50 Ways to Leave your Library: Guilt-Free Book Dumping

A staggering number of people say they can’t dump books. ‘Once I’ve started, I have to finish, even if I hate it.’ Whether it’s out of bloody-mindedness, self-doubt (‘everyone else thinks it’s good…), a vague sense of obligation to the writer, or even misplaced politeness of the kind that makes British people say ‘Sorry!’ when we bump into lampposts, people all over the world are locked into bitter unrewarding loveless relationships with books they don’t want to be reading.

Well, if you are one of those disturbingly conscientious readers, fear not: here is a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to book dumping. (Probably best to print it first).

Does the narrative viewpoint character look into a mirror for the sole purpose of providing the reader with a physical description?

Put the book down and give it to a charity shop when you’re next passing.

Does the female narrative viewpoint character look into a mirror for the sole purpose of providing the reader with a physical description, and then tell us how insecure she feels about her unattractive perfect teeth, blonde curls, cute nose and gigantic breasts?

Put the book down and make a special trip to the charity shop right now.

Does the book contain scenes of sickening violence, misogyny, rape, homophobia etc?

The author chose to include those. If you don’t think his reasons for doing so were good enough, feel free to ditch the book without feeling wimpish.  (Read this excellent article on the rape of James Bond and realism in popular culture for more on this.)

Is a titled character such as Sir Richard Burton referred to as Sir Burton at any point?

Stop reading the book, tie it to a brick, and return it to the publisher via their window. There’s no excuse.

Is the book like this:

A young woman’s slow mental breakdown leads to her being subjected to forced shock therapy. She contemplates suicide and accustoms herself to a life constantly plagued by crippling depression.

But the cover’s like this?


That’s more poorly judged than deceptive, but there’s a lot of it about. I could name you two cases of psychological horror novels that were deliberately packaged as light comedy because the author’s previous, successful book was light comedy. Don’t blame the author (unless self pubbed), they are probably lying awake screaming. But don’t feel compelled to finish the book either.

Is it a mystery novel and you kind of want to know whodunnit?

The last chapter is right over there. Move your thumb, bit more – there you go. Oh,hey, turns out it was the uncle after all. Aren’t you glad you didn’t wait to find out?

Is it full of errors?

It may not be in the powers of the author to write, plot or characterize well. It is one hundred per cent within the powers of the author/publisher to have the text edited for spelling, grammar and punctuation. If they can’t be bothered to do that, you need not bother to read the work. This applies to self-published books as much as any. Yes, including free ones.

Did it win prizes, and you feel dumb because it’s doing nothing for you?

A.L. Kennedy was a Booker Prize judge in 1996, and called the Booker “a pile of crooked nonsense” with the winner determined by “who knows who, who’s sleeping with who, who’s selling drugs to who, who’s married to who, whose turn it is”. All of which sounds like a terrific reason to get on the prize judging committee, but not to feel compelled to finish a book. Remember, Vernon God Little won the Booker, and it’s more toxic than sarin gas. Dump! Dump!

Has everyone else in the known world read this book?

It’s 50 Shades of Grey. Feel free to kill it with an axe.

There you go. Walk away from the cycle of literary abuse. Find a new book that will treat you as you deserve. Be free.

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