant for me. It’s always going to be on a book to book basis.

Have you ever done ‘the struggle’? Why or why not?


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19 Responses to Is It Worth The Struggle?

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  2. I do definitely know this struggle! Especially if I’m over halfway and could realistically finish it fairly soon *sigh*. I love endings a whole lot, so if I have hope that the ending of a book will be fantastic, then I’m much more willing to try to push through. However, I’m trying to be better at recognizing when I don’t feel like reading because I don’t feel like reading the book I’m currently on and DNFing so that I don’t lose my love of reading :).

    • Nicole says:

      That’s so true! It’s easy for a frustrating struggle-read to lead straight to a reading slump. Sometimes, for the sake of your own sanity, you just have to dump it. OR have some really great, easy, guaranteed-like palate cleanser reads lined up for afterwards!

  3. writersideup says:

    I used to push myself through books years ago, but it’s a rare thing now. I just don’t have the time or desire to waste it on things I don’t like. I’ll only push now if I’m really encouraged to by someone I believe knows their stuff 🙂

    • Nicole says:

      I’m the opposite. I used to put things down after only getting five pages in and never look back and only recently started attempting to go further. I don’t always, but I noticed I have an apparently random way of deciding whether or not I’ll keep going. There’s very little strategy or rules or anything involved! haha
      I generally will try to force myself through friend recommendations too if they’re from people I feel have similar literary leanings to me.

  4. Yes, I have totally struggled thru a good number of books back before I wouldn’t DNF books. Now tho I do DNF and usually those are YA books because the genre is starting to become a dime a dozen and admittedly I don’t cut them as much slack as I do adult books. I agree with the vindication I feel or you feel when finishing a book that I had to slog thru because then I feel justified I. Whatever I. Ought write about it but then often I don’t even write that much, it all depends. I’m giving myself even more leeway this year to DNF books if I am not enjoying them because time is so limited for me what with the work, toddler and next baby due in a month.

    • Nicole says:

      yyyyyyyes. I feel very similar about a lot of YA… “and admittedly I don’t cut them as much slack as I do adult books” Yes. Me. Same. haah
      I have no hard fast rules on DNFs either, but time constraints always help you to make the tough choices! haha I’ve actually found that, since paying more attention to my reading pace and putting together a TBR, I keep wanting to curate that TBR list and have as few “maaaybe I’m interested in this?” sorts of books on my TBR as possible to begin with so I don’t feel as guilty later when I’m deciding whether to abandon or not. I can more easily weigh up my already established reasons for picking the book up in the first place against my waning interest or mounting frustrations or whatever. I guess that’s sort of the closest thing I have to a ‘strategy’ when deciding whether to struggle on or not!

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  7. moosha23 says:

    Gosh. The Struggle damn near ruined my (reading) life. I did it with two books: 1984 by Orwell (and that wasn’t even exactly cover-to-cover) and Deception from Above (or something like that). I used to think it showed a lot about a book’s integrity if I’d DNF-ed it but then again I find that I DNF books all the time for various reasons that, for the most part, have nothing to do with the book being rubbish! With Deception I read it all but then I went into a HUGE reading slump (I don’t know if there’s even a recovery possible for me…) so yeah I have to say self-satisfaction to kicked myself over ratio isn’t balanced. I think I’ll skip on The Struggle from now on (hey, there’s always the possibility that I’ll find the book again one day…and actually read it through).

    • Nicole says:

      Hahaha, oh dear. I actually ‘read’ 1984 via audiobook which I think was the best option for me. I have a feeling I would have DNF-ed and felt annoyed about it if I hadn’t..
      It really is useful (or at least interesting) to get an idea of why you DNF something I think. Sometimes it’s just not the time/mood, sometimes it was a shitty/overhyped book, sometimes it’s just not what you were after – no offence to it….all sorts of reasons.
      That’s interesting. I have been finding that I tend to need a quick, easy/fun read after reading a lot of the denser stuff I might flood myself with or after struggling through something that ultimately wasn’t that satisfying.
      Yeah, that’s another thing. Sometimes coming back to something after putting it down is all you really need to then appreciate it better whereas just barging ahead might have turned you off completely.

  8. dogearedcopy says:

    Most notably, I struggled through two F.Scott Fitzgerald novels: The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise. I hated them both, but read The Great Gatsby to be able to speak confidently about it when entering discussions about it; and This Side of Paradise was a second chance for FSF. If I had like This Side of Paradise, would have considered “Gatsby” the outlier in the canon; but as it was, I detested not only the novel (“Paradise”) but came to really dislike FSF himself (“Paradise” is very autobiographical) – as a whiny over privileged snot. So yeah, no more FSF for me, I gave it my best shot.

    • Nicole says:

      haaaaah yeah… The Great Gatsby…not so great in my opinion…I guess we’re just not the audience for it. Not sure I’ll try any more FSF.. No offence to him, but I wasn’t crazy about his writing style (didn’t dislike it, but nothing drew me to it) and I haven’t yet come across anything that sounded like my cup of tea (and I might! I just haven’t yet). The Great Gatsby was one of those “I guess I should..” kinds of reads that didn’t live up to its hype for me. More disappointing (or more satisfying depending on how you look at it), I have done some looking into it and I don’t seem to have missed anything in my understanding of it. It just wasn’t for me.
      I think I can sometimes tell which books these ones I’m not too fussed about will be though, and I tend to audiobook them which is what I did with The Great Gatsby. I think that helped, but I can think of better ways I could have spent that time..
      Oh man! Well, no one can say you didn’t try with ol’ Fitzgerald!

  9. Tara says:

    I struggle with this, too. Sometimes I pick up weird books (on Netgalley, Edelweiss, the library, etc) in hopes that I might find a hidden gem. I struggle with knowing when to just give up and when to just take an hour or two and power through the end. But the bigger struggle is definitely with more classic literature — I try very hard to not give up because the books are usually more dense and not as quick to read, but they are the ones that stick with me over time (either in the good way or the bad way!). I don’t have any hard rules about when I’ll give up and when I don’t, but it does seem some books get more wiggle room than others!

    • Nicole says:

      Yeah, I completely agree with everything single you’ve said!
      The struggle, for me, is usually with classics and also literary fiction. They feel like they’ve been vouched for by a lot of respected bodies and a wide variety of people so you want to give them a good chance.
      I do find more often with classics (and literary fiction to a lesser degree perhaps), regardless of whether I enjoyed the book, I gain more from having read it. For example, I am more of a Brave New World kind of gal than a Handmaid’s Tale kind of gal. I didn’t dislike The Handmaid’s Tale…I was just a lot less impressed by it and it didn’t ‘speak to me’, but I am glad I did keep going with that one because a lot of interesting thought and discussion came from it. I tend to feel that less if trudging through other genres..

  10. Sophie says:

    I totally feel the struggle! I always felt like I had the responsibility of finishing bad books, even though I don’t often learn anything from them and feel no sense of accomplishment afterwards. But this year, one of my new year’s resolutions is to read what I want, which means I’m letting myself leave a book unfinished if I really start to not like it. 🙂

    • Nicole says:

      Yeah, good on you! I have always tended to be the type to start and ditch books with extreme ease at the drop of a hat…even great books. So maybe I am biased in encouraging ditching… I have been trying to do that less now mostly by being more strict with what I pick up in the first place than anything else to increase the chances I won’t ditch, but sometimes it happens, yknow? 😉

  11. Tammy says:

    I sometimes struggle all the way through if it’s a review book, because I want to be able to write a good review about why I didn’t like a book. I have had a few experiences where I almost quit reading but didn’t, then ended up loving the book when I did finish. I wold be sad if I’d never had those reading experiences.

    • Nicole says:

      Aaah yes. I think if I were reading something specifically to review it, I would feel obliged to finish it unless it were really utter bilge (like the kind of bilge that is the level before the bilge that’s so bad it’s entertainingly awful. Just regular awful stuff…nope!).
      Yeah, those (rare) books that turn it around at the very end are great on the one hand but also annoy me because they make me constantly think with every book I start to lose interest in “But maybe I’m leaving it too soon and this will all be pulled together at the very end, but it can only really be fully appreciated after slogging through all this craaap in between..” haha

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