- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

Summer is a time for reading — and not just for students given long lists before leaving for the holiday. A certain class of books isn’t called “beach reads” for nothing. Longer days and warm vacations mean many readers have the time to tackle weightier tomes, too.

No matter what you choose, though, you’re bound to run into the same problem eventually: What should you do when, 20, 50 or 100 pages in, you realize you just don’t like a book?

You could spend your entire summer slogging through it. Or you could take the advice of a prominent economist who simply advises: “Give up.”

Tyler Cowen, a George Mason University economics professor, makes the suggestion in his book “Discover Your Inner Economist,” which shows how to use economic reasoning to improve your life. Scarcity is one principle — a lack of attention and time keeps us from being as cultured as we’d like.

We should ask ourselves if reading a book we’re getting little out of is the best use of scarce resources.

He takes his own advice, saying he finishes one book for every five to 10 he starts.

“People have this innate view — it comes from friendship and marriage — that commitment is good. Which I agree with,” he says. That view shouldn’t, he says, carry over to inanimate objects.

It’s not that he’s not a voracious reader — he finishes more than a book a day, not including the “partials.” He just wants to make the most of his time.

“We should treat books a little more like we treat TV channels,” he argues. No one has trouble flipping away from a boring series.

Books are another story. Mr. Cowen thinks our education instills the belief that books somehow are sacred. Not to him.

“If I’m reading a truly, actively bad book, I’ll throw it out,” he says. His wife will protest, but he points out that he’s doing a public service: “If I don’t throw it out, someone else might read it.” If that person is one of the many committed to finishing a book once started, he’s actually doing harm.

Mr. Cowen, who says he couldn’t finish Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers” or John Dos Passos’ “U.S.A.,” offers a more direct economic rationale. He notes that many up-and-coming writers complain they can’t break through in a best-seller-driven marketplace. “We’re also making markets more efficient,” Mr. Cowen says. “If you can sample more books, you’re giving more people a chance.”

Mr. Cowen isn’t the only well-known reader to embrace abandonment.

“I used to feel guilty if I didn’t finish a book, but it’s become a lot easier for me to abandon them in midread now — if I’m not completely engrossed,” says author Ron Hogan, curator of the literary blog Beatrice.com.

He’s also giving up on many books before he even has started them — there’s simply too much out there.

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