Reading (Only) What Inspires You

I had this conversation with a friend not too long ago: If you have a ton of books to choose from to read, what’s your strategy? I am myself addicted to having way more books around than I’ll possibly have time to read. This entails choices. Some books you’ll never get to. Some you can weed out by reading reviews, flipping through and gauging whether you really think you’re going to read the book cover to cover, or starting and seeing how you feel once you’ve gotten through a chapter or two.

But what if the book is okay, but not great? Something you feel as though you should finish because you’ve already committed time to it, but are not feeling compelled enough to complete? I used to be of the mind that I had to finish everything I started, but no more.

Elizabeth George, author of the recent Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life [HarperCollins 2004], had a great way of putting it on BBC Radio:

I always tell my students to read up. Always read people whose work you admire. And if you start reading a book and you realize that it’s not good enough and not something that you would aspire to, then just don’t finish the book.