Book Meets Perfectionist

A friend recommended a non-fiction book, a scholarly work on cultural adaptation in America. Being trained as a folklorist, the idea was appealing. The book was well-written, but it didn’t build ideas. “Too much spinning, not enough weaving,” I thought.

Last night, I noticed I’ve been reading it since early February. It’s about 300 pages, and I haven’t managed to flog myself through it. Each night, I’ll read a few pages at bedtime, then put it down. Each time I buy a book I’d rather read, It gets put at the bottom of the stack growing by the side of my bed.
stack o booksWhen the stack got precariously high, I had to admit that I wasn’t enjoying the nonfiction  book. I felt I was reading the same 50 pages over and over. Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch, I thought. But I’m a recovering perfectionist, so how could I abandon a book? No, I must finish it. I tortured myself for another week.

The habit of completing what you start is a good one. But when it comes to books, it doesn’t apply. (At least not once you aren’t in a class with a reading list.) It’s not virtuous to finish a book that you started in good faith when that book is turning you to a curmudgeon. Drop the book. Quit reading it. Abandon it. Leave it in a basket on someone’s doorstep. Just because it seemed intriguing, just because someone recommended it does not bind your honor to reading every last page.

Tonight I read the last chapter. It was much like the others I’d read. I didn’t miss the 100 pages I’d skipped. And then I cheerfully, grinningly, reached for Anne Lamott’s book, Grace (Eventually), which I hope to enjoy a great deal, for every page.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at (c) 2008-9. All rights reserved. Image:

One thought on “Book Meets Perfectionist

  1. The Confessions of St. Augustine, The Brothers Karamazov, Tristram Shandy,Finnegan’s Wake — these and others I’ve thankfully forgotten were books I HAD to read for college courses. So I know all about flogging oneself through a book. When I read for myself, books get what I call the “one-page review.” I don’t rely on the blurb copy, because, hey, I used to write this stuff for a living and I know all about making a dull book sound captivating! If the writing doesn’t sing or at least show a promise of singing after page one then it’s back to the shelf and I move on. That doesn’t mean I haven’t read books that others would consider dull. But it does mean that I get to read what I like and enjoy.

    ===> There will always be books we have to read–for work, as an assignment, because we need to learn the contents. But absolutely nothing beats reading a book for the sheer pleasure of sinking into a story. -Q

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