Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thoughts and Rants: On Finishing Bad Books

One of my friends once said that when they were younger, they would sit through a bad movie at the theatre. As they got older, they had no qualms about getting up and leaving if they weren't enjoying it. It was a waste of time to stay. I myself used to have a much stronger drive to see something through to its finish even if I didn't like it. But the truth is, I have left a theatre in the middle of a movie at least twice (and there have been many more that I've turned off at home), and this year there have been a handful of books I've left unfinished. My own desire to stick it out just to make sure I see how it ends has diminished over the years, and it had me wondering about the habits of other people in the blogosphere:

1. Do you stop reading a book if you're not enjoying it?

2. If so, how far do you read before deciding it's not for you?

3. If not, what keeps you going to the end?

4. (On a side note): If you're browsing the bookstore/library, how much of a book do you read before deciding whether you want it or not? Also, do you go to the bookstore/library with a book in mind or to browse?

I'm inclined to say that it's important to stick it out until the end because the book might get a lot better, or the end might be what makes it all meaningful, but I actually haven't found this to be the case very often. Usually, if I dislike a book I dislike it to the end. I usually read 1/3 or 1/2 of the book before stopping, though. When I was reading The Time Traveler's Wife, I got 3/4 of the way through and just couldn't pick it up again. So close! If I do keep reading to the end, it's usually for the sense of accomplishment (*notches bedpost*). As for 4, I read the back and inside jacket, skim the first couple pages, and skip to a place in the middle and read a couple pages.

I'm really interested to hear your answers!


P.S. I don't know where this conversation has already taken place (because I'm sure it has) so forgive me if this is a repetitive topic.


  1. I try to see books through to the end and I think there have been only four books that I absolutely have been unable to force myself to finish. One of them was Twilight. I tried to read it through twice but it didn't work out. But generally I try to finish all the books I start (unless of course, I start reading erotica by mistake. It happened once with an Anne Rice book). I usually make it halfway through before I decide. If I still have mixed feelings, I plod ahead. If I'm certain that I hate, my reading will not be very thorough but I'll still try. If it's erotica, I won't read it once I realize what it is. For the third question, I would say guilt. I think of the work the author put in so I try to give the book the benefit of the doubt until the very end. And as long as I don't get the horrible feeling that reading it is causing me pain or diminishing my IQ, I'll get through. Also, when I say I don't like the book, I want to be able to do so fairly, with the knowledge that in the ENTIRE book there was nothing for me. I can live in bookstores for days and days and years. I try to look at reviews before I step in but usually, I still make impulse buys based on the cover and the back and inside jacket. If it's an author I'm already familiar with, that's an added bonus.
    The End.

  2. I used to feel like I was defeated by a book if I didn't finish it, no matter how much I didn't like it. It was a total ego thing. But I've come to accept the fact that I am not going to like every book I pick up, and that's okay. There are too many good books out there to waste my time on a book I'm not enjoying. So I have been able to allow myself to just put a book down if I'm not liking it. I try to get as far as I can, but I don't have any set "rule". One book this year didn't last beyond the first chapter!

  3. I have such mixed feelings about this. On one hand I think that as a reviewer it would be beneficial for me to finish books I'm not enjoying, and still review them - so I can explain what the issue was. I'm really aware that most of my reviews are fairly positive, and that the fact I don't finish books I don't like can give a false impression on my blog - it's like I seem to like *everything* I read, when really it's just that if I *really* don't like it, it doesn't get finished... let alone reviewed.

    I usually decide by the halfway mark if I'm going to give up on a book, although in most cases where I give up around halfway I probably knew within the first few chapters that the book wasn't for me. I do *try* to persevere, and while sometimes it pays off... it usually doesn't. I'm good at judging what I like after a few pages, but I don't think I'm doing a book justice unless I read at least three or four chapters.

  4. I don't usually dislike a book enough to put it down mid story. There are plenty that I push through, finish, and wonder why I wasted time on it, though. In the few cases where I knew I wasn't going to like it at all, I ended up doing a quick skim through the unread pages, so I'd at least know how it ended.

    I'm pretty particular about what books I spend money on, so most of my books come first from the library. If I like them, I'll pick them up at a bookstore. It helps working at a bookstore, too, because we get to checkout hardcover books.

    You pose some interesting questions.

  5. Interesting topic! I typically finish everything, just for the sake of being able to judge it fairly, and to add it to my list of books I've read. (I don't know why this is so important to me, it just is!)

  6. Thanks everyone for commenting! You all had really interesting answers.

    Unforgettable: I agree; if it's an author I know, I'm much more likely to buy it without too much previous knowledge about it.

    Sarah: Feeling like the book got the better of me used to be an issue for me as well, but it's true now that I would rather spend my time doing something I'm enjoying (like reading a better book!)

    Lauren: Sometimes I feel like all my reviews are positive because I don't review the books I don't finish (since I feel I can't speak to how good/bad it really was, although the fact that I didn't finish might be an indicator in and of itself). There is that nagging sense of "duty" to finish so I can write about it.

    Brooke: I'm terrible at skimming! But that's a good solution. I *do* usually like to have the gist of how a book ends. That's awesome that you get to check out hardcovers! So nice.

  7. I used to feel like I had to push myself to finish, but not any more. I realized I have far too many books I want to read for me to be wasting my time on a book I'm not enjoying.

    I stop whenever I realize I'm just not having any fun. I'll notice I'm putting off reading. If I start looking for laundry to fold instead, then I know I just need to put the book away and get something better.

    My library doesn't have many books on the shelves, so I get most of my books through inter-library loan. I use my TBR to pick what I want to read next. I haven't really browsed in a while.

    I'll read the first few pages to see if I like the writing style, the blurb to see if I like the plot, and, honestly, the cover to see if it grabs my attention.

  8. Hey Bea, I was researching the idea of blogging on the exact same topic when I ran across your post. Great stuff. I tend to muscle through even the worst books, but am looking for excuses to break the habit. Great article and responses!