When do you give up on a book?

I know many book bloggers find it very hard to put down a book half-read.  Others, like my husband, refuse to spend valuable reading time on a book they don’t like.  Which are you?  And at what point in a book do you say, enough.

I like to read close to half of a book before I give up, but then it depends on the reason I’m giving up, and it also depends on the type of book.

Something literary or very well-loved, I’ll give more time.  There’s a reason people love it, and sometimes you need to get farther in to a book before it grabs you.  So I try to read at least half of a book like that.  Unfortunately (but also the great thing about books) we all read things differently.  So even that a book that is highly acclaimed and a popular success may fall flat (e.g. The Passage).  In fact, the more highly acclaimed and popular, the more likely you may be disappointed.

The last book I put down partway through in this category?  I think The Dispossessed, by Ursula LeGuin, which I tried to read for a book club.  I want to love LeGuin.  Really I do.  Especially when there are so few critically acclaimed female science fiction writers.  But something about her writing drags for me.  Another one was Jenna Blum’s Those Who Save Us, which I wrote about here.

Now if a book is fluffy – mystery, urban fantasy, whatever – it doesn’t deserve as much of a try.  If I put down a book like this, it’s usually because the writing is annoying.  Then it gets put down in a hurry.  Or sometimes the story takes a turn I don’t care for.  Last book in this category was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Sometimes I can handle violence in a book, and sometimes it’s not worth handling.  This book felt like the latter.  Maybe I should have stuck it out longer because people love these books so much – but I also found the rest of the storyline and characters kind of dull.

When do you know it’s time to put down a book?  Often for me that realization comes while I’m on the bus.  If I’m enjoying a book, the time passes quickly.  But when I find I’m on the bus and finding other people or the scenery more interesting than my book – or I find myself thinking about what other books are next in line on my Kindle – then it’s probably that time.  Then I’ll usually decide to read about 20 pages more, just to see if something turns around.  Or maybe I’ll skim a little.  And then I’ll stop.

So what kind of reader are you?  Do you agonize about putting a book down unfinished?  Should we feel guilty when we drop a book?  Or do you move right on to the next one?

What’s the last book you didn’t finish, and why?

  11 comments for “When do you give up on a book?

  1. September 6, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Normally I hate putting a book down in the middle. I feel like I didn’t give it a chance. But recently I read roughly 30 pages of the book The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman and gave up. I thought it was one I would like, about traveling on some of the most dangerous modes of transportation around the world (think those crazy trains in India where people are riding on the top and sides and it slows down, doesn’t stop, at stations so people have to hop on and off). But I spent the whole time “reading” it with my mind wandering somewhere else. When I did focus I was annoyed with the author because I didn’t like the writing or the structure. Actually, I almost pushed myself to keep reading just so I could write a review

    • September 7, 2011 at 4:41 am

      Alley, I’m not familiar with that one. Sounds like an interesting subject so I guess the writing just didn’t work. Too bad!

  2. September 6, 2011 at 11:23 am

    I follow Nancy Pearl’s 50 page rule. Since I’m nearing age 50, in a couple of years, I’ll get to start reducing the number of pages. Here are the details: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/nancy-pearls-rule-of-50-for-dropping-a-bad-book/article1894727/

  3. September 6, 2011 at 11:43 am

    good perennial question
    I think I’ll write my own post about this… Trying to think of books I’ve given up on and then picked back up and read hungrily… there are tons of those, for me.

  4. September 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    I’m kind of compulsive about finishing books. For some silly reason I always fear that the ending may be the very best part so if I give up on a book before the end, maybe I will miss the absolute best part of the work that will make the so-so stuff before it worthwhile.

    The only books I can recall not finishing recently are Vanity Fair and The Count of Monte Cristo both were really good but reeeeallly long. I got kind of bogged down in the middle of each – I plan to go back and pick them up again but I found I needed a break about half way through.

  5. September 6, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    I think it depends on the genre for me. If I pick up a fluffy mystery and find myself annoyed or bored in the first chapter, I’ll put it down. However, as you mentioned, if I read something a bit more literary and don’t enjoy it, I’ll keep trying for a while. The Lacuna is a fairly recent example. I love Barbara Kingsolver’s writing and The Lacuna had so much praise, but I found it boring. I tried three times and finally gave up, but I still have guilt over giving up.

    • September 7, 2011 at 4:33 am

      The Lacuna definitely had its slow parts, but for me it really came together later in the book. Still, if it didn’t work for you, it didn’t work. I wanted to love her book about growing vegetables but didn’t finish it.

  6. neer
    September 6, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    I feel very guilty about giving up on a book midway and agonize over both the time wasted and my inability to finish it. That said, I just can’t take too much of sadistic/ sexual violence so I too could not read The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. And yes, I whole heartedly agree with you about not enjoying certain books that have received great reviews. All the world was talking about Dragon Tatoo but it simply made me puke.

    • September 7, 2011 at 4:32 am

      It’s always nice to hear when someone has the same reaction to a book… I don’t mind being an outlyer but I definitely wonder what everyone else loved that I missed. Although that kind of thriller isn’t my favorite genre either, so that may have something to do with it.

  7. September 8, 2011 at 12:25 am

    I never used to give up on books, but lately I have been doing it all the time. Pregnancy brain is to blame. But all the same, if you’re not inspired then let it go I say. Doesn’t mean you won’t be inspired to read it at a later date.

    I either give up early, or I wait till around the half way mark. Anything past that and I am likely to finish it.

    Last book I abandoned was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the day before yesterday. It is so tiny, and is really good – I just wasn’t in the mood for it.

  8. September 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    I tend to belong to the “stick it out, see if there’s something that make the whole book come together” crowd, but sometimes it’s just not in the cards. The last time it happened I was reading The Sun Also Rises and I know that it’s acclaimed (one of the reasons I picked it up, to widen my horizons) so I was trying to give it a chance. That was over about a third in when I realized that I just didn’t care one little bit about the protagonist or what was going on, the writing was grating on my nerves and I couldn’t remember what happened three pages ago. So The Sun… went to Goodwill on the next trip over, hopefully someone will enjoy it.

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