Unless you are a huge masochist, you probably don't enjoy reading a bad book. I have suffered through more books than I can count on two hands — some simply bored me, some made me roll my eyes with cheap plots or bad writing, and some made me so angry I immediately wrote passionate Goodreads reviews and then talked to all of my reader friends about it until they promised to never read it if I stopped talking. There are a few theories for why I insist on finishing every book I start. (It's probably guilt.) Speaking to Heidi Mitchell in The Wall Street Journal, clinical psychologist Matthew Willhelm maintains that people feel a psychological anxiety about unfinished activities because we are wired to see things through to the end, even bad books. But whatever the reason I finished all those books I hated, they have actually helped me become a better reader and fall in love with reading more than ever before.
This might seem counterintuitive, and for a while I thought it was, too. It was always all too easy for me to fall into a massive reading slump after turning the final page on a book I didn't like. Sure, the deep and fiery hatred I felt got me motivated to write about and discuss my negative feelings about the book, but I also typically fell into a reading lull. I found myself clicking on to Netflix more than usual. It was a classic case of "Books can disappoint you, but Bob's Burgers re-runs never will" every time I slogged through a bad book. Which is why a blog post on Goodreads about the biggest tip for reading more books spoke to me on a very real level: stop reading books you aren't enjoying.
This super simple thought still feels like a revelation to me. It's without a doubt the simplest way to read more and to enjoy more of what you read. Forget the fleeting psychological satisfaction of finishing a book, any book, and strive instead for the lasting joy of books you love. But after the initial "omg yes!" feelings wore off, I actually started to think about how valuable it can be to read bad books. Not only has reading them helped hone my critical thinking and critiquing skills (especially useful as a writer and reviewer) but bad books have also had one other hugely positive impact: they helped me figure out what books I love, what books I don't, and what stories matter to me the most. In my opinion, there is nothing more satisfying and enriching as a reader than to know your reading identity, and to cultivate a collection of reading experiences to reflect it. And it's all those books I hated that got me there.
Do I still start books that I realize, halfway through, just aren't my cup of tea? Of course, I do. It's probably one of the most universal experiences readers share. But now I can feel better about taking on that Goodreads advice to not finish every single book I read because I have no fear that it I will be missing out on a book that will change my life, or change who I am as a reader. Now whenever I do happen to make it through to the end of a bad book, I know it was anything but a waste of my time. And Netflix can wait — I've got more literary self-discovery to do.