Burn Before Reading: Compelling Reasons to Not Read A Book

Featured Image for Burn Before Reading

I enjoy lists about who’s reading what, from our own Dogears to NPR Books’ Friday Reads. However, sometimes I’m just not going to read that book that you love so much, or that you’re shocked I haven’t read by now, or that you think might be the next big thing.

And, as I expand my comfort zone ever so slightly to utterly dominate the Bookmarked 2019 Reading Challenge (seriously, I think I’ll complete it by MIDYEAR, I’m doing great), well, sometimes, I think our reasons for NOT reading a book are just as important as our reasons for reading something else.

In case you too might need some very good reasons to say no to a book, here are some of the ones I find myself using the most often.

I am perversely unwilling to read this classic everyone thinks I am the target audience for.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

For me, Little Women falls into this category. Growing up bookish and female, I was handed this book so many times in my youth. I’m sure I wasn’t always polite about it, too. It was abundantly obvious that no monster fights would occur in it and no murder mysteries would be solved, and I didn’t see what all the fuss was about except that I was expected to join that fuss. I think at this point I have built up a Pavlovian response of annoyance to the very idea of reading it.

I have tried this classic several times and feel there is an ineffable “good” reading experience that I cannot achieve.

Cover page Life and Opinions of Tristam

The conditions are just not right. To read a book of this kind, one must be sitting under a tree in a light breeze, the creamy pages dappled by the sunshine. The progenitor of this category is Tristram Shandy. I am ready to find Tristram Shandy a masterpiece that shapes my worldview. But. Most of my leisure reading is ebooks on my phone screen and I know this is a book that needs to be read on paper for many of the innovative page layouts to have meaning. One time I got a paper edition and it turned out to be those unreadable tissue-like “Bible leaves,” paper so thin I could see everything on the previous two and next two pages at all times and it was like reading a masterpiece (I’m pretty sure) through a dense fog of other words. Someday the conditions will be right, and oho, I will love Tristram Shandy then.

I know too much about the author’s unsavory political views or personal practices to want to read this book.

Cover for Ender's Game

Of course, this category is about Ender’s Game. I read Ender’s Game and found it fine before I ever knew anything about Orson Scott Card, but the more I learned about his views, the surer I was that I would not be choosing to read any of the sequels, important to the genre and possibly entertaining though they are. For this category especially, I want to make it clear that I’m talking about leisure reading, here. I regularly read books by unpleasant people for work, and if I needed to do so for the good of my students or integrity of my scholarship, I’d read the complete works of Card and probably enjoy complaining all the while. But I don’t. And that brings me to my final reason not to read a book:

It’s rhetorically useful to me to be ignorant of what happens in this book.

Cover for Fifty Shades of Grey

When someone finds out I teach literature and asks me if I have read their favorite book, sometimes I have! It can be fun to talk about what we both liked about it. However, it can also be extremely useful to have NOT read their favorite book. I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey. I don’t plan to. I can easily and truthfully say that when someone tells me it is their favorite and asks if I’ve read it, “no, but I know a lot of people like it! What did you like about it?” and have a conversation about what they look for in a book rather than the exact contents of Fifty Shades of Grey. Thank goodness.

Reader, your leisure time is your own. Read whatever you want to, and if you keep avoiding a particular book others believe you should embrace, you probably have a good reason to do it. You should go ahead and reread your own favorite instead.

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter and dog. She teaches writing and literature at Suffolk County Community College where she studies comics, kids' books, adaptations and visual culture. She is a former Pubwatch Editor for WWAC, and frankly, there is a lot more gray in her hair than there was when this profile picture was taken.