I like to advocate reading. I believe more reading makes the world a better place. That reading is the best and strongest hope for humanity. That reading matters.

There are, however, times when you need to stop reading. Specifically, any time you’re more than 5 pages (or screens) into a book that you think is just…bad.

I don’t care why you think it’s bad nor what anyone else thinks of it. If to you, as a reader, it is bad, for the love of all that matters, put the damn thing down. Throw it, even. Whatever works for you. There are more books than any one of us will be able to read in a lifetime, and we need to use this time wisely.

Last week, I talked about the Festival of Reading. It more than lived up to all my hype, and one of my favorite moments was when Mark Billingham asked an audience of, oh, 100 or so folks, to raise their hands if they always finish books.

More than half of the people in the room did.

To which Mark yelled, “But WHY?”

This being Florida (what does that have to do with anything? I have no idea, but I needed a transition thingy there), a number of people shouted out answers. Mark’s responses were far more eloquent and funny than mine could ever be here (or anywhere else), but I believe this to be of the utmost import, so here goes…

I owe it to the author to finish. 
You…what? Contrary to (apparently) popular belief, authors are not psychic. He or she won’t know if you don’t finish the book unless you take it upon yourself to tell him or her. If you have acquired a book through any means other than theft, you don’t owe the author anything.

It might get better. 
No, it won’t. Authors want to hook readers from the start, and they begin as they intend to continue. If you don’t like the start, you won’t like the rest.

I’m not a quitter. 
I didn’t say you were. In fact, I’m sure you’re not. This has nothing to do with quitting, but rather is about the fact that not every book and every reader are a good match.

There’s a good story in there somewhere. 
I’m one of the millions of poor souls who read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, all 5,438 extraneous pages of it. This is a perfect example of a good story hidden within page upon page upon page of crap. Did any of us need to know the detailed family history of every superfluous character? No, we didn’t. And apparently, many people enjoyed leaning it more than I did, going on to read the whole trilogy. It obviously worked for them, but it sure didn’t for me. If I had it to do over again, I would quit after five pages.

I’ve read this far. I might as well finish. 
Well, that’s awfully defeatist of you. What about all the books awaiting your attention that you will actually enjoy?

I’m not going to let this book beat me. 
…because, you know, if you stop reading, the book will tell all its friends what a wuss you are.

I know a lot of people–people I love and respect–who finish books they’re not enjoying. When we talk about it, they agree that they should stop wasting their precious time. I wish I could send Mark to each of their homes, because I think he could convince them to stop. He told a story about changing part of one of his books in the paperback edition because after the hardcover came out, based on reader reaction, one aspect of the story didn’t work. He said, “I had to change it because I hadn’t done my job properly.”

I love that. I know some authors are inclined to stand on artistry when they fail to tell a story well, and that just annoys me. I think if all authors and readers had Mark’s attitudes as each, we’d have a world of avid readers.

I want to live in that world.