Thursday, August 8, 2013

WHEN SHOULD YOU ABANDON A BOOK... OR A GUY?


Recently the website goodreads.com published a study featuring statistics on how quickly a person  “abandons” a book they have begun reading.  
Because so many of today’s most passionate readers are female, the goodreads.com article got me to imagine stretching the scope of the study so we weren't just talking about statistics regarding readers abandoning books…
What if the study also covered how quickly women end up abandoning men they have just started dating.   
This notion probably popped into into my head because I’m the father of two young women in their early twenties. On a daily basis, I worry about them pursuing a relationship with the right guy.
Before moving on, I should point out that, yes, the thoughts I have below are all within the context of a heterosexual dynamic, but that’s not to say I've ruled out any and all possibilities concerning my daughters’ future relationships with a significant other.
According to the goodreads.com survey, fewer than fifty pages is all it takes for 15.8% of readers out there to abandon a book. I translate “fifty pages” to be like reading the prologue and first chapter of a novel before abandoning the book.
In social terms, it would be the equivalent of a woman deciding to have nothing to do with a guy after the initial get together. I have in mind, a first encounter at a bar, or some other social situation, like a party. It could also be a blind date (setup by friends/family) or a get together arranged via an Internet matchmaking site.
Using the scenarios outlined above, I believe a 15.8% abandonment rate would be way low if it accurately measured how often women were blowing off men after the initial encounter.
The men I run across in public (and sadly, in my private life as well) are dreadful. The fact that women would hang around almost 85% of the time after they've been introduced to a guy would be almost inconceivable. It would mean that more than eight out of ten guys the average woman meets are not jobless… terminally immature… morally vacuous… on parole… cast member of a reality show… already in another relationship… or… all of the above.
Seriously, eight out of ten guys… worth going forward with? I just don’t see it.
Moving to the next level on the chart we see that 27.9% readers abandon a book after 50-100 pages. Now the rate of 27.9% is a statistic that begins to calm my nerves. I believe at least we’re moving in the right direction.
As both male and an author, if you’ve given me 100 pages to close a deal where you keep on reading, or shut everything down, I believe I’ve had a very fair shot to win your love.  
With that said, as a father, I would not like to see my daughters operating at the level of 27.9%.
I believe things are desperate right now for women out there (of all ages, not just early twenties) looking for the right guy. Finding someone for a relationship who is intelligent, caring, attractive and can cover his fair share of the monthly budget is not exactly like choosing a jewel from a treasure of embarrassing riches.
I often tell my girls to be choosy. Even being a snob in this case is acceptable if it helps in the filtering process of finding the right guy.
We exist now in a world where employing the philosophy -- he’s good enough for right now… could potentially lead to a relationship, no matter how short, that ends up affecting your entire life.
And even if a guy seems like he’s someone worth “reading” more, I warn my girls to look for the subtext between the words written on the page.
One of the clues to watch for is how a guy treats people he encounters in his daily life -- the hired help, taxicab drivers, the person serving your Subway sandwiches. Does the guy you’re dating treat these people like human beings or does he take advantage of the opportunities to play out hidden anger and emotional issues that he might be hiding from you?
A man I met while conducting research for a screenplay said to me, “you can learn a lot from watching how a dude treats someone they owe money to, then observing the same dude treating everyone else like they all owe him money.”  
Same point. Different world.
Back to the chart – if we take “100 pages” as the equivalent of two dates with a guy, the statistic attached to this page count reveals how optimistic your average woman is when it comes to relationships.
I should have put OPTIMISTIC  in all caps in the previous sentence because I’ve been there when the ex-wife of a guy actually showed up on a woman’s  second date screaming about back alimony. I was there later when my female friend said that she would see the guy again for a third date and justified her decision by telling me, “why not, his ex doesn't look anything like me.”
Jumping to the bottom of the statistics, we find that 38.1% of readers will continue to read a bad book all the way to the last page. This is the statistic that really astounds… and scares me.
Somehow, 38.1% of women out there, after meeting a guy, intend to ride out the relationship until either there’s an intervention or the life insurance on the guy has finally paid off. I list these two choices because I’m afraid to list the other choices that run up against this indisputable fact -- there’s a lot of bad books out there… And there’s a lot of bad guys out there!
I don’t fault any woman who will hang with a bad book only because there is a part of you that simply wants to know what happens on the last page.
My fear kicks in only when I think about all the women out there who keep on reading, even though they have long ago figured out exactly how the book is going to end.
And yet… what I write above hides a personal truth.
If my wife had not had a certain amount of optimism, I would be alone right now.
When I met her, I was broke.
And my ex-wife actually did show up where my present wife was working and needed to be escorted from the premises by security.
And because I was a writer when we began dating, my career choice pretty much promised that for long periods of my life I was probably going to be “jobless.”
Actually it’s amazing that my wife is still reading my book.
I know that she’s hoping that future chapters will have more thrills, take place in exotic countries, and have way more sex. She’s also praying that there’s a happy ending… even if the happy ending is at the expense of some cheesy developments, or a victorious climax that the male protagonist does’t really earn. I can even confidently predict that my wife would even excuse our book concluding with a Deus ex Machina ending.
So I guess my own personal experience is not an obvious source for supporting my overall premise as to when a woman should stop reading a particular book. But that hasn't prevented me from giving my daughters advice --
- Because you abandoned reading Jane Austen after high school doesn't mean you won’t enjoy her when you are older. Tastes in books change because people change.
- Be smart enough to stop reading when you’re not connecting with what’s on the page.
- And if you can’t stop reading a particular book that’s proving to be an awful experience, then talk to someone. Yeah, I understand, it’s not going to be me, but… someone.
- And, there really are times when you should legitimately give a book a chance and keep reading all the way to the end.
This is true even though, chapter after chapter, the story line continues to disappoint and the main character never seems to get his shit together. But you keep reading because you’re intriqued enough about the possibilities, the promise that the writing will eventually get better, and because the connection between a reader and a writer can be symbiotic. What is missing on the page is often times filled in by readers with imagination, intelligence, and patience.
And of course, optimism.

This advice especially holds true to reading a really long novel. At a certain point, after you’ve devoted so much time and energy, whether you like it or not, that book is now part of your life.