Like most—all?—writers, I’m also a reader; in my case, an avid one.
“readers should put down difficult books immediately if they are not enjoying them.”
His reasoning, apparently, is that: “Battling through them, he said, would only condition people to believe reading is a chore, leaving a ‘sense of duty’ about something you ‘should do’ “
I am not entirely unsympathetic to his viewpoint, since I can recall several novels I’ve “battled through”, only to wonder at the end why I bothered.
However, I cannot entirely agree with him either, because a book I regard as one of the best I’ve ever read, Aldous Huxley’s Eyeless In Gaza, is one where I had to struggle to get through the the first half of the book—but I did persevere and when I got to the end I felt so rewarded for the effort and so glad I had stuck with it.
And writing, as I have said recently, in a Supernatural Underground post “The Secret I Didn’t Share…” can be “a long distance endurance event.” So it may be that some reading experiences will also more closely resemble marathons than the 100 metre dash. Both can deliver rewards, but they may be different rewards depending on time and mood.
Sometimes, too, the best course when a book is not “gel-ing”, may not be to give up on it altogether, but to come back to it later, when time and energy levels are more conducive to the style of tale you’re reading. This worked for me with Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand Of Darkness. When I first tried to read it I was working very intensely and so was always very tired. I also only ever had a short period late at night for reading and the read wasn’t gel-ing for me. So I did put the book aside until conditions were more conducive—and with both more time and higher energy levels, I not only got into the story straight away, I again thought it was one of the most interesting and thought provoking novels I had read for some time.
But perhaps that is where Nick Hornby and I diverge in our approach—because for me reading is rarely “just” about entertainment. I read for pleasure, so I do want to be entertained, but part of that pleasure comes from encountering ideas and points of view that illuminate and challenge. I certainly don’t think a book has to be “difficult” to be “good”, but sometimes good or very good books aren’t immediately accessible—so that can mean a long distance read rather than just a quick 100 m dash. And in the case of both Eyeless In Gaza and The Left Hand Of Darkness, although I enjoyed both books very much, neither was a book I “raced through”: there was far too much going on for that.