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?
If the writer has too many details, the shade of the wall paper … I prefer a faster read. Sometimes I may skim through if it was a book or author I really wanted to read.
Kat Harris says
The only time I'll ever stop reading a book I've started is if the writing or voice doesn't appeal to me.
I'm usually pretty forgiving if the pacing is slow or the plot is implausible because I have this naive faith that the author is taking me someplace.
If I get to the end and realize I've gone nowhere, then I'd throw the book against the wall and allow the temper tantrum to commence. (Kindles are too expensive to throw.)
E. Bideaux says
I am easily swayed by sexy jacket blurbs…Its not untill the second or third date that the flavor of the month shows its true self and I'm off looking again….but I never cheat…one at a time…one after the other.
Hat Man says
Stop reading it when you don't want too read it anymore. There's no law that says you have to read every book you start. If I quit reading 4/5 books I started, I'd start to wonder what was up, though. The writer has a contract with a reader. I, the writer, will write something that you will enjoy, and you will compensate me for my time. If the writer doesn't hold up his end of the bargain, the reader has every right to bail.
I used to finish books no matter what. But then my life got too busy with school, kids, job and my own writing and finish books just because wasn't a good use of my time.
I put down a book for bad writing, stupid plots or at the point where I no longer care what happens to the characters. Usually those things happen fairly early on but sometimes it's later. Depends.
I stop reading when:
(a) I've given the reader a fair chance to hook me; but
(b) the ongoing return isn't worth the investment of further time.
A writer needs to engage a reader, and keep the reader engaged. If the writer isn't doing that, he doesn't know his business and I'm not going to keep reading, just for the sake of it. The writer isn't paying for my time.
There are too many bad books out there to masochistically plough on to the bitter end. And life's too short.
Lydia Sharp says
I give a book until the end of chapter one before I make the call to keep reading or stop right there.
Then it must keep me interested on every page after that or I will close it for good…mid-chapter, mid-scene, or even mid-sentence. I don't care how brilliant it was before that point, or what awesomeness I'm missing by not continuing to read.
If I find myself skimming through anything, I'm done. I should be able to read every word on the page without feeling like, "If I just get through this part, the later stuff will make up for it." Uh…no, don't think so. EVERY PAGE must hold my attention.
This saves me from wasting precious reading time. Books that don't deserve my time, don't get it. Period.
But if a book keeps me gripped until the end, you better believe I'll tell everyone and their brother they need to read it, too. That's my way of saying, "Well done, fellow author. Keep up the good work."
Of course, that's all just my opinion…but isn't that what success in this business is based on? The opinions of others?
Things that get me to put the book down are (in no particular order):
-Not feeling a connection with any of the characters. Unrealistic emotions, or worse, no emotion.
-Stupid plot or no clear plot (Again, the definition of stupid here is only my opinion). Since I read a lot of spec fic, I see this one quite a bit.
-Jumbled wording, or difficult to read. If it doesn't flow smoothly, count me out. This is the sole reason I will never recommend the Pern books–good story, but try reading it out loud without tripping up your tongue (Send the angry mob after me, if you must).
-Unbalanced pacing. If I start flipping ahead to see where the chapter ends, I know it's bad. On the other hand, if it's too intense, I'll have to put it down to take a mental breather, and risk not picking it up again.
This is a good question. When I was younger (i.e., up to my 30s, I guess) I always finished a novel, even if I wasn't enjoying it. I always thought there would be some kind of payoff at the end, even if the book was imperfect.
But now I can quit a book at any time. I quit reading "Old Man's War" by John Scalzi when I only had a handful of pages left to read — I had figured out what was going to happen and I really didn't have to go any further; I just wasn't feeling any suspense.
I read the first 100 pages of The DaVinci Code in one sitting — you've got to give it credit for being amazingly readable — but then never felt the inclination to open the book again (the characters & story were just too silly).
Most novels that lose my interest do so much earlier, however — anywhere from page 20 to 50. The two above are only noteworthy because I read so much of them before setting them aside (and were enjoyed by so many other people).
I used to have a rule I would never not finish a book once I started it. My thoughts were that I would be exposed to ideas out of my comfort zone and would thusly broaden my viewpoint. That idea has been scrapped because I only have room in my head for so much bullshit. Now if a book bores me, insults my intelligence or is just poorly written I will dump it as fast as I picked it up.
Joseph L. Selby says
Allowing for a light or light-to-moderate beginning where the stage is set, a novel generates good will by entertaining me. The more I'm entertained, the more investment in good will. Once I stop being entertained, that investment is drawn upon. I'll advance some credit once a book goes into the red, but if it shows no signs of recovering, I abandon it before it drags me down with it. This may be measured in pages or chapters. I won't complete a book that sucks just to say I completed it. (The exception to this is the Fellowship of the Ring, completion of which was mandatory to maintain my geek cred–though that completion took me over a decade.)
A good writing style/tone will keep me reading all the way through–the subject, the genre, the age–none of these matter except good style. I will finish anything that has it. One stylistic approach that shuts me down fast is the 'action on the first page' method. I hate that. I'll usually try to read a few more pages, but I'm not likely to finish.
I typically try to get through at least 1/3 of the book before calling it quits. On one hand, I don't want to miss out if it turns around, on the other, I have so many unread books on my shelf! I don't want to waste time on a bad book!
I consider books like movies. I always finish a movie, even if it's bad, unless it's clear that there is nothing more for me to get out of it. But this only happens once out of every 50 times I watch a new movie.
With books, it's the same way. The one in 50 that I end up not finishing are usually self-help or advice books and its usually because I've figured out how to do the rest on my own or I quickly realize I've heard the same stuff before.
Even if the book is no longer interesting to me, I finish reading it anyways because there is still something to be gained from learning how NOT to write.
Precision Grace says
Forgot to say; If I find that I've read the same few paragraphs a dozen times and I still can't remember what they were about – this is usually the point at which it dawns on me that the book I'm holding may not be worth persevering in.
Oh, and I also find that if I stop reading a book because I think it's boring, a day or two later I find myself wondering about the characters and all of the most positive points of the book float to the surface. It's then that I realize I was really hooked and didn't know it, but I got impatient.
Brandi Guthrie says
When I stop reading depends on the book. Sometimes it's just after the first page. Sometimes it's halfway through. But mostly I try to read the whole thing (the exception being when I was in college, for some reason I could rarely finish books that I had been assigned to read).
When it gets unbelievably bad. I just stopped reading Dead Until Dark because it was too stupid for words. Normally my point is when I'm outraged that a company wasted paper printing the book. Damn, we need those trees!
I stop reading more books than those I read to the end. They have to be really compelling to keep me going. I prefer characters who are either charming and sophisticated and/or who I can learn something from. Those books where the characters are boorish and predictable are anathema. However sometimes the story is more important than the characters, especially if it is a fantasy driven plot into a world where I'd like to be, then nothing can stop me reading. However I've rarely come across this type of book as most concentrate too much on conflict rather than something gloriously different and fun and beyond this world fantastic. Not sure if that makes sense, but I feel that conflict is only interesting as a diversion from a lack of something much better which is powerfully beautiful and utopian. That is what I'd like to read about. As to what I've written about so far, my results have fallen far short of these aims. But that is also what I'd like to write about: glorious beauty, incredible fun and mind-blowing innovation. Conflict seems pretty boring beside that to me. And what we focus upon, we tend to bring into our lives, so why not create a reality – through our literature – that is different. Could fantasy lit be a bridge to the future?
I go maybe 3 or 4 chapters and if it hasn't grabbed me I put it down and grab another. I usually have 6-10 books sitting on my TBR pile.
But I have slogged through a couple of books that I found boring or I hated the characters…what I do is usually put the book somewhere accessible where I might sit for a minute or two and read a few pages. I've gotten through two books that way, and by the end, I ended up liking the book.
I used to finish all books, feeling that there was some sort of reader integrity involved. Then I joined a book group. I have found that when I am not the one who suggested the title, there is an escape clause allowing me to put the book down and never think about it again.
Genella deGrey says
I'm totally against bashing other writer's work, but when the horse gets a POV, it's over, brother!
It really depends on the book. If the voice obviously gets on my nerves, I don't continue. yesterday I got about eight pages in. It made me sad because I liked the two other books by the same author.
If I'm not that into the story, I flip around in the book, trying see if it gets better. I read the end, and then decided.
I often wander away from a book, and start something else if it doesn't really work for me, and then I'll be reading four or five books at a time. I usually end up finishing them all eventually.
It sounds like I'm picky. I maybe don't finish one book out of ten.
I generally finish what I set out to read, good or bad.
Here is the deal…
I was told, if you are going to write a novel, go read a novel of the same genre you are going to write.
So, I found one such novel. Reading it was a double edged sword of excruciating pain. One, it was so bad I kept saying to myself, "If she can get this tripe published, I shouldn't have any trouble with mine."
On the other hand I was thinking, as a previously unpublished writer, if my work isn't published, then I can scream to the innate unfairness of the business.
I finished the damn thing with the knowledge that even bad writers can get published. I learned to write my book and not somebody else's.
Conversely, when do you stop writing?
No rule. Every book is its own animal. Some I devour, some just taste like chicken.
Laura Martone says
I'm a little late in answering Nathan's question, but it's a good one, so here goes…
I usually finish the books that I start. It's a compulsion, I suppose. While I agree with a lot of the other commenters here – that life is too short to waste on bad books – I feel the need to finish something before passing judgment. Hence, why I read all of the TWILIGHT books (they were quick reads anyway).
But, recently, I put down CIDER HOUSE RULES – couldn't get into it for some reason, and I agree with Bane… Maguire's books (post-WICKED) have been hard to finish. The characters simply don't compel me.
Jess Haines says
There are only a small number of books I couldn't bring myself to finish reading.
THE ASSISTANT (Bernard Malamud) — Good lord, this book is depressing. I got about 50 pages in before I threw it across the room.
THE LOVELY BONES (Alice Sebold) — I heard great things about this book. I did give it a chance, but once it got to the part where the mom started having an affair with the investigator, I had to put it down. It was too freaking depressing.
Other than those two, I've finished just about every other book I've ever picked up. There were one or two more, but the names escape me at the moment. Usually, no matter how boring, depressing, or just plain bad, I generally don't put 'em down until I reach the end.
RED STICK WRITER says
Some of the very good reads I've had in the suspense genre have been provided by James Patterson. In the last few years, I have found that most of his books seem to be coming off an assembly line. He annually does two or three on his own and three or four that are jointly written with other authors. Even though he has gotten watered down, he can still pump out a doozy from time to time.
Back when he was golden most of the time, I decided to buy his first book, The Thomas Berryman Number. Though it won a first-novel Edgar all those years ago, I thought it was very murky and sucked in a manner not dissimilar to a Hoover vacuum cleaner. I have had two agents say that my novel-in-waiting might, at 72,000 words, be too short for the suspense genre. Almost everything Patterson writes is between 70,000 and 75,000 words, and Berryman contained 58,000 award-winning words. Though my research has shown me that most suspense novels are 80,000 words are more, I still believe in the wisdom passed to me by one Nathan Bransford intimating that he did not pay much attention to word count.
Okay, so I took a long route here to say that I used to read books all the way through. Berryman cured me of that. I get excited when I'm grabbed in the first three pages. I find a new way to spend my time if the Geiger counter doesn't make noise by page 50.
Sharon M. Smith says
I give it a couple of chapters, but if it was recommended to me or it is some sort of classic, I will do my best to finish it – but find it might take me a long time to get through it.
I love reading as much as I love writing, especially if I'm reading a certain author or genre. Sometimes I'm disappointed by my favorite authors and I have to put a book I started down because of lack of interest or too long, too boring, but I'll give it another try in a few weeks, and presto, I'm somehow pulled into the novel. I usually read anytime I get a chance to sneak a few pages, but mainly at night, and God help me if it's too good to put down. Started The Ruins by Scott Smith at 10 p.m. and had to keep reading until done at 2 p.m. Good sized paperback. My eyes flew over the pages and scenes so fast, I had to re-read parts the next day. I'll sometimes read 2 or 3 books a week, and hate it when I find one I can't put down. It takes away from the enjoyment of picking it up again, but then it goes into my collection to be re-read some day.
L. V. Gaudet says
It depends in a large part on where the book came from. If I paid good money for it, or had to go well out of my way to get the book, then it becomes a compulsion.
I can't stand to spend money or great lenghts of effort for something and then not enjoy it, even if I'm not enjoying it. I HAVE to read it even if I choke on it.
It also depends on the writer and the writing. With Stephen King's Duma Key I was bored stiff and had to force myself to keep reading. I had to get more than half way through it before I got into the story, and by the end I just wanted more. Sometimes I pick up on that one thing in the story, or about the writing, that compels me to keep reading. Cormac McCarthy's The Road took some pages to get into, but there was that something I just liked. I felt compelled, and once absorbed I devoured the book, which then invigorated the creative juices which brought about the short story "Change" (a draft of which is on my WordPress blog).
And sometimes, it only takes a few pages to realize a book is so bad that I just can't force myself to read it.
I've had a really bad habit lately of not finishing books. I just lose interest. Certain books, though, I'll not only finish but reread if I like it enough.
I finish most things, even bad books, because I'm a little compulsive that way. Sometimes this leads to discovering that the book is really wonderful – Annie Proulx's The Shipping News comes to mind as the most prime example. I really got sucked in by the protagonist's view of himself; finding out his view was not shared by the rest of his world was hugely satisfying.
Sometimes, of course, I finish something that never becomes a good book. I once read a whole novel by Vince Flynn which was so awful that by the end it was an exercise in rubber-necking. But I got to vent about it over at Amazon in the form of a baaaaad review. So that was good, too.
Things I never finished: that biography of John Adams which was so popular a few years back (too big); anything by James Patterson (too formulaic); The Scarlet Letter (don't tell my high school English teacher). In each of those cases, I got about 50 pages in and stopped. And never, ever looked back.
Cathi Stoler says
I can't believe it, but I did read all 4 books in the Twilight series. In the middle of the second one I was greatly disappointed (ok the first wasn't that great either), but felt I had to continue. People told me that the third and fourth were better (they were marginally) so I went on. I guess I felt like I was committed. Now I hear that we might get 'Edward's story'. What to do?
Leigh KC says
I don't follow my own advice on buying books, which is to Search Inside on Amazon.com before the purchase. I love the idea of books, print or kindle, so my buying habit is impetuous. As a result, I am a compulsive non-finisher. I don't like to give up on a story (I paid for it), so I will struggle onwards until "just one more page, you can do it," no longer radiates down into my page-turning finger.
The Writing Muse says
Depends….if I can push through the first few chapters, I might be able to find a little treasure in a book with a dull beginning. If a book is not catching my attention, I'll usually skim the rest of the pages just so I can say I 'read' it and didn't waste my money….then it finds a new home at the used bookstore.
I read through to the bitter end now. I use to give up if the book didn't do it for me, but since embarking on writing a novel, I need to learn more about keeping a reader until THE END.
I grit my teeth, mutter and comment more than ever before, but I read until the last word.
PV Lundqvist says
When it becomes work. Dreaded. Unless the author's beside me handing me bills, I close it up and start another.
karen wester newton says
5 print pages or 10 Kindle pages. Seriously. There are just too many good books out there to waste my time on one I'm not enjoying.
I'm a compulsive finisher, even if is just to be certain that the particular author sucks, lol.
Besides, there are books that get good only on the second half, and when finishing you don't regret the labour of having read the first part.
Hard to say. I hardly finish any of the books I start, and I'll stop reading for a variety of reasons. Most of the time, it comes down to either boredom or something that rubbed me the wrong way.
Sometimes, though, I'll throw a book against the wall and pick it up again a month later just because something compelling stuck with me. Joe Haldeman's FOREVER WAR was like that. I got sick of all the rampant sex, laughed my head off at his dystopian version of 2007, and returned the book to Barnes and Noble for a refund. But his depiction of space battles fought at relativistic speeds, with the intimate human drama of being a soldier on one of those spaceships, stuck with me so much that I had to finish it. I checked it out of the library four or five months later and enjoyed the book much more than I thought I would.
FOREVER PEACE, however, was a different story. Threw it across the room for the same reasons, no compelling reason to pick it up again. Haven't given it a second thought since.
I stop reading a book when it stops entertaining me. If I'd rather be doing something else, I do not read it. I truly love a good book, but if I don't like it, why would I continue reading it. I know lots of people do…I just don't understand why.
Unless it's for an assignment, I tend to read what I want to read, from a section of the library/bookstore that has most of what I like. That way, there's almost never been a book that I've given up on.
But if I'm halfway through the book and I'm bored out of my skull, I'll quit. So far only nonfiction, historical fiction, and SciFi has done this to me.
Would you make this a poll so I don't have to read all 297 comments to find the answer? I've got a deadline for my book…
Christine H says
I'm a compulsive finisher. I just skim really, really fast hoping it gets better. Most of the time it doesn't though.
I've suffered through so many ill-written, poorly edited books, I'm ashamed to sign this.
And I've also thrown a book down in disgust at the awfulness of the writing, plot and characters.
Hopefully that won't happen when my novel is published. 😀
Ooh. Word veri: ryters!
Sun Up says
Jesus Christmas, 300 comments?!
I'm actually in class (I just started school Monday, YEAH!) so I'll make this quick.
I have actually thrown a book against the wall in frusteration a few times. It was because it was so horribly cliche that it was funny. But it was more like a 'am I going to start that borderline hysterical laughter?' type funny. But I always ended up picking it back up after a few months and that's only if I don't have anything else to read.
Usually, when I'm reading a book and it's utter crap, I'll just finish it slowly ie; reading it when I'm eating dinner or I have to take a poo.
Jane Steen says
If a book makes me physically sick in the first 20 pages, it's gone. If I'm bored to tears after 50 pages, it's gone. However, if I want to review the book on a blog or site, I will stick with it unless it's making me physically sick.
I try not to. Every once in a while, though, I just taper off. I stop reading by degrees and eventually just find some other book to take my fancy.
Funny story: I bought a book (Infinity Hold, by Barry Longyear) in a used store in Calgary a few years ago. I started reading it while on vacation, and managed to get to the good part on the plane back to Ontario. It turns out that this particular printing was missing about eighty pages from the middle of the book. One side of the page was number 87, the other side was page 138.
I was… unimpressed at 30K feet.
For some reason, i can read a book i don't really like if it has a main character i like.
I don't have HBO but i heard True Blood was a good show from a friend, so i decided to read Dead Untill Dawn (the book its based on) and i didn't really like the story. But I liked Sookie's character, so I could read it.
But there was this beautifully written book called The Forest Of Hands and Teeth that i stoped reading just because i found the main character selfish and annoying.