Reading and the Clean Plate Club

If you had parents who grew up in the Depression, or went through other hardships, you remember the “Clean Plate Club.” You cleaned up your plate at every meal.  Hungry or not, you ate. You finished your meal. old-fashioned-thanksgivingSomehow, I translated that to reading books.

I find it almost impossible to abandon a book I’ve started, no matter how unsatisfactory.  I keep reading, even when the plot is weak, the characters uninteresting, or the premise vague. There is no good reason I do this. But I do.

I just finished an audiobook, and when the female protagonist (a flighty, timid, weak soul who is always “rooted to the spot in fear,” “numb with indecision,” or  “quavering  with hesitant hope”)  gets into yet another scrape, I begin to root for the villain to do her in. When the writing is weak, I keep hoping for a change.

Maybe the next chapter will pick up. At some point, I should know better. It’s not patience, it’s not tolerance. It is a good lesson in the difference between patience and endurance.

There comes a time in every situation when the excuses are used up, the reasons for staying the course unclear. That’s the time to stop listening, stop eating, and look for another source of  satisfaction. If satisfaction is not found in what you are dealing with, it time to stack the plate, put the CD back in the case, and start the search for more satisfaction.

–Quinn Mcdonald has moved on to another book. A far better one.


24 thoughts on “Reading and the Clean Plate Club

  1. All this time I thought I was the only one with the book issue! I finally gave myself permission to stop if I couldn’t get into it after 100 pages!

  2. Have I ever told you that according to the family legend (too vague a reference to call it history) there is a Prussian General among our ancestors? I think the “duty is fulfilled and pain is endured” style we have comes from him. In this case it isn´t from him but from my sweet grandma that I inherited the “read till the end” habit. She was always hopeful something good would come out of the book. It was only recently taht I gave up on a book … and it still haunts me!

  3. For traditional books I try to read 100 pages and for ebooks, three chapters — if by that time It hasn’t grabbed me, I give myself permission to stop. Interestingly, I’m more likely to listen all the way to the end of audiobooks (which I use in the car on my daily commute) all the way to the end, no matter what. I find it somewhat therapeutic to scream things like “What — you didn’t see that coming?” to a poorly written heroine, and “Yes, I already know that, you have told us, what four times before?” to the exasperating author.

    • This was an audiobook, and I must admit, a great deal of the problem was the reader. Which is not the author’s fault. But to be perfectly fair, the heroine was such a nitwit, I was really hoping the murderer would get her.

  4. I used to be the same until one day the book was just so awful I couldn’t finish. It made me realise nothing bad would happen if I didn’t finish a book I didn’t like. On the other hand, a really bad book can give you a new appreciation for good writing. I finally bought your Inner Hero book yesterday…on Kindle so I didn’t have to wait for it to ship to Australia.
    I’m only up to the second hero, but I wanted you to know how much I am enjoying it. After all, good writing is always a pleasure no matter what the subject matter.

    • Whew. I was afraid there, for a moment, you were going to hate it. And as a writer, that happens, too. You can’t please everyone, and that should be OK with me if I’m the reader.

  5. As soon as I saw the heading I knew what the post would be about!

    I give fiction about 20-50 pages at most. If I’m not hooked I don’t finish reading it. If I hate the writing and have a vague curiosity I might read the last few pages. With non-fiction I have less patience unless I have to read it . . . and that hasn’t been the case for years.

    Life is definitely too short to put up with boring activities if they don’t meet your goals.

  6. Funnily enough, although I have never really been that fond of food I have always had a hard time abandoning a crappy book. The first time I did so I felt tremendous guilt and while I can’t say it has gotten easier to do this I am much better at knowing when to shut the book for the last time. It seems to be a common problem, I have had discussions about this with many other book-aholics over the years and we all seem to struggle with this. I work hard to make better choices. Thanks for bringing this issue out into the open 😉

    • I think I need to pick a page number. Fifty to 100 pages should be plenty. And I admit, I would have abandoned Amy Tan’s latest book had I done that. But there are a lot of good books or fun books to spend time slogging through a slow starter.

  7. Thanks Quinn, Great advice. You know, I was kind of hoping you’d talk to us about Gelli Plates. I have a hankering again to use mine. Any chance you’d do a web course with gelli plates? 🙂

  8. Yep. I remember the clean plate club. The cause of many people learning to over-eat (In my opinion). And I used to be one of those who had to read the book to the end even if I didn’t like it.Sometimes I was so relieved to finally have finished a book so I could get to something better. At some point in the past I realized that I was never going to be able to read all the books I wanted in my lifetime, so why was I wasting precious time reading bad books. Now I give a book maybe about a 1/4 or 1/3 way through the book and then I switch if I have not been hooked yet. So much nicer.

  9. Goodafternoon Quinn,
    I have the same problem with books, always afraid to miss something important…! Since a few years I am able to leave a book for what it is when it dissapoints me for some reason.

    My mum never ever forced me to eat everything on my plate when I was a child. I still love her for that :-).

  10. I have been the same way with books (and food) all my life. I hit a point several years back, where I made the decision that I did not have to finish the whole book (or movie or tv series). There are so many other choices to try in this world. I won’t waste time on entertainment that does not entertain me. Now, food, unfortunately, is a whole ‘nother ball game!

  11. Good Morning Quinn – I well remember the Clean Plate Club. My mother promised me a ‘medal’ if I was a good member…and I was. Finally, after all my pestering about – when will they send the medal – she made me one out of cardboard and I wore it around my neck for a while. Was this my first experience with a craft project back in the early 40s? Who knows?

    I always enjoy reading your blog.


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