Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

When Do You Stop Reading a Book?

A few weeks back my Dad (a voracious reader) passed along a Washington Times article that discusses economics professor Tyler Cowen's argument that there's an economic case to be made for quitting a book as soon as you stop getting anything out of it. Cowen finishes one book for every five to ten he starts. "We should treat books a little more like we treat TV channels," says Cowen.

That's probably an extreme case, but I'm sure we've all had moments when we wanted to fling the old Kindle against the old wall, whether because of a character who was driving us batty, an implausible plot line, or maybe even because your copy of THE SHINING just happened to be missing pages right when it was getting to the good part (yup, still mad, Colusa County Library. Seventeen years has not dulled the pain).

So do you stop reading books or are you a compulsive finisher? And for those that stop midway, what causes you to stop? How do you decide to ditch a book and start something new?






305 comments:

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cindy said...

i give it about 30 pages. tops.

amber said...

It really depends on the book... I've sucked it up just to say "Yes, I finished it, and it was bad.", and I've dropped a book withing three chapters.

Sheena Bandy said...

I have a bad habit of putting it down and getting caught up in writing. By the time I've gotten the writing out of my system, I no longer want to read the book I was reading and I reach for something new.

Charlee Vale said...

If it doesn't grab me after the first 5 chapters, it's usually a lost cause. However, I still try to get through it. They worked hard on their book, and just because I don't like it doesn't mean someone else won't. So I try to finish it out of respect for the author, and in the hopes that someone would do that for me if I get published.

CV

Bonnie said...

I just stopped reading a bestseller at about page 35 because I was finding excuses not to sit down and read, and I was saying to myself, "This is SO boring" while I was reading it. I then picked up another book and spent the next hour engrossed, with no thoughts of boredom.
So many books and too little time to read them all, so why should I waste time on boring ones?

Bane of Anubis said...

I'm w/ Cindy, though a bit more if it's been recommended by someone w/ similar tastes...

Maybe a Side A worth if it's a BOT...

Had a whole bunch of trouble w/ all of GM's books after Wicked... too slow-paced and overly wordy for me...

Also had trouble w/ The Road... Never struck the nerve w/ me that it did w/ so many others and the writing style annoyed me.

Jeff Scott said...

There is the Nancy Pearl rule, give it 50 pages. If you are over 50 years of age, you can subtract the number of years over 50 from that rule.

If you aren't hooked by then, you are wasting your time. In contrast, when you have a good book, you remember starting it one morning and then next time you look up and it's dark outside.

Anonymous said...

I used to give it 50 pages when I was doing my Need To Read (self designed educational program - reading 150 books in my genre per year) program. After years of that, I'm reading more for fun now and I'm much more ruthless. 20-30 pages and then I set it down. Occasionally, I'll pick it up the next day, but rarely. As my husband told his friend when his girlfriend left him and he was hoping she'd change her mind, "When a woman decides to go, she's gone."

EC Sheedy said...

I used to finish a book no-matter-what! Somehow I felt, back then, that if I didn't read to the end, I'd failed in some way. Couldn't have been the author--had to be me.

Now? For fiction, I'll push on for maybe a third of the book, then, if the book and I don't connect, I move on.

Natalie said...

I usually finish books. There are few things that will make me stop. Like when the images get too graphic for my sensibilities. I'm a bit of an emotional reader, and sometimes I can't handle how icky a book can make me feel.

I think there's only been two or three times in my life that I put down a book because it was boring.

jimnduncan said...

I'd have to say 20-30 pages. Usually though, I can tell in the bookstore after reading the first few pages. Sometimes the voice can grab me which will get me through the first few chapters, but if the story hasn't caught me by then, voice or no, I'll be putting it down for something else. The "if you just get through the first 50 pages" or whatever doesn't really inspire me. I don't want to have to slog through story to get to the good part.

JenniferWriter said...

I'm a compulsive finisher. I tend to push through to the end.

One exception was Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. I loved Lily Bart and couldn't bear to read about her fall from grace. She lives in my memory, teetering on the precipice but with her reputation intact.

Writerperson said...

I've been thinking about this very thing recently. I've been reading upmarket mysteries because I've written one that I'm trying to get an agent for. I devoured In the Woods, The Savage Garden, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and What the Dead Know. I couldn't even read about five others I picked up and I decided not ever to say which ones they are because I am vulnerable to the same possibility. It's really scary how little time you have to grab a reader and how delicate the hold is.
I'm also still going on 2666. It's totally amazing and remarkable in every way, including how readable a series of descriptions of murders can be. But I'm bogged down now again in the beginning of The Part about Archimboldi, the last one.

Beth said...

When I was in grad school and working full time, I instituted the "two chapter policy." I had so little free time, I wasn't willing to waste it on a book I didn't like.

@KristinWithPen said...

It varies for me, book to book, but if I have no prior connection/reason attached to the book, around 50 or 60 pages.

I used to feel guilty about that because I'm still at the age at which most of my life thus far has been spent in school, which encourages both finishing books and reading from certain lists.

But I've also entered that midlife-is-visible age--the awareness of finite time is what makes me give up on books and "release me from promises made to myself," as the article said.

Aidan Moher said...

My general rule is 25% or 100 pages, whichever comes first. If I'm not digging it by then, back to the shelf it goes.

~Aidan
A Dribble of Ink

Dara said...

I'm one of those that has a hard time actually finishing a book. I'm a really picky reader (much of that has to do with me being an English major in college and analyzing the heck out of everything) and I generally give the book 50-80 pages to get into it. Many times I force myself to get to page 100 but if I'm forcing it, then I stop.

That's probably why I tend to go for library books first. If I loved the book, I'll generally go out and buy it so I can read it again.

Most of the time I stop reading because the characters fail to grab me or their story just isn't interesting. In some cases it's the author's style.

I would like to finish more books, but for some reason I just don't have the patience for many stories that are out there.

Mystery Robin said...

I used to finish everything. Now I realize there are reasons not to waste time and grey matter.

I give the book a good 50-75 pages if it's slow, but well written and I see potential.

I stop immediately for these deadly sins:
1) child abuse or hint of possible onpage child abuse
2) the protag just became so unlikeable I will forever hate him. I'm a pretty merciful and forgiving person, but I started a mystery where the protag didn't pick up the phone while his wife was having a miscarriage. Put down. Or the protag is cheating on his very likeable wife and 2 kids. Drop it.
3) Shallow, thin writing that doesn't let me get into the book.
4) I'm just too bored to care

Anonymous said...

Totally depends - typically I won't buy a book unless the voice grabs me - I can be patient with the plot taking a while to get interesting if the characters and voice really reasonate with me. BUT, ocasionally a book will seem interesting in the first chapter and then just die on me. 'The Rule of Four' was definitely a case of that - I was really intrigued by the beginning but by the time I got to the middle I was like "How does any of this have to do with the original mystery? I don't care about them running through tunnels under Princeton or getting into eating clubs." I finished that one only because it was so critically acclaimed and was even more dissapointed by the ending than the middle of the book.

Mercy Loomis said...

For me it depends on how bad the book is. Some books I read to the end, and decided I didn't like it. Some I got halfway through and said, "I really don't care what happens to anyone in this book," and stopped reading. One book had such bad writing I stopped a couple paragraphs into the second chapter, and another, which had been made into a movie I rather enjoyed, was written so badly I finally had to give up after 80 pages. So for me it totally depends on the book.

gerrilynn said...

For fiction, if I'm reading it, I finish it unless it is truely horrible. I think the last book that I didn't finish was this nasty melange of past and present tense mixed with first and third person, seemingly at random. I couldn't figure out who I was supposed to connect with, and to call the language stilted is an insult to stilt walkers. The book got floor-thumped within 30 pages.

Other than that one, though, I have read all the way through the fiction I get my hands on. And often to my regret, pick up the rest of the series to see if they're as mediocre as the first book. I've only been delighted once or twice. But recently, I read the first book from an author, and then just couldn't make myself buy the next one. there just wasn't anything that sparked me enough to want to know what happens next enough to make me slog through the next text.

Catherine Gayle said...

It depends. As an English major, there are books that I finish because I have to, not because they really compel me to finish them. But then there are also some that I have to finish, but simply CANNOT get through to save my life because they literally put me to sleep every time I pick them up. Luckily, that has only happened twice in my undergraduate career.

As far as books that I choose are concerned, it is a bit different. There are very few that I never finish. The ones that I don't finish tend to have one major thing in common--they become predictable to me, whether that is because I've read so many books by the same author that I know how he/she will solve a particular plot line, or because I'm trying a new (or at least new-to-me) author and I find their writing to be cliche and expected.

But with most books, whether they are my own choosing or not, I find I am unable to put them down--often even on a second, third, or fiftieth reading.

David Jarrett said...

I read so fast that 75-100 pages is usually a minimum. However, if the plot is implausible, the descriptions of objects and events inaccurate, or the protagonist is so overly heroic as to be unreal, I'm done.

Mim King said...

Life is short! And there are too many books piled up on my nightstand to suffer through a bad one. Sometimes I skip to the last couple of chapters, to see if the plot had something redeeming in it after all, and if I'm surprised, I'll skim the middle.

Marsha Sigman said...

I don't stop. Ever. I do tend to skim over the boring parts. I think as writers we learn just as much from bad/boring books as we do from the really good ones.

Also, I am an optimist. I just know if I keep reading it HAS to get better.

sbarret said...

I probably give up on maybe 20% or so of the books I start reading. This is usually around the first 60-100 pages. I have given up 2/3rds of the way through a book, when I realized I just don't care about the characters.

I used to struggle through to the end, but now I'm pickier. Call it old age, but there are a LOT of good books to read out there that I won't waste my time reading dull characters or unbelievable plots.

Anthony said...

Not only do I stop reading books, I use the ones that cause me to drop them as target practice at the rifle range.

The range discourages shooting large vegetables because of the mess. Paper targets, however, are open season, and explode almost as nicely with a high velocity rifle round.

Why do I stop reading?

My time is precious.

There are many good books clamoring for my attention.

Pretentious preaching usually is the worst offender in a novel that cause me to drop it.

Kate said...

I tend to find that most books have a point of no return. Once I get to that point in a book, I really can't think about anything but finishing it. If I'm forced to put a book down to do something like eat or sleep after I've reached the point of no return, I tend to become quite irritable.

The books I put down are the ones that don't seem to have this point of no return. If I can read a chapter or two before bed and then easily fall asleep for several nights in a row, I'm less likely to actually reach the books end. Instead I get distracted by something else and end up never picking back up that book I made it 1/2 way through but never felt compelled to finish.

This doesn't happen very often for me though. I think I have probably finished 99.5% of all books I've started reading. Sometimes I even intentionally bring less than gripping books with me to places like doctor's offices, where I know I'm going to be forced to stop reading at some point and don't want to bite the head off my doctor for interrupting me.

MeganRebekah said...

I used to finish every book I read, without fail. Then I started writing and my pespective shifted (as well as my amount of free time). I still finish most books, but probably because I'm pretty easily entertained. But there are times that I force myself to sit with a book and it's a struggle. I usually skip forward to the last few pages, read the ending and put it away. I always feel a little guilty though - what if I missed a really good part?

hannah said...

If I don't feel that pull to come back to it when I put it down, I don't come back to it.

It's rare I can finish a book in one sitting. Life, schoolwork, writing, all get in the way. Sometimes it's two weeks between when I bookmark the place in my book and pick it back up again. If it's not really sucking me in, I'm not going to pick it back up, and that's that.

My mother finishes every single thing she starts. She probably spends more time bitching about the book she hates but just has to get through than she does reading anything she enjoys.

Dinner Magic said...

One chapter. That's all you get, authors. If you can't hook me in one chapter, then into the recycle bin you go. I won't even share those books with friends.

It always amazes me how many acclaimed best sellers have fallen into this category for me.

Kathleen said...

I don't think I ever intentionally stop reading a book, unless the writing is really really bad. (can't think of anytime that has actually happened).

usually I will just put a book down and not pick it up again. I always mean to, and I have a list of Books To Finish Reading that I'm sure I'll get to someday.

My feeling is: I've already invested the time into reading as far as I have, why waste that effort by not finishing?

I guess the other side of that coin is the axiom "don't throw good money after bad". Perhaps that is why I don't gamble.

Vicky said...

I rarely give a book more than 2 or 3 pages anymore. Generally I know within a couple of pages if the book will grab me. It's all about personal taste. And I've gotten very picky since I'm time-starved with 2 careers.

Thermocline said...

I'm done if I start looking at the top of the book to guess the percentage still left. It's time to quit when pleasure reading turns into math.

Marinka said...

I can usually tell within a few pages if I'm going to love the book or not, and I'm rarely wrong. About that, at least. I'm wrong about other stuff a lot.

Dorinda Ohnstad said...

As a writer I read long enough to fully grasp why the book isn't working for me, so that I can avoid the same problems in my own writing.

Chase March said...

I've only ever quit one book. I like to stick with things that I start. Of course, this only counts with fiction. I have quit reading non-fiction works lots of times.

Rick Daley said...

I would usually stop reading a book in high school the moment my AP Lit teacher assigned it ;-)

Seriously, though, I'm a compulsive finisher. It's rare that I stop reading mid-way through. Sometimes it's like reading a train wreck, I keep going to see how much worse it can get.

I have hit really bad passages that have made the stop and throw the book down, but later I went back and finished them.

Douglas Brown said...

It's just a feeling for me. If I find myself no longer trying to find time to read it, I know finishing is just going to be a chore.

Eileen Wiedbrauk said...

I stop reading. In the bookstore/library I'll read the first 10-20 pages (or the Amazon preview) before I take it home. Once it gets home I still might never finish it unless I get past page 100 and then I sort of feel obligated.

D. G. Hudson said...

If I haven't been drawn into the story after 50 pages or so, I don't waste my time reading the rest. What makes me stop reading? Implausible characters, too much interference by the narrator, or something that I can't stomach - like detailed descriptions of torture.

This can happen even with authors whom I usually like, if they have obviously taken the easy route to writing a sequel, as in the last book written by Jean Auel. Very disappointing. I contrast her with Sheri S. Tepper who never disappoints with her stories.
Nice to have your voice back in the blog, Nathan.

Anonymous said...

I rarely finish books in one setting nowadays as I don't have as much time to read for fun, so I don't gauge a book by its unputdownability so much as whether or not I can pick it up and get right back into the story and get excited. The last book I remember being completely engrossed in, to the point where I didn't do other things in order to finish it, was Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. But the ending made me so mad I might has well have thrown the book at the wall.

I stop reading a book the second I start feeling like it's required that I read it. That can be ten pages into it, or halfway in.
If my answer to the question "Why are you reading this book?" is not "To see what happens" or "because it's interesting," then I stop.

Audrianna said...

Well...hmmm. When I start to read I do not have the ability to stop. I read until I finish it - in the same day. On that day I won't write because I'm so caught up with the book.

Of course, I've had one or two books that I could not possibly get past the first ten pages. I think the grand total of those is, like, three.

Then again, I have that same reaction with TV shows. Maybe I'm just OCD or something.

Liz Argall said...

For generic browsing, page 1. If there's something there, and it doesn't have to be much, that makes me fall in love with the page I will follow them through to the bitter end (and sometimes alas it is bitter).

If I don't like page 1, but it has been highly recommended or is good for me in some way I will read all the way through regardless or push as hard as I can for as long as I can hold my attention to it, nibbling away sometimes for years.

Rick Daley said...

Bane,

THE ROAD was the first Cormac Mccarthy novel I read, and the first few pages were tough. After page one I was questioning how in the world his style could get so much praise.

His style eventually became almost hypnotic for me, though. When I read NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN I was sucked right in.

My older son is seven going on eight, so I made an emotional connection to THE ROAD right away.

WORD VERIFICATION: undeden. The process of turning someone into an undead creature, i.e. a vampire or a zombie.

EX: I am afraid that vampire bite will undeden me.

Annalee said...

I stop reading when I get bored.

I'll also stop reading if the author (not the characters; the author) is being too racist, sexist, ableist, heterosexist, or otherwise a jerk for me to just forgive it and keep reading.

LauraAnnWilliams said...

I've only put down a couple books.

One, I couldn't figure out what was going on, didn't make it past a few pages.

The second, I couldn't figure out the point of, and quit after the one interesting character was killed.

As long as I can figure out where the story is going, or have a single character that keeps my attention, I'll keep reading. I've slogged through some awful mary sue stuff this way.

Robena Grant said...

I've found many times that when I couldn't get into a book, it wasn't the book it was me. My particular frame of mind, what interested me at the time, etc.

If I put the book aside and wait until my TBR pile has diminished I'll often give that book another chance and surprise myself.

Sarah Skilton said...

Former compulsive-finisher here! Now I have no guilt about stopping if I realize I'm not enjoying any aspect of the writing (this rarely happens -- usually either the characters, plot, style or my own curiosity will keep me reading, but every once in a while all four will fail for me, so then it becomes a lesson in what not to do).

Animal Lover said...

When it bores me.

When there is too much description. As Stephen King once wrote (to paraphrase), "If they want to know what it looks like, they can go there."

When the author wrote a catchy beginning and the rest of the story doesn't match up.

When the characters turn out to be the same old serial killers or drug dealers or whatever you see in too many books.

I buy A LOT of books. Maybe one in 50 seems worth reading.

The characters and storyline have to grab me. The last great book I read was SLAMMERKIN. The last not-great book was TWILIGHT, but I started skipping pages when the bad vampires showed up.

Livia said...

I stop reading when I no longer want to keep reading. But that very rarely happens. Usually, even if the book is not great, I still want to find out what happens. I usually don't feel guilty about it -- except in the case of Les Miserables. I really want to read it -- just can't get past those first 80 pages about that bishop!

JES said...

I don't finish everything, but nearly so. "Quitting a book as soon as you stop getting anything out of it" sounds awfully presumptuous -- like you can know you've reached that point.

The one book I still wish I'd finished (because everyone else seems gaga about it; I must be missing something) is Pat Conroy's Prince of Tides. But I think I lasted only a couple dozen pages. It wasn't a matter of not getting anything out of it; it was a matter of not really enjoying or otherwise appreciating the getting, if that makes any sense.

Margaret Yang said...

Several people have responded that they finish a book no matter what.

Dear dog, WHY?

Novice Writer Anonymous said...

If I stop reading a book it's anywhere from the first few pages to the within a handful of chapters.

I've read books all the way through just to find out what happens (usually with little payoff) but hated every minute of my reading.

Jeff Shagohod said...

I save all the lame books I can't finish until I have a big pile. Then I take them outside and have a Book burning. Sadly, that's all some books are good for

Lis Garrett said...

I have a friend who recently told me she gives a book twenty minutes to totally grab her attention. Yikes!

Depending on the size of the book, I try to read at least five chapters. I don't often *not* finish a book I start. There have even been a few I've put down and returned to a few years later to finish. Sometimes the mood I'm in dictates whether or not I finish a book.

PatriciaW said...

Definitely a case to be made for stopping reading or anything else that uses up the one commodity we all have, time, and doesn't add value.

But I'm guilty. It's rare for me to put a book down. I'll keep reading, hoping the story will come together by the end. Or, I'll put it down but come back to it. Unless it's really bad... I've got one like that now that I've tried twice to read.

Nathan Bransford said...

BofA-

I can see being a bit bewildered if I'd started with THE ROAD. I think it's most interesting in the context of a progression from ALL THE PRETTY HORSES and BLOOD MERIDIAN to NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN to THE ROAD. It's a steady literary distillation process to THE ROAD, which is like 160 proof whiskey.

Kristi said...

I'm a compulsive finisher. As many books I read are for my book club, even if I can't stand the book (which is rare), I'll finish it in order to explain why I couldn't stand it. There has only been one book club book in the last few years that was too painful for me to finish (and I wasn't the only one unable to finish it). I've been lucky because I usually only read things recommended by friends so I tend to like most of it.

Karen said...

I rarely ditch a book, but I did give up on A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANEY and DUNE because they were the dullest books I've ever read.

Part of the reason I stopped reading DUNE, though, was also because the writing drove me crazy. I could only take so much of "And she said..." "And she thought..."

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I'm a compulsive finisher. I want to give the author and story a chance, and I value books so much that I'm loathe to quit. BUT I have stopped reading some that weren't going anywhere or at least not where I was interested in going. Currently, I am making myself read a book I expected much more from. I'm glad I kept going because it has gotten better but I wonder why it wasn't put through better editing and rewriting? With all the information we are bombarded with about books not making it past agents, editors, etc. without compelling first pages, I can't figure this out.

Stephanie Faris said...

Definitely a compulsive finisher. I'm glad there's a term for it! I tend to put most of my reading time into books in the line which I'm targeting at the moment. Right now I have a romance from a romance publisher I'm targeting...I'm struggling to get through but I'm almost at the end. It's disturbing but the more I write, it seems the worse other books become. I'm restless, longing for that book that will pull me in and keep me all the way to the end. Anything less than that, and I'm just picking it apart, plot point by plot point.

Nat said...

Huh, I'm not going to lie I have definitely put down books after thirty or forty pages, but I also think if I made this a habit I would miss out on some really fantastic books.

Some of the best, most rewarding books I've ever read took some work on my part. Have you ever read Dickens? The first two or three hundred pages of most of his novels are VERY slow. He sets up characters and weaves their lives together, and you must remember EVERYONE because they all come into play later. I spent three or four months reading GREAT EXPECTATIONS (and I've spent that long again on many other classics), and I didn't regret a minute of it, even though I may not have been "hooked" in the first few chapters.

Sarah Laurenson said...

If I put the book down after reading a bit one day and weeks pass without me picking it up again, then I know I'm not interested enough to finish it. My latest to fall victim to this is Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. It's good and funny, but just not doing it for me.

I used to be a compulsive finisher. Got that cured by a certain paperback book that was very difficult for me to finish. But I did. I've since heard from people who loved it. Maybe it was me at the time. I'm not cracking that one open again to find out.

Elise M Stone said...

I used to be a compulsive finisher but have changed as I've gotten older. As others have said, so many books, so little time.
I don't have any particular page count where I'll stop. It's more a matter of when it becomes a chore to read the book. I recently started a book that I'd wanted to read for a long time. It had blurbs by many well-known authors, including a very complimentary one by Tony Hillerman on the cover. Can't miss, right? Wrong. It violated the rule of show, don't tell so badly I couldn't stand it. Two chapters in and hardly anything had happened. But I had plenty of details on all nine children and their parents in one family and the start of descriptions for another family.
I will, however, cut authors whom I know personally a lot more slack and finish a book by one of them even if I'm not totally enjoying it.

Dominique said...

I'm a compulsive finisher. I can remember each book that I put down without reading the end, and yes there is guilt attached. My father always taught me that if was a sign of weak character not to finish a book you started.

Vacuum Queen said...

I'm such a SLOW reader and I like to add to my misery by finishing every word of every book. I don't skim even a word. I hate it. I think I have OCD about book completion or something. I feel like I'm leaving a child behind when I don't finish it, even if it's stinky. I'll pile through the worst best sellers out there, even if it takes me all summer.

HOWEVER, I do stop reading anything I enjoy. That is...when I get to the last chapter or two, I stop for awhile because I'll be so sad to see it end. But I do eventually come around and finish it, just to say goodbye.

Steph Su said...

I feel bad about not finishing books, especially if they were sent to me for review, but there's only so much I can take of something I know I don't like. If it's a really GOOD book, then I won't be able to put it down, and I'll usually finish it in one sitting. If it's ultimately put-down-able and looks like it's headed for the DNF list, I won't be upset when my reading time is interrupted. In most cases, I won't bother to pick it up again.

T. Anne said...

I started a series a while back and almost quite after reading the first chapter of the first book (talk about hard to get into to) But I'm glad i didn't, it turned out to be one of the best books I've ever read.

I say go past the point of pain and see if there's any light on the other side.

jjdebenedictis said...

I actually compiled statistics on this last year.

I quit about 30% of the books I start.

On average, I quit by page 10.

coffeelvnmom said...

First off let me just say that I appreciate this post Nathan, because as a writer, these opinions are important to take into consideration!

I tend to finish pretty much every book I read because I buy most of them. (Gotta get my money's worth!) Now that I've begun writing though, I find myself picking it apart at the same time. I do skim parts that don't grab my interest - and have skipped paragraphs before, in order to get back to the point.

Things that make me want to put the book down are -

1) coming across the same descriptive words over and over again
2) sentences that are so long and wordy that I have to go back and re-read the sentence a few times because it has lost me before I've finished reading it
3) an author automatically assuming I'm going to know what they're talking about, and not describing what they are talking about. (For instance, I just read a book in which movies, OLD movies, and actors - think black and white here - were mentioned and referred to constantly. As if that was supposed to give me a mental picture of faces, personalities and whatnot. I'm 30, and have never seen any of those - and am pretty sure many people haven't either. It was a major put-off - but of course, I just kept reading. I'm sure I would have gotten much more out of it if I had known what in the world the author was talking about.

dan radke said...

I never intend to stop reading a book. Something else will grab my attention and I'll move on, almost forgetting I even started it (it is kinda like channel surfing).

But what I can't stand is feeling compelled to finish a book I loathe. I'm lookin' at you, Da Vinci Code. Damn Dan Brown and his awesome storytelling abilities.

PurpleClover said...

I will painstakingly continue reading a book even as far as half-way. But I've been known to put it down and not pick it up. If I feel like there is a lot of unneccesary description/dialogue and the plot isn't moving forward, I toss it.

If I think an author is going for shock factor and it's repulsively vulgar or describes abuse scenes in vivid detail, then I have to wonder how much worse it will get. Most likely I'll put it down.

Finally, if the style seems "cheap" or like a tenth-grader wrote the book or there are too many cliche's then I don't normally get past the first chapter.

Jenn

P.S. Thanks for the response to my question about the marketing breakdown. I think it would make for a great post.

Yat-Yee said...

Like a few others who have commented, I used to finish every book I started but in the last few years, I've stopped reading a few midway. One reason: the author is coming across as being too clever or too self-absorbed or too preachy or too self-important.

Heidi Yantzi said...

Well, in the three years I've been keeping track, I've read around 100 books each year, and only three of those I stopped reading. They were exceptionally bad though, and no I won't be naming them!

I'm a finisher. Right now I'm reading a big honking book because I'm sure I'll get some kind of education out of it. We'll see. There goes my summer. I gotta finish this reading this book.

I am so stubborn...

Charlie said...

I finish about a third of what I start. If the blurb on the jacket interests me, I buy it. Usually I'm hooked by chapter two. If, by some chance, I make it half way, I force myself to finish, no matter how boring it. I figure I invested enough time so I deserve whatever payoff the author designed for me.

It's like having a flush in Texas Hold'em and there's a pair showing. Someone is betting like he has a boat but you have to call It's like that, only different.

Karla Doyle said...

I also use the 50 page rule. If it comes highly recommended I'll push it to 75. There are times when I can't force myself to the 10th page - protagonists who are too flaky to tolerate, paragraph after endless paragraph of detailed description...
Reading time is precious and the offerings too plentiful to force my through something I'm not enjoying.

Alicia A said...

I have a personal rule that every book deserves 50 pages to make me love something about it. And most of the time they do.
However, there were a couple that felt like absolute torture just to get through the first 50 pages... I couldn't imagine the pain it would have caused to finish them.

Linda Godfrey said...

I put down Pretty Horses after 3 pages -- the style -- but read The Road straight through, in awe.

I've quit books anywhere from page one to 2/3 through if there is gratuitous gross stuff: language, violence, sex, etc. I will stop if the writing is too bad or the action too thin. I have a bag I keep just for books that are headed for Goodwill, and there is usually something in it.

I do try to read the first page before buying or borrowing, and that helps a lot.

Even with merciless weeding, I still am in the middle of 3 huge tomes I can't put down, and piles more waiting to be read. For that reason, I will remain without pity for undeserving texts. It's them or me.

Anna the Piper said...

If I open a book, I will generally always, always try to finish it--and let me tell you, I've read some crap in my time. ;) The only times I've bailed on a book have been when protagonists who are in theory supposed to be the ones I'm to sympathize with have done something that offends me so greatly that I have no interest in continuing to read their story. I can count on one hand the number of books therefore that I've actively bailed on.

crapshooter said...

Some books are so bad, I quit after 5 or 10 pages. If it's an author I like; 100 pages. Some of today's best selling authors just have to be using ghostwriters.

PurpleClover said...

BTW - I must admit I was shocked when I joined Fill in the Gaps reading group blog and people stopped some of the books. I always thought it was against some literary law to stop a book so I never admitted it (until recently) that I chose to put books down. I always considered them "unfinished" (unless I put them down before the second chapter).

Anyhow, glad to hear other people don't finish books either. Is that weird that I thought I was different? lol.

I must say, Tyler Cowen is probably my new hero because I think about all the books I finished and felt like they were a complete waste of my time and didn't deliver.

Cat Moleski said...

I will read a poorly written book all the way through, but I will probably skim a lot. I only stop reading a book if the plot or subject matter is unappealing. Better yet, I don't start those books, because I am a bit compulsive about finishing a book I've started.

Amy said...

When I no longer care what happens to the protagonist. (And this can happen rather early.)

Keith said...

If the writing is great on page one, that will carry me to page two. If nothing happens on page two, I'll start skimming for something to happen. If nothing's happened by page five or so, I'm done.

If the writing isn't great on page one, I'm done.

TERI REES WANG said...

When I say: .."It's not you; it's me".

Nancy said...

I'll stop reading a book if I really haven't getting anything out of it for the last few dozen pages. Otherwise, I'll slog through.

Ink said...

Nathan,

That's sort of funny about McCarthy, as I always thought that The Road and No Country for Old Men were by far the most accesible of his novels. I'd probably put No Country first in terms of easy readability (and wide audience), and then The Road. I'd think something like Blood Meridian would be quite a shock for the unexpecting. Not to mention Child of God...

I kind of figured his later books would be the best "openers" for people not yet iniated into McCarthyism (no red-baiting in this McCarthyism, luckily...)

Nothing But Bonfires said...

My rule of thumb is to finish what I've started, and I've muddled through some truly horrible books because of it. Last week, though, I gave up on the absolutely TERRIBLE novel I was reading (about three chapters into it -- I tried!) and willingly left it in the seat pocket of the plane I was on when I landed in Hawaii. It was just maddeningly bad and I had a book I really wanted to read as backup, so I threw in the towel and started that one instead (and it was so much better.) It has to be AWFUL before I'll quit, and this one was pretty much infuriatingly, insultingly, AWFULLY awful.

Euthyphro said...

I read at MOST five pages before I pass on a book out a hand, and at least the first paragraph, or five lines if its split dialogue.

After that I stop reading whenever something else gets my attention or the story loses it. If the story loses my attention I never go back, if, instead, I am distracted by something that is more interesting at the moment I will probably return and finish, or restart and finish reading.

Cheers

Anonymous said...

There are only three reasons I ever buy books:

1.Word of mouth-in that case I will stick till the end.

2.The cover & the jacket flap appealed to me at the bookstore, then I quit when I absolutely can’t stand to read anymore, which could be caused by boredom or dislike of where it’s heading or the characters.

3.I have already read books by that author. In that case I revert to number 2’s reasons.

J. Jones said...

I always finish. If a story isn't working for me, or grammar is bad, or any other strange thing, I keep reading.

I use those cases as means to study things that don't work well on the printed page, and to note whether I have similar habits.

But besides that, when I start a story, I want to reach the end of it, even if I think it's a bad story. But I rarely feel that way, honestly.

One interesting fact is that if I put down everything that had bad grammar or a spelling mistake, I'd probably never finish anything. I've seen printed works from bestselling authors with errors in them. Hard to clean them all, I guess.

Nathan Bransford said...

Bryan-

Yeah, I hadn't thought of it that way. I guess I see it more as a progression of grittiness and grimness from ATPH to THE ROAD. The harshness and violence of McCarthy's worlds is what has always both fascinated and unnerved me. But it's hard to put myself back in the shoes of someone reading one of his books for the first time.

Anne Lyle said...

How long is a piece of string :)

If it's an author I already know and like, then 99 times out of 100 I'll finish it.

With something new, I've usually picked it up based on the back cover blurb - plot and characters, a new twist on a setting or premise that ticks the boxes. But the writing still has to work for me.

If I really don't like the writing style, I stop after a few pages. Doesn't happen often, but some writers' voices just grate.

Beyond that, if I can get more than a few chapters in without losing interest, I read to the end.

What it mostly comes down to is that nowadays I have to fit my reading into a busy life, mostly in relatively short spurts of a chapter or even half a chapter, so a narrative that jumps about too much, especially between unconnected PoV characters and especially at the beginning when I'm finding my way into the story, will lose me more easily than one that is fairly linear.

It did take me two attempts to get into "Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell" because it started really slowly and I wasn't in the right mood for it on the first try, but I'm glad I persevered!

Conni said...

I read the entirety of Kushiel's Dart, despite wanting to throw it across the room. I hated the protagonist (first person narrator!), and nothing interesting happened until page 300! THREE HUNDRED. But friends promised me it got better, so I stuck it out. By the end, I still wanted to kill the protagonist and thought it was boring. Around page 600, I thought "well, I'm almost finished... may as well stick it out."

So, yeah. I don't stop reading books, for the most part.

JohnO said...

No set page count. Of the ones I've abandoned, one I stopped because the writing was too precious but not good enough. One of the Potters I quit because couldn't slog through 125 pages of metaphoric AND literal house-cleaning. A third because all the characters annoyed me.

But I still spend too long on hard foreign books like SNOW and THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE, even though I'm ultimately not that satisfied.

Ink said...

Nathan,

I'd agree with that progression, if you go from ATPH. But I think his earliest books are the darkest. Blood Meridian, The Outer Dark, Child of God... yowsers. They're even darker than The Road's apocalyptic vision, in my view, because at the end there's at least a hint of hope.

Actually, I've had this weird thought that most of McCarthy's fiction is apocalyptic, in that it seems to be moving towards the apocalypse... whether personally, culturally, or both. And then The Road actually gives us the apocalypse... and what happens after. And since we're actually at that point and moving away from it, there's actually much more hope in that novel than in many of the others.

Of course, I might just be nuts, too. Always possible.

Nathan Bransford said...

bryan-

Ah, see, I haven't read CHILD OF GOD and THE OUTER DARK, and if I had I might have a different (i.e. your) perspective on the order of things.

Piglet de' Erin said...

Voracious Reader--hmm, I like that, a lot. I try to read 3-4 novels a week, chucking at least 1 or 2 by mid-book. Does that make me a Voracious Reader? Although it sounds like I'm some pre-historic book carnivore...not sure if it suits me.

On to your question:
If the book is boring--plot not clipping along, protagonist not sympathetic, voiceless, etc--I chuck it by chapter 5.

My little secret: If the book has a review below 4 stars on GoodReads, I don't even pick it up.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I usually give it to chapter 3. Sometimes longer if I have nothing else to do (like sitting in an airport), but I don't feel committed to finish if it's just not grabbing me.

Ink said...

Nathan,

You must! I think it's part of California law. A new amendment.

Addendum 47c: All San Francisco based literary agents must read The Outer Dark and Child of God sometime in the year 2009. Some bloggage of said texts is necessary as proof of reading.

A puzzling bit of law process, I admit, but apprently this is what the voters want. Vive le Democratic Process.

magolla said...

When I roll my eyes more than twice. Life's too short to read something that doesn't interest me.

David said...

If my heart sinks a little when I see the book on my nightstand, in the kitchen, etc., then I know it's time to drop it. I might push on a bit after that, but usually, the die is cast.

The Godfather Returns, I am looking in your direction.

joyroett said...

I'm a compulsive finisher, at least of print books. There are only two prints I've started and haven't finished: Stephen King's Misery-it bored me, and Nancy Drew The Mysterious Mannequin-damn the public library! The 2nd half was missing, I haven't forgiven them either.lol

I usually only read prints of my favorite authors. Sometimes over the years their styles change for the worse and I give them 2, maybe 3 tries before I give up on them completely and never buy their titles again. Sometimes a popular series that was really good initially begins to seem like new books are getting pubbed on the weight of the earlier stories while the new ones suck and I cut myself off from those authors then too.

Ebooks that I don't like I tend to close and open another one about quarter way through, and never get back to them. My waiting to be read list is too long to waste on sucky ebooks.

Xiexie said...

I give it about 3 chapters. If the book doesn't have me by then, I'm usually done.

However, if the writing and voice is there and the plot is dragging a bit, I'll suffer through (or even skip some pages and see if the plot got going again).

One book that I absolutely could not read after chapter 1 was Cold Mountain. It was for summer reading. I finished the first paragraph and knew -- nope, won't like it. But I kept on because it was a requirement. I gave up after chapter 1 and read sparknotes the morning of the test. I got the highest grade in class while my friends who loved the book got bad grades. So weird!!

Maya / מיה said...

Once I get past a certain point, I usually finish books out of sheer stubbornness. If I hadn't been so far in the book I just finished, I would probably have stopped reading at the point when Manly Man put his hand on the small of Sexy Woman's back and felt her butt with his thumb... think about it, that's anatomically incorrect unless he put the back of his hand on her back! Heh. Yes, small things that shove me out of belief in a fictional world annoy me. I was already sick of the way the book kept verging on porn (including porn's, er, adept characterization and complex plot lines), but the thumb thing pushed me over the edge... ALMOST. But damn it, I was 200 pages in, and I wasn't stopping!

LV Cabbie said...

I buy books because I generally like the author or the genre. However, sometimes the particular novel ends up boring me.
Example - everybody says back story is a no no. I am reading a Dale Brown novel that I normally love and he hit me with more than 4 pages of back story! I almost put it in the finished pile.
I am also trying to read a book about pre-history American Indians from a pair of authors I generally enjoy a lot. However, this particular book - while containing some absolute gems of beautiful showing - is driving me nuts and I had to set it aside. I'll go back to it again and again but it won't be easy to finish.
So, in answer to your question, I do my darndest to finish every book I buy. But, some of them just turn out to be hard. I rarely give up - maybe once out of 50!

Mira said...

That was funny about Colusa County Libray. If only they knew this would return to haunt them 17 years later on your blog! :)

There are some books I'll push myself to read because they are supposed to be 'good' or 'good for me.' I forced myself to read D.H. Lawrences' Women In Love. The whole thing. I still have no idea what that book is about.

But reading for fun - if I'm not into it by 2 pages, I'll drop it. Just not a match.

But if I stop a book mid-way through, which I do sometimes, I'll feel guilty about it. Sometimes for years. What is that about? Don't I have enough things to feel guilty about. For example, taking those pages out of The Shining. I'm really feeling guilty about that now.

Valerie said...

If I can make it past the first 10 or so pages, I pretty much always finish.

Ink said...

And for any Cormac McCarthy fans reading all these comments, a recommendation: give Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country a try. Brilliant.

Maya / מיה said...

Btw, until I pass the "point of no return" and stubbornness sets in, I do start a number of books and not finish. It's usually not a conscious decision. I start reading a book, then put it down. If nothing draws me to go back to it, I don't... and if I try to force it, I usually find that I can't. I can't figure out what makes me do that, except that I have to LIKE characters pretty early on to be drawn into their stories.

Fay said...

When I'm either so sickly bored I don't want to turn the page or bother skimming, or the writing really isn't my kind of thing.

Suprisingly, the books I have put down, of which total 3 or 4 ever, I think have all been ones highly recommended,

e.g. last month, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (I made it to page 7, realisied nothing had sunk in AT ALL, reread it, rolled my eyes, fell asleep, blah)

in the deep end of the pool said...

i usually try to see what's going on in the first couple of chapters, but if it's lame by then, i will put it down. Twilight, bought for me by a friend, was just too YA for me. i hated 'quitting', but i had to. the issue is that in the past, i've stopped reading due to boredom, then gone back later and ended up reading the whole thing because i finally got into it and thought it was good.

Anonymous said...

I tend to read a chapter at a time just because of time constraints. A book can be excellent, I can admire the writer's style and still not get back to it.

The ones I finish tend to be the ones in the genre I most love to write which elicit a deep emotional connection to the main character(s). The connection need not be fully realized by the end of chapter one, but the potential for it has to be there and it has to continue to unfold.

If I make it halfway through a book, chances are good I've already decided I need to know how it ends.

AM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

I think I learn more from the books I don't like than the ones where the reading is effortless. Those I make myself complete... as quickly as possible.
If I've adored the book I can't bear to let it end - I'm a master of delaying tactics then.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

I definitely agree with this. Unless you have to finish the book for a report or something, why on earth would you spend your free time forcing yourself to read a book you dislike? Sounds masochistic to me.

I stop reading the second the book bothers me. The usual suspects are characters with no personality, dry politics I find myself skimming, or bad pacing where nothing is happening, but a wrong fact that ruins my suspension of disbelief has done it before, too.

Regan Leigh said...

I try to finish everything I start, but that is also why I'm picky about the books I DO start reading. If I'm not pleased with what I've chosen, I usually continue anyway just to see where it goes and hope that it will improve.
It's rare that I'll stop reading, but in the past I have stopped for a few different reasons:


- If it's a book that gained a ton of attention, but it comes off as badly written to me...well, it's a NO. That just tends to frustrate me too much. I give lesser known books with flawed writing more leniency in that respect.

- A book recommendation from a trusted source usually makes me stick with it, even if it's just to debate the book with them later.

- I stop reading if I don't care about the characters.

- My mood. If I've recently dealt with darker issues at work, there is no way I want to read about similar dark themes. I'll definitely drop a book because of that.

Crystal said...

I've never not finished a book, no matter how bad it is. Right now I'm reading Relentless by Dean Koontz, and I was seriously considering stopping reading it. Turns out, it's getting pretty good. Still not one of my favorites, but a good read none the less. If I had stopped reading it midway I wouldn't have gotten to get interested in the story.

So the way I see it, you should finish every book you start. If you like it, you get to pass on a good read to others and tell them they should read it. If you don't, you can tell your friends not to read it.

So the short answer, I finish every book I read :)

Crystal

AM said...

The only two books that I have not been able to finish were TRUE BELIEVER by Nicholas Sparks and AT RISK by Patricia Cornwell!

I tried to finish them. I really, really tried to finish, but I just couldn't make myself. They were that painful - yikes.

I purchased both novels because I had always enjoyed those authors novels in the past.

I felt as though the authors had personally deceived me. As you can see, I still hold it against them.

I literally wanted my money back.

Laurel said...

I am nowhere near disciplined enough to finish a book I'm not loving.

I can't quite crack the code on when/why I put one down. It's never an active decision, just more that I'm not fascinated enough to get back around to it.

Since I love most of what I read I seldom leave one unfinished. I also power straight through what I'm reading. If a book takes me longer than two days, three if I'm very busy, odds are good I won't finish it since if I liked it I would have read the whole thing in that time.

Excessive bleakness seems to do me in consistently. Steinbeck was always painful.

Sherry G. said...

I usually don’t start books that I can’t finish. I can only think of one writer really, that I’ve tried to like because so many people do, and for whatever reason I can never finish his books, because, well, he writes in a way that doesn’t grab me. I can never visualize any of the stories he’s trying to tell me. I read maybe half of It, tried to read Misery, and a few more of his books and could not finish them no matter how hard I tried. I use to think maybe it was because I lean towards female writers, there really is a difference in the way men and women write, but I’ve finished several books by male writers— Wallly Lamb, Frank Herbert, Dean Kootz, Dan Brown, to name a few, but cannot finish anything written by Stephen King.

Bane of Anubis said...

Rick, can definitely see how your view/appreciation could be changed by fatherhood.

Nathan -- ah, an acquired taste, like a fine wine (unfortunately, never been a big wine drinker -- there goes my chance for query brilliance ;)...

I appreciate CM's spare prose immensely and he can definitely turn a phrase. I've just never felt the dramatic underlying tension the way most others do. One thing I give him major props for (now he'll have a Bane SOA to go along w/ that piddly PP and Oprah book club thing), something you referenced, Nathan, is his ability to step up his game with each endeavor (or at least not to stay on par)... that's quite impressive -- he's the Satchel Paige of authors.

WV: novelub - thank you, novel I am.

Anna Claire said...

Most have probably said the same, but there are just too many good books out there to waste time reading a bad one. I usually give it about 20 pages or sometimes less, depending on how good I originally thought it was going to be, which is based on the cover, the jacket copy and/or a recommendation.

I *have* slogged through a few boring books just to say I finished them, but I don't do that much anymore now that college is over. Eat that, Dostoyevsky.

Anonymous said...

I finish almost every book that I start reading. There was one book though that I just could not finish. Every second contained at least 2 swear words and I just couldn't do it. I mean, if the only way you can get your point across is by swearing . . .
Other than that I usually stick to a book until the end.

Jay said...

I usually finish a book if I start it. I like to say "yeah, I read that book and it sucked" rather than "I started reading it, never finished it." The only reason I'd stop reading is if there was an excessive use of vulgar situations or unnecessary profanity. Stephen King's Dreamcatcher was this way for me. I love Stephen King and I don't mind the occasional use of profanity so long as it ties to the characters and the plot but in this book it was excessive and kept jarring me out of the story.

RW said...

I put down lots of books -- about twice as many as I finish at least. I find that an awful lot of them are good or even excellent but I'm encountering it at a moment when I'm looking for something more than merely excellent. Usually it's because I'm longing for the pop of something new.

In a way, saying what makes me put down a good book is almost as hard to say what makes me hungry to keep going -- it's something intangible in the voice. The ones I put down feel like they are good in an overly familiar way.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

If I'm not enjoying it by page fifty then I'm just not going to like it.

If I want to know what happens, I'll skim to the end, but sometimes I don't even do that.

There are too many books in the world - hell, there are too many books IN MY HOUSE - to stick with something that isn't grabbing my attention.

And hey, Tyler Cowan! Had a seminar with him once. Was quite influenced by his comments about cultural integrity (not his term) - that, for instance, English folk songs or (fill in name of tribe here) tribal chants should stay 'untouched' by modern culture. But everything is influenced by other things. I think he traced hip-hop back to Franco-Flemish church music, or something like that. Anyway, thanks for the reminder of that.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

Oops, sorry, managed to be so rapt about his seminar that I misspelled Cowen's last name.

But hmmm, maybe I should check out his book on globalization and the world's cultures.

Alina said...

I rarely stop reading a book. The last one I put down was by an author I really liked but it was quite different from her usual. It was VERY dark. When the main character slept with her best friend's son she'd known since babyhood it upped the dark weirdness up one notch too many for me.

I've lost steam on several series that just didn't hold up to the first book. For example, I LOVED Ender's Game, liked Speaker for the Dead and hated all that followed. Same with the companion books to that series. Liked the first two then lost interest.

Like I said. I'm usually one who plows through to the bitter end--and sometimes it IS bitter (think Needful Things--ugh).

aleesha said...

I'll usually read the entire book. I have great faith that when a book starts out dumb or slow that it will recover sometime within the book. Most of the time, it doesn't get better. However, I still hold out for it.

wonderer said...

I'm with the "always finish" crowd; stopping makes me feel guilty. I'll slog through in the hopes it will get better (and sometimes it does), or if not, at least maybe I can figure out what made it popular (often I can't).

HOWEVER, I'm very picky about what I start in the first place. By the time I start seriously reading a book, it has to:
- pass some process of recommendation (friends, websites, awards)
- make it onto my TBR list
- pass the test of reading the back and skimming the first 1-5 pages to make sure the style won't drive me bonkers. (Does that count as reading? Once I get past the fifth page or so, I'm committed.)
- be enough of a priority for me to buy or acquire it over the scores of other books on my TBR list

kt711 said...

I stop reading if I discover that I don't care about or don't like the protag. Or if something new is introduced in the plot that would force me to have to go back and re-read previous chapters to make sure the new stuff makes sense. Even if it's supposed to be a mystery or there's some some type of "thrilling" plot twist, it's annoying when the story hasn't flowed well enough to sustain the weight of that.

Scott said...

When the book becomes so inane it's not even worth reading!

When I can figure out what's going to happen next!

I used to always finish books I started, even if I laid them aside for a time. Now, can't be bothered. Too much to do, and too little time to spend reading a book that has 'jumped the shark' so to write!

S

wonderer said...

Forgot to add: By the time a book has gotten through all those hurdles, I figure it deserves attention.

mkcbunny said...

I usually decide within a few pages whether the book is the right choice for me on that particular day. If it's not grabbing me, I usually set it aside and try another.

Some books have been on the "pass" pile for two years before getting another chance. If a book is on that stack at all, it's because I had a reason/desire to read it, so I'll always give it another try when I think I might be in the right mood.

If I've picked it up and put it back down more than a couple of times then I usually give up. The stopping point on books that I've delved further into is usually when I get bored or when the writing style becomes annoying to me in some way.

mkcbunny said...

Nathan, must you mention 160-proof whiskey at this hour? I am thinking now of Booker's bourbon, and it's only noon!

Rick Daley said...

Margret, you asked about those of us who "finish a book no matter what. Dear dog, WHY?"

From my perspective, I don't start a book unless I have a mild interest in it. I'm more likely to never start than to abandon a read.

Here are a couple case studies on books I trudged through:

Last Christmas I read THE BOOK OF FATE and I really didn't like the plot or MC, but I just had to see if it pulled some twist out at the end that justified it. It didn't.

I read TWILIGHT to see what all the fuss was about, and while I will not read any further into the series, I did finish the first book even though I didn't like the MC. I wanted to finish it so I could have a fair opinion of the entire book. And while I admit I am far from the target market, it's worth noting that I thought THE LOVELY BONES was a great story and Susie drew me in as a character, so I'm not totally blinded by the fact that I am a 37-year-old male.

I'm almost done with Michael Crichton's NEXT, and I don't really like it. I like what it's trying to say, but not how it's saying it. It's really a series of short storied that are loosely tied together, and I'm curious to see how they resolve. So far it appears that they will just be gratuitous tie-ins.

KayKayBe said...

I skim everything, and finish it all unless it gets too graphic. I compulsively read books in one or two sittings- whether it's a 100 pg YA or 1776. If I liked it enough, then I'll reread and soak it up. I reread my fav books over and over.

Dani said...

Once I pick up a book, I'm usually pretty committed -- it's rare for me to intentionally abandon something (to say nothing of accidental sidetracks). Even if I hate it, I'm almost always hopeful, right up to the horrible, unsatisfying ending, that it'll turn around for me.

Aimless Writer said...

There are books I've tossed after about half way. Face it, I'm half way there...if you can't keep me in the book...it stinks.
Generally, I'm a finisher. If I start it, I have to finish. Maybe thats the Virgo in me.

Rhonda said...

I always finish. "To always finish what you begin" was part of my Bluebird creed as a kid if I remember correctly. I guess it stuck. My daughter abandons books all the time and it drives me nuts!

Lindsay Price said...

There's nothing I hate more than losing interest in a book. It's the reason I've nearly stopped buying them and borrow instead.

It's even worse when I'm grabbed by the first few pages and then it all falls apart. That's happening more and more.

My husband must finish the book. Even if he hates it and complains about it (and I ask him why he's still reading) he still preservers...

PurpleClover said...

Rick -

I feel responsible for NEXT. I'm sorry you don't like it. I thought it was just me. I actually put that book down. Although I did have every intention of picking it back up because I thought I would eventually enjoy it.

But a year later I decided I wasn't picking it back up and that was why it was in the pool to be given away. Sorry!

Anonymous said...

As though it was a commitment of my character, originally, I read every book I ever started all the way through.

That was probably a good exercise. The are a number of books that didn't get going until after page 100 and there were books I would have missed if I had not read to the end where it all made sense and left me wowed.

There were also some clunkers.

Now, I read parts of non-fictions regularly.I stop when I want to think on an idea. I might go back. I might not. Non-fictions are idea or learning areas. I take them in bites more often than whole books.
I read On Writing all the way through and The Courage To Create but with nf, there's often a toss up about reading the whole book and I STILL consider that most were valuable -at least to a point.

With fiction, if it is depressing or REAL DEPRESSING or includes smutty material, it's done. I toss it on the spot.

With a poorly written or boring or too-heavy-on-the-world-building, it gets tabled.I lose interest but keep the page marked. Who knows. I might still get back to those one year.They can be good for insomnia and they don't mess with my motto:
*do no harm to my soul in a book.*

great question

Melissa McInerney said...

I go with the aforementioned Nancy Pearl rule. Some books I don't finish because they are just...bad. Some books I feel I should read and I just can't finish them. They are usually dense, chewy books with lots and lots of words and descriptions. Henry James, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy come to mind. Also, I can't finish any stupid picture book, even if it's only ten pages. Must be some kind of defect.

Jen P said...

I'm wondering if my selection process is too picky, because I too, almost never give up on a book. (wonderer - your selection process sounds almost identical) In fact, I'd say, I may put it down (Half of a Yellow Sun - Adiche, Plainsong - Haruf), but would complete at a later date - perhaps years later - but I'd never not finish it. (Although I have to admit several years ago I did try The Bible from In The Beginning and didn't get too far, perhaps this is a good prompt to try again.)

I'm the same with films - must see the end in the same sitting, if I've watched more than 10 minutes or so.

Lynne Connolly said...

I tend to put books down when I lose interest in them. I might give them another go, in case I was in the wrong mood.
Some books, the author's voice just doesn't work with me, and I know that fairly soon.
Otherwise, it's the dreaded "sagging middle" that does it for me.

It reminds me of the old "Hancock's Half Hour" episode where he gets a thriller called "Lady Don't Fall Backwards" and the last page is missing. The whole episode is Hancock trying to locate a copy of the book, or someone who has read it and knows who did the murder.
"The Missing Page." A classic.

Anonymous said...

I learned to finish books when I was doing research for various chapters of my dissertation. Non-fiction is much harder to read IMO thank fiction.

That isn't to say that I like finishing all fiction I start reading. I learned to speed read a long time ago - it comes in handy for wading through plot/subplot dreck and getting back to the more interesting parts of a novel.

Yet, there is a current NYT bestseller on my Kindle that became so disconnected from what made the story initially good, that I moved on to more interesting books and have not felt any compulsion whatsoever to finish it.

Thank god reading tastes are subjective.

Carly said...

I'm with EC Sheedy and others. I usually finish books, and used to ALWAYS finish them. However, the older I've gotten the more I've given up if a book fails to interest me or impress me about a third of the way in. In one real case, when an author of a certain novel had a gypsy exclaim, "Sanctimonious bastard!", I wanted to throw it against the wall. Um, many real gypsies in Europe aren't formally educated or very literate, and most literate people I know rarely use the word 'sanctimonious.' If I don't believe in the characters, how can I engage in the story?

Robin said...

It is rare for me not to finish a book. Boredom is usually the reason or a central character that is annoying me to distraction. I used to feel guilty about not finishing a book and would keep it as a visual reminder of my shame on the bookshelf. But I finally got over that, thank God.

ted said...

Am currently about 120 pgs into EDGAR SAWTELLE after struggling mightily with the first 80 or so, during which every last "scorpioned snowflake" on the floor and "seething branch" outside the window was painstakingly rendered while I waited for the story to start. Only the reviews have kept me going so far, though now I'm almost hooked.

Given the comments above, I'm wondering if anyone else here started it and wanted to drop it. Also wondering how to reconcile its success with all the debut-novel rules it seems to have broken.

Linda said...

It does depend on the book. I've stopped two pages in (author had multiple instances of the f-word), but I've also stopped halfway (author used a misspelled dialect for the main character; by the time I stopped, I was begging for mercy).

And I do skip pages. If a subplot feels wrong for the book or like filler, I skip right past it to get to the story. Sadly, I'm finding a lot of books like this.

S. Paul Bryan said...

Compulsive finisher. Only two books I put down mid-read: War and Peace and Noble House.
Both because I lost track of who was who and what was what.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

I quit reading when I start drawing on the pages!

Haste yee back ;-)

Gina said...

Finish them I will, but the less I like them the faster I´ll read. My record, unbroken two decades later, is The Physician in one day.
If I love them I want to savour them.
So, with all due respect to Mr Cowen, a book in a day EVERY day?
I wouldn´t call that reading.

b_writer said...

I usually finish books if I like them enough to get past the first ten pages or so. There have been instances when I get to the middle and no longer like them. Then it becomes a question of whether or not there's something else I need to do. I'm reading one like that now, the beginning was great, the middle is so-so, I'll read a few pages, put it down for a day or so, and then maybe read a few more. I may even finish it before the end of this year, but that sagging middle reduces the feeling of urgency, and I’ll probably never go for another book by that author.

I have one by an author that was one of my favorites, and I hope she redeems herself with her next book or she may drop off my favorite list. The beginning was right there in her usual standards. But the middle was - let's just say muddled. I went through to the end because it was her, but the ending did not justify that middle. Like I said, I'll give her next book a chance, hoping this was just an aberration.

Jen P said...

Gina - you've reminded me of another I almost gave up on, but didn't. And prompted me to consider the key reason I give up on books: I get bored because it is too 'samey' with previous works I've read by the same author. Book in case was SHAMAN, after reading Gordon's THE PHYSICIAN. It was almost an identical story in a different setting. I had to shelve it for ages, so that I'd had a longer break since reading the first novel.

@Carly - perhaps it was a US/Euro language translation thing - many Europeans probably say 'sanctimonious' quite often. Perhaps that says something about us....;-)

Anonymous said...

I used to compulsively finish everything but life's too short for that. Now I'll give it about 50pages.

For one book I gave up near the end because of poor editing.

Jil said...

If I start a book it's usually because I like the idea on the jacket, have a current interest in the subject or something else has already attracted me to it. Some, read out of curiosity disappoint,like Salmon Rushdie. (Can't remember which one)
Wimpy characters, and lack of knowledge about something I do know about turns me off immediately. I want to be drawn into another life, feel their emotions and see through their eyes.
A lot of popular science fiction and mysteries bore me because the characters seem cold and I soon put them down.

Mechelle Avey said...

I'm a finisher. There have been very few books that I have not gotten through, though some have been excruciating to finish.

Calliopenjo said...

I stop finishing a book when there's little left to the imagination. What do I mean by that? It goes back to the show vs. tell argument. I can only take so much. I try hard to show as much as possible leaving little to be told.

The other stories I avoid are PWP stories or, plot-what-plot stories. These are the stories that focus on sex. Bedroom, kitchen table, backseat, etc. The scene doesn't matter but the story is always the same. I refuse to spend my time reading those.

The other stories I try to avoid are stories with pages long narrative with a sentence or two of dialogue. I yawn after the first page.

Those are my avoidance issues.

Julie said...

Absolutely agree with the commercial interruption of thought. I've noticed that books that I enjoy are short-chaptered, to the point and very enjoyable. If I'm in the mood for a slog, I'll read the more detailed ones as the writing is usually superb and it enriches my own descriptions when writing--like watching an opera and wanting to sing...

Precision Grace said...

I've given up on first page or couple of chapters in - it depends.

If I am struggling to enjoy myself or get anything at all out of the book then it'll get put down. Sometimes it just takes time and I get back to it eventually but some are lost causes.

I've tried to read The Life of Pi several times and most of those times I've ended up throwing the blasted thing against the wall.
I've also given up on the Book of Dave and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - this last one is the most annoying because I'd heard such good things about it and I Bought the book just to end up giving up on it several pages in. I just can't read it. So far I'm also at the giving up stage of McCarthy's The Road. Tried it twice, not got past the page 3. I'll give that some more time as it's been lauded all the way from Hell to Pearly Gates but I'm not hopeful.

Gina said...

Jen P - excellent point! Read most of the comments and didn´t see it mentioned before. And hadn´t realized it´s a serious factor in my lack of enjoyment of certain books.

´Samey´-ness to previous works by same author is a major put-off.

First Marian Keyes I read was Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married, and I thought I´d hit the mother lode of funny.
By the time I´d retraced her back to Watermelon I was losing the will to live.

Anonymous said...

For fiction for me, I'll drop it if the characters are annoying/boring. If it's just descriptions or technical jargon in the fiction that is bothering me, I'll stick with it a bit longer to see if maybe it was just a rough patch.

Non-fiction I'm much pickier with. Especially if you claim to be "sticking with facts" and then jump right into fiction (hello, Beautiful Jim author, I'm looking at you, telling me in exact detail what a *horse* was thinking and feeling and deciding and saying and admiring!).

robin said...

I stop the moment I'm no longer enthralled (fiction). Then I'll usually skim to see what happened, unless I truly don't care (this rarely happens) at all and just want to get the book as far away from me as possible.

Karyn Lewis said...

I almost always finish a book once I start it. However, I will skim the boring/annoying parts until the story picks back up again.

Trée said...

I finish less than 10% of the books I start so for me, the more interesting question is, why does one finish. Outside of those who finish books just to finish them. If we know why people finish books, that helps. To know why people stop is nice, but it doesn't educate a writer as to what to do, only what not to do.

Shennandoah Diaz said...

I commit myself to at least 100 pages. The last book I read was really good the first 100 then suddenly took a left turn into crazy land.The plot became ridiculously cheesy and unbelievable. I gave up 200 pages into the 400 page book. I'm normally not such a quitter, but after a 100 pages with no sign of hope, I decided that there were too many other stories worthy of my attention.

April Hollands said...

I used to be a serial finisher until I read Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. I don't care how great he's meant to be: I found that book boring for the first fifty pages before I gave up.

Kate said...

Some people are questioning the reasoning of the compulsive finishers. I do finish every book I start, but oddly find that the only books I don't enjoy are the classics. Often I find the narration tedious. Modern writers have been forced to move stories along faster than was required a hundred years ago. Still I think it is important to have an understanding of literary history, so if I start reading a classic I always try to finish it. Even if it isn't as engaging as a current best seller.

JenD said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
sex scenes at starbucks said...

Life is too short to read bad books.

Cheryl Barker said...

I usually finish the books I start. Not long ago, though, I gave up half-way through Dickens' David Copperfield. I just wasn't enjoying it and didn't want to face another 400 pages. Too many other enjoyable things out there to read...

Nathan Bransford said...

jend (deletion explanation)-

Not sure if your reference to politics was satire or honest, but either way I don't see that ending well.

Lucy said...

It's the point where I want to drag a character off the page and slap some sense into her, and about the fifth or sixth time I get that impulse, I'm done.

I'm not sure that "shallow" is even an adequate word for it: I've seen rather shallow characters who were sort of engaging. This is more along the lines of Too Stupid to Live.

Mara Wolfe said...

I try to finish novels, but sometimes I just can't. I generally stop reading when I'm making excuses not to read it, or when a novel starts saying things that I find really offending.

Amy Cochran said...

Depends on the book. I've dropped the in the beginning, and the middle and a few close to the end. I just need a book that holds my attention which is not the easiest thing to do.

Lea McKee said...

I am known to occasionally put down a book, usually because I sometimes read more than one at a time and when one requires undivided attention, i usually stop reading the others. And unfortunately sometimes i don;t pick them back up again.

But I have only ever put down a few and its usually because the quiet before the storm. Most novels have a steady rising pace to the climax, others start rising only to dip way down before the climax. If a book dips too low I usually stop reading, im a little impatient. :)

Curtastrophe said...

Thanks to a stint of unemployment, I had the time and (and for lack of better options) motivation to start "Gravity's Rainbow."

Up until the first 200 pages, I nearly quit it everday out of frustration. The only thing that kept me reading was the promise that "It will get better! Just hang in there and trust the author!" It turned out to be one of the best books I've ever read.

Bottom Line: If it's a classic, I'll stick with it. Otherwise, I stop reading when I cease being interested in the characters.

pat said...

Oh my God! All these posts...
Its a wonder I actually scrolled through them all. Just like reading a book I have to be grabbed on the first few posts!!!
I have discarde many books after the first couple of chapters but occasionally I will go back to one another time.

Richard Lewis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Lewis said...

I grew up in the sixties on Bali. My life was hardly deprived, except for one thing: there were no books. I didn't care there was no TV, I wanted books. I read my father's small library from cover to cover many times, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible to Fox's Book of Martyrs (what a gruesomely delightful book for a boy). I begged from others, scoured hotels' reading rooms, cherished any stray book that came my way, and once stole a paperback out of a hippie's backpack (a story I've told elsewhere on the Net).

Because books were such a treasure, for a long time until my forties I never met a book I wouldn't read. Then sadly I grew to realize a truth of aging: So little time, so many tomes. This was when, with regret and fondness and appreciation for the joys she'd given me, I decided I could no longer read Danielle Steel.

Newbee said...

For me, it could be as soon as the first page. As soon as I loose interest in the book I'm all done. I high school I started many assigned books but never finished them. I don't like to read anything that doesn't peek my interest.

Cheryl said...

I wrote about this very issue on my blog yesterday. I just stopped reading "Pillars of the Earth" because there were some morally sinister/violent/reprehensible images in it that I wish I hadn't exposed myself to. I've gotten applause from my readers on my decision. Sorry Follett (and Oprah), but rape, child abandonment, pig stealing, and kid clubbing are not my idea of a good read.

Horserider said...

The only time I don't finish a book is when I set it down for awhile and forget to pick it back up and start reading again. Or if it's overdue at the library and I don't feel it's worth the effort of checking it back out.

The last book I didn't finish was Misery by Steven King. I stopped halfway through because it was getting fairly disturbing...

Tracy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tracy said...

The only reasons for my shelving a book would be if they ended up being offensive. I'm pretty careful about what I pick up in the first place though, so it doesn't happen very often.

I think I'm always optimistic that a book will get better, and because I'm a fast reader, I'm halfway through before I realize I'm bored or whatever. Then I figure I may as well find out what happens. And hey, maybe there's a plot twist that makes the boring stuff more relevant. It seldom works out that way, but I can't bring myself to be anything less than hopeful :)

Besides, I always thought ditching a book equalled giving up. I'm too stubborn to let a book get the best of me! Last summer I slogged through War & Peace to see what all the fuss was about, and no matter how bored I was (and how!) I'll be darned if I wasn't going to find out exactly what happened to everyone...just don't ask me to remember who was who and who did what...

Jan said...

I am a compulsive finisher. I finish it even if I can't stand it. There is something about returning a book that I haven't read that is just wrong.... I think that somewhere in the book I will find something interesting or worthwhile.

Haley said...

I'm a finisher - I give the book the benefit of the doubt(just like I do movies) hoping it will get better. If there is a character I really care for, I'll stick with them even during bad plot moments or events I don't feel make sense. I also love strong themes and symbolism, so it the book has it, I stay for the beauty. Books are a chance to experience another life -even if you don't like it.

I'm not saying I never stop reading a book, but when I have it was for the following reasons: time - ran out of it and never got back to the book - not saying I won't, though. The other that I can think of (and don't shoot me literary world) was Love in the Time of Cholera. I kept wishing for it to pull me in, but it just didn't. I was sad, but finally stopped after about 50 pages.

Genevieve said...

Oh, I try. I really do. Especially now that I'm writing. I figure they've probably put years into this thing in my hands. I'd better find what had them so consumed. But ...

There comes a point. A point where you can't concentrate, you start skipping paragraphs, you really could care less what happens to that character. That slug creeping across the patio has more momentum than that chapter. Then the book has to be put away. I did that recently, and now I just don't know what to do with the book. Do I give it away? Can I recommend it? Nope. But it cost a lot ... hmmm Maybe I"ll donate it somewhere.

Anonymous said...

When I sense I've gotten "bogged down" I'm apt to put a book down, and there's a 50/50 chance I'll ever pick it up again.

What tends to make me feel bogged down: 1) characters introduced early on in a non-compelling way, then reintroduced later and I can't remember for the life of me who they are/how they fit, 2) long-winded descriptions of things like fishing, climbing, repairing something, sex, etc., 3) dialogue I have to struggle to decipher.

Kate Higgins said...

When I was little I was told to sit and finish every thing on my plate…even if it tasted bad. I never did. And I will not finish any book that tastes bad. Bad writing, boring plot, plodding arc.

I especially get turned off when I know the writer didn’t research his details. Once I stopped reading a book when it described the beautiful sights while flying to Sun Valley, Idaho from Boise, Idaho in a small plane. No problem there, the sights are very beautiful,I know I grew up there, but it was written that the plane would be flying at 3,000 feet.

However Boise is at 2,500 feet above sea level and Sun Valley is 5,750 feet and there are some substantial mountains between them. Unless there is a tunnel I don’t know about they were flying underground. I couldn’t finish the book.

Too many good books out there to dine on the bad ones.

R. Garrett Wilson said...

I can only think of a half dozen books that I haven't finished. Normally, if I get past page 35, I am finishing the book. I have tried at least two more times to go through three of those six books.

Heather Rose Chase said...

I read quickly and finish just about everything I start. I read constantly, generally have two or three books stashed all over the house/car in every type of genre. I'm not at all picky - give me a book and I'll read it - and I've only tossed aside a few books unfinished, most notably a non-fiction account of child abuse in the foster care system. I was too horrified to finish it. But never because a book was boring or too hard to read.

Bee Hylinski said...

I usually finish the books I read or listen to, but I am about to give up listening to First Team by Larry Bonds. Let me first say that I get most of my books from the library so I do not have an economic investment in those books. But I usually finish hard copy books and I almost always finish books on CD as they entertain me while driving. This book leaves me completely cold. Much too much edgy dialog, much too much happens without giving much of a setting of scene and I am not engaged by the characters at all. They are all dispsreputable people as far a I can see. I like to be engaged by the characters and I love a good story well told.

quillfeather said...

On very rare occasions I have slipped the 'unfinished' book back on the bookshelf. However, I normally persevere to reach the end for two simple reasons: The author has obviously gone to great lengths to write it with the addition of navigating the stormy seas of publication, of which I am endeavoring to do myself.

Sandy & Pamela said...

Assuming that a book didn't annoy me in the first 20-30 pages (too cute, too slow, too great an urge to edit), I give up on a book when I find myself reading other books instead of picking it up again.

TonyB said...

The true story of my really unbelievable life story is like, well you know .................


A really bad first line has me dropping a book on my toe before I sit down. That may be why I keep looking for that magical opening line for my manuscript :-)

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