When to Stop Reading or Watching

The fact that I like to consume a fair number of movies and books is a well established fact. I also tend to be a completionist. I like to finish what I start. The farther along I get, the more likely I am to want to finish something. But as I get older, I’m finding myself more and more inclined to stop reading or watching things if I’m not enjoying them.

I know that sounds like a fairly obvious thing to do, but it’s been difficult for me. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a corollary to “finish everything on your plate.” But many times in the past, I have forced myself to finish a book or a movie or a TV show, just to say I could.

This week, in the middle of the quarantine, I have stopped reading a book and a TV show that I was in the middle of. I got to the point where I just asked myself, “Why am I reading this? Why am I watching it?” And in the end, I put them aside for different reasons.

First, the book. The Priory of the Orange Tree has gotten really good reviews. A standalone fantasy epic. I’d heard a lot of good buzz around it as well, so I bought it when it was on sale some time ago. I thought this extended time at home would be perfect to start it, and I got about . . . 140 pages into it. There was a lot to like about the book. I was intrigued by some of the characters. I got hints of the bigger plot. But actually reading it . . . just didn’t do anything for me. I found myself more eager to check the news than I did to read the book, and I was making glacial progress in it.

So last night, I stopped. I don’t think it’s a bad book by any means. I can see why people like it, but I also can acknowledge that it’s not for me, at least not for me right now. It dwells on details and world building and characterization. That’s lovely, if it’s what you’re in the market for, but right now I really am looking for escape. The world is lovely and well conceived, but I just want a gripping plot I can’t put down. Will I come back to the book? Possibly. I have a good feel for what it’s about, and I know where to find it now, but at the same time, there are so many other books out there that I could be reading. Why not just read the ones I truly love? Just because I started a book doesn’t mean I have to finish it, and since it takes a long time for me to finish books I don’t love, by finishing that one book that’s taking me forever to get through, I’m sacrificing two or three books I might really adore.

It’s okay to step away.

On the television side of things, I had started Succession a while ago. It’s a gritty show detailing the machinations of a powerful family as they jostle for position in the family owned mega business. Well written, well acted. It’s won a slew of awards, and I’d had several friends recommend it. I was 10 minutes away from the end of the 8th episode (out of a total of 10), and . . . I just stopped it. Why?

Because there was nothing there for me to love. No characters for me to admire. It was a bunch of awful people doing awful things to each other, and each episode seemed to be a contest to see what new awful things they could have the characters do. The eighth episode got progressively more and more slimy, and finally, I snapped. I no longer cared about these characters. They were making terrible decisions, and I didn’t care who won.

So why keep watching? I turned it off and watched an episode of The Office, instead.

Bottom line, I think we should all be a little more ready to put a book down or stop a movie or a TV show. What your criteria for that is going to be is going to vary from person to person. For some, it might be really about content. For others, it could be about quality. Entertainment factor. Subject matter. In the end, it doesn’t really matter why you’re not enjoying something. It doesn’t matter if everyone else loved it. You are allowed to not like things that everyone else loved. You are allowed to love your own things, instead. Sometimes I feel like pop culture has gotten to this point where people are just tribal about things. Territorial. They accost anyone who disagrees with them as if it’s some sort of terrible thing.

Watch and read what you love. Tell other people about those things. If they don’t love them as well, that doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t detract from your experience at all. But whatever you do, don’t just read or watch something out of a sense of duty.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

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1 Comment

  • By Karla Burkhart, March 31, 2020 @ 1:48 pm

    Thank you for expressing my thoughts so astutely. I really enjoy your blog. Your dad and I have sung together for many years and I hope the day will come when we do again.

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