What I do When I Have to Read a Book I Don’t Want to Read

books to read on my nightstand

I know. You are you shocked by the title of this blog post, right? You are thinking to yourself: “This is a reader. She should want to read everything.” Or, “Why would she read something she doesn’t want to read?”

I debated if I should even tell you all this secret of mine. But…sometimes I don’t want to read a book. There are many reasons. Perhaps I just have too many other interests outside of reading. Or perhaps I HAVE to read a book (like when I was in school)…and I hate that. I like choosing what books I want to read. And sometimes I have to read a book that I need to read for a book discussion at work or a book review I am writing. And sometimes those books aren’t all that good. And that is why you have librarians.

As a librarian I can’t count the number of times people come up and ask for a “good” book to read. They never come up and ask for a bad book. Yet part of my job is to figure out not only what is a good/bad book…I also need to figure out what is a good/bad book for each particular patron. That means that I read a lot of books. And not all of them are books I gobble up. But that’s okay. I figure that the more I read the more I appreciate the books that to me are as amazing as lemon pie.

So, back to the question at hand. What do I do when I HAVE to read a book I DON’T want to? Here are my top three secrets for getting it done.

1. Set a deadline. And if need be, set a deadline that is a short time period away. I know, that sounds crazy. Why force yourself to get something read in a crazy amount of time when you don’t even like it? Because otherwise I wouldn’t read it. I would keep putting it off. Like this one time I didn’t want to read this book…but I thought I should (the movie was coming out and the teens at my library were interested in the movie). So I only allowed myself to read this horrid thing when on my lunch breaks (where I used to read loads of wonderful things). I think it took almost two months for me to read the book (I think the movie even came out before I was done). And I can’t tell you how many times I disturbed my co-workers precious reading time because I didn’t set a deadline for myself and just plow through the miserable thing. Basically I was feeling guilty that I wasn’t reading this book that I knew I needed to read and my wonderful reading time became social time so I wouldn’t have to read the silly thing. Yeah, forcing yourself to get through the misery so you can have happy reading time again is a good thing. In order to help myself get back to reading something nice and wonderful, I have to set a deadline for getting something read. Sometimes I set small deadlines. (I need to read this chapter by tonight or these 250 pages by this weekend.) Something to get me motivated to make progress in moving through the book so I can move onto something else.

2. Give yourself a reward. If you have to do something awful, isn’t it somewhat bearable if you know that something wonderful will be coming right after? Often I let myself read whatever I want right after something I really hated. That way I know I won’t be forced to read two books in a row that I can’t stand. Sometimes when I was in college and had piles of books (and articles) that I didn’t want to read (some of which were just because there was so much reading I wanted to do something besides read…like sleep) I would let myself have a reward at the end. However, it couldn’t ever be to read something else I wanted to read (I still would have loads left to read, this was grad-school after all). But perhaps I could go out for custard (UIUC custard anyone?) or I would let myself get a sweet treat for a 10 min study break. Or I would write my outline for my paper while watching TV with my roommate (yeah, the “do more homework but with white noise” reward was a GREAT motivator!) As a more recent example this last month I had another book I had a hard time getting through. And I let myself play all five of my Candy Crush lives only after I read a certain amount of pages. New shoes have gotten me through another book. And the things I will read quickly for a whole lemon pie…

3. If all else fails…skim. If I really can’t get into a book, and I have tried the other two methods…I skim the book. (Unless I really HAVE to read the whole thing cover to cover, in which case I try #1 and #2 again with BIGGER rewards.) But if it is for a work book discussion and I really just need to know enough to know who to recommend the book to or what questions to ask in the book group, I skim. I read: a) the first fifty pages of the book b) the first and last two or three paragraphs in each chapter c) the first and last sentences on each page and d) the last twenty to fifty pages (depending upon where the climax is). And then I know the basic plot line of the book. Some of which I had to piece together…but I had read enough that I could do that without being too lost. And there was one book where I started using this skimming method and near the end of the book it actually became interesting. So I finished the book as if I had read the whole thing. But, if I need to really get through a book…this skimming method only takes one or two hours…and then the book is done. Forever. And I have “read” and know enough about the book to have a good discussion about characters, plot, and tempo and most people would never know I even skimmed the thing. In fact, I have had quite a few book discussions where people never had any idea that I skimmed the book.

However, most of the time if I don’t want to read a book I don’t even try to pick it up. There are just way too many books out there to waste my time reading something I don’t want to read. But I don’t live in a perfect world…so sometimes I have to read something I don’t want to read. Sometimes I start reading something that looks promising and turns into a dud of a book.

And I would bet that every librarian who is worth their salt regularly reads something that they wouldn’t necessarily pick up on their own or certainly don’t want to finish but they do. (They have to know about so many different types of books for all of you that they have to read outside their preferred happy book place.) And don’t get me wrong, we love to read these types of books so we can have wonderful book-related conversations with all of you. But, sometimes we have to set deadlines for ourselves. Sometimes we have to give ourselves a big reward for reading. And sometimes we skim. Or just put the book down.

But, we do it all for you! Now, don’t you just feel loved? If not, you should.

p.s. Yes, this is my nightstand and my books and my bookmarks. But, I am actually only in the middle of one of those books. The rest are just put there to illustrate the point that I often get stuck in the middle of loads of books…just like everyone else!

3 thoughts on “What I do When I Have to Read a Book I Don’t Want to Read

  1. Awesome!! It recently took me probably over 2 months to finish a book that I needed to review. It wasn’t that bad, really. It just wasn’t that interesting either. Thanks for the tips. 🙂

  2. Yeah for skimming! I would have never finished “The Golden Compass” without it! I am trying to be better about the deadline business in regard to my book reviews. I once read a book, hated it, put off by book review, then didn’t remember enough to write the review so I had to read it all over! I’ll never make that mistake again.

    I’m so glad to hear that even the lovely, talented Joella comes up against books that she’d rather not read! It makes me feel so normal!

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