Why It's Important To Read Books You Hate

by E. Ce Miller
Originally Published: 
Young woman reading book, waiting at train station. Travel and active lifestyle concept.
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Firstly, let me start off by saying that “hate” is perhaps too strong a word for what we’re talking about here — I can think of very few books that I actually hate . (To be honest, at the moment I can’t think of any books I’ve read that I hate, but I’ll let you know if that changes.) What we’re talking about here are the books that you’ve read that you feel are really just not for you — maybe they come straight from your high school required reading list, or they’re titles from a genre you have never totally embraced, or they’re those books that earned themselves a spot on the DNF (that’s “did not finish” for all you non-book-nerds) shelves in the library of your mind. Essentially, they’re the books you’re never going to read again — you swear. Which is exactly why it’s so important to read them. Yes, again.

Now, you’re probably thinking: there are so many great books out there in the world, just waiting for me to crack them open, so why should I read a book I don’t even like? That’s a great question — and it’s a good thing we found each other, because I’m going to answer it for you. Here are 6 reasons why it is important to read books you hate… or at least think you hate, right now.

1. You might not actually hate them… Really.

Earlier this year I undertook a project in which I re-read all my least favorite books from high school — classics like The Great Gatsby , The Catcher in the Rye , and The Bell Jar that I just suffered through back in grades 9th – 12th. Like a bad boyfriend, they were books I was thrilled to be rid of and never wanted to spend time with again. So why, ten years later, did I feel the need to purchase brand-new copies of my least favorite books and read them all over again? Literary inquiry, you might say. Or maybe I just needed a catchy topic for my next article. Who knows? The point is, I did purchase brand-new copies of all my least favorite books, and spent one very long weekend reading them once more. And I bet you'll never guess what happened.

My 10-plus years older eyes loved them. These books were funny, and moving, and engaging. I enjoyed spending time with their characters, and while I still understood what I’d so disliked about them in the first place, I found that very few of those things were still true from an adult perspective. (For the record, this will most definitely not be the same case with the bad boyfriend.) So, reason number one for why you should read books you hate: you might be surprised to find you don’t actually hate them as much as you thought.

2. It’s a great way to measure your own growth — both as a reader and as a person.

While I don’t re-read books as often as I probably should (there are just so many irresistibly new ones landing on shelves every day!) every single time I do something really interesting happens: I realize how much I’ve changed since the last time I read that book. I see characters in a new light, relate to the protagonist in a way I hadn’t before, and sometimes even enjoy the book a whole lot more than I did when I read it the first time. (And the best part is when that 10-dollar word I had to look up the last time has somehow woven its way into my own vocabulary.) Because we bring so much of ourselves into the books we read — whether we realize it or not — we’re never really reading the same book twice; even if it is actually the same book. Re-reading books, even books you hate, is kind of like returning to your hometown after a long absence — the setting around you is exactly the same, but you understand it differently because you’ve returned different too.

3. You’ll be a more informed reader, even of literature you don’t love.

If you’re going to be a true book nerd, I’m sorry to say it, but you’ve got to read widely and diversely, even if sometimes you want to do nothing more than curl up with J.K. Rowling for what might be the millionth time. But it’s just as important — sometimes more important — to understand why you hate one particular book as much as it is important to understand why you love another. And you’re not going to be able to do that without giving it a sincere reading. Plus, when all your other book nerd friends are talking about that one book you love to hate, you’ll be able to join in with some well-informed snark.

4. It might make you more comfortable with opinions that differ from your own.

It’s a simple fact that we live in a world filled with strong — and sometimes totally out-there — opinions. And throughout the course of living in this world we’re bound to come across people with whom we passionately disagree, pretty much on a daily basis. Especially if it happens to be, I don’t know, election season in America, for example. And no matter how well thought-out and articulated your opinion might be, you are not going to be able to win over every single heart and mind to your own way of thinking. Even though you’re right (because you definitely are, goshdarnit.) And sometimes — like say when you’ve just sat down to dinner with your girlfriend’s parents for the first time — those differing opinions are going to make everyone feel super uncomfortable. Except for you, wise reader, because you have sat through book after book of ideas you don’t like and definitely don’t agree with. And if you can suffer through all 384 pages of The Art of the Deal , you will certainly make it through dinner.

5. “DNF” is a really lame Goodreads review — just sayin’.

I’m really sorry if you’ve recently had some New-Agey epiphany about how life is too short to finish books you don’t like, and how there is enough sadness, pain, and discomfort involved in daily living without having to bring it home to your own bookshelves, but I am just so not on the DNF bandwagon. Maybe it’s due to my own book nerd neuroses, but I just think if you pick up a book, and 50 pages in you’re not feeling it, take the weekend and just power through that sucker. First of all, because I’ve read a fair number of books that really suck until about page 100 or so, when things start heat up; and second of all, how can you stand not knowing what happens? Even if what happens is really boring and awful? How can you stand it? How?

Also, (warning: I’m going to get a little sassy here) “DNF” is neither an opinion, nor a review of a book, so if you’re using it as such, stop it. Right now. All “DNF” tells me is that you did not finish the book, so I am completely wasting my time reading your review.

6. Perseverance is a useful quality, on and off the page.

In an age of 140-character Tweets, Snapchats that disappear after a few seconds, and “Unfriend” buttons that can end relationships in a single click (people still do this, right?) sticking with things — aka: perseverance — is kind of a dying art. But I am all for perseverance, on and off the page (how else are you going to catch that CP 982 Pidgey, unless you’re willing to stick it out through Pokeball after Pokeball?) Uh… but I digress. The point is, sometimes you have to commit to things in life, whether you like them or not, and finishing books that aren’t your faves is a great way to practice that skill. Now excuse me, while I go get ready for a long overdue date with the last 390 pages of Infinite Jest .

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