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?