When to give up on a book

It’s pretty common for people to struggle with finishing books and there have been many cases made for the benefits of seeing a book from discovering one rectifying moment to showing respect for the craftmanship of the work.

But I’ve been struggling with a very different problem: what to do when a book simply disagrees with you.

The book in question is Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. The protagonist is Dana, a black woman living in 1970’s America who is inexplicably transported back in time to the antebellum South resulting in her saving the son of a plantation owner and forging a mysterious relationship that continuously yanks Dana through time to save the boy time and again.

At least that’s what I learned from the dust cover and the 20 pages I read… For whatever reason I just can’t stick Butler’s story through. It’s not written poorly. The plot isn’t uninteresting. In fact her writing is bound to deal with the problem of slavery in America an issue which is usually too alluring for me to ignore. It’s cross-generic meshing Science Fiction and African American lit, not your usual combo. Not to mention it has staying power with the original publication being in 1979.

Yet, I find myself struggling through ten pages in an hour. I just can’t find myself immersed. It’s the same semi-violent reaction I feel when I eat cilantro. It just isn’t to my taste!

Tim Parks has made a fair point about learning to accept that sometimes the reader is satisfied before a book finishes and there is exonerating power in skipping the ending.

But I find myself frustrated with my inability to see my way through even another chapter of Kindred. Despite my inactivity on the Read Harder challenge I am still committed to broadening my horizons, plus I’ve promised to read it for book club.

Maybe that in there lies the problem. What to do when you’re not reading for yourself? This isn’t the first book that I’ve had assigned to me but it is the first one I truly can’t seem to go along with. I admit never understanding the protests from my fellow students when teachers made us read To Kill a Mockingbird or Animal Farm or The Wars. I always assumed it was slothfulness or simply lack of culture that prevented my classmates from getting into it. These are fantastic pieces of literature after all.

Perhaps like Parks I need to learn to cut myself some slack. Of the hundreds of books I will consume in my lifetime maybe this one just isn’t for me, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Why be puritanical about finishing a book?