Poll: When Do You Give Up On A Book?

To paraphrase those who are in the business of writing about books: Life is too short to read anything you do not enjoy. Do you have certain criteria for setting aside books? Or are you a reader who stays until the bitter end? Let’s compare notes.

My personal rule is this: The book has the first third of its pages to win me over. If I don’t have some reason — however small — to keep going, I move on to another book. That said, I don’t give up on many books because I’m a fairly indulgent reader who often thinks, Well, let’s see where this goes. Also, I don’t pick up anything I anticipate disliking.

However, here are three books that did not warrant my continued attention:

Raylan by Elmore Leonard

Raylan by Elmore Leonard (cover)

Who are these blurb writers? Who honestly believes that his work is “pure pleasure” when they read this book? They must be referring to other books. Are they respectfully indulgent because they’ve enjoyed his previous work? The man wrote around 40 books — some of them must be decent, right? I tried to be fair here, but I hated Raylan.

The only way I could possibly recommend this book is if you have some masochistic desire to compare it to Justified. The hour and a half I wasted on it was entirely too much time.

The Book of Gin: A Spirited World History from Alchemists’ Stills and Colonial Outposts to Gin Palaces, Bathtub Gin, and Artisanal Cocktails by Richard Barnett

The Book of Gin by Richard Barnett

That’s one mouthful of a title, isn’t it? I like my gin dry, but this book was too dry for me. It’s really more about prohibition attempts in general, but with a focus on liquor over beer. Gin is the most magical of liquors, but apparently I don’t want to know THAT much about it. How about we just drink a Russian Lit and call it good?

And The Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave

And The Ass Saw The Angel - Nick Cave (cover)

This is the book that inspired this post, as it is the most recent I’ve quit reading. I even went a little beyond the first third of the story to see if something would keep me there, but no. It’s tragedy-porn masquerading as religious allegory, drowning in a sea of adjectives. I know there are Nick Cave die-hards out there who will disagree, and I know I differ in taste compared to those who really dig transgressive writing, but on top of all the rural-suffering plot mechanics, I was bored. I’ll stick to his music, thanks.

So what about you? What are your reading “rules?” What are some of the books you’ve set aside, either out of hostility or boredom? Give a shout in the comments.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

15 replies on “Poll: When Do You Give Up On A Book?”

Oh, I just remembered! I gave up on Les Miserables, two-thirds of the way through. Did you know that there isn’t ANY singing in the book? WTH Victor?!?

Also, I was confused about why the drunk people were so eloquent. 14-year old me didn’t get the idea of novel-as-political-commentary.

Don’t do it. 50 something pages describing every move of some battle for ONE line that’s pertinent to the story. And yeah, I know that it’s supposed to be about the philosophy, not the plot, but I don’t see how that level of detail advances the philosophy either.

I’ve developed a bad tendency to accidentally give up on nonfiction because I pretty much only have time to read late at night. Some nights I’d just rather have something fluffy than slog through analyzing the deleterious effects of princess culture, and next thing I know, I’ve totally forgotten that I was in the middle of something else a dozen books ago.

Fiction I can usually make it through, though if it’s something I got free from NetGalley and the writing is just awful, I’m a lot more likely to quit. Sometimes I’ll set something aside for a while if I’m just not in the right frame of mind; I started one of Brandon Sanderson’s books ages ago and I was just too tired to keep up with the worldbuilding, so I finally gave up. I do still want to read that series, though. Or if I’ve built something up in my head and then can’t get into it; Mists of Avalon was on my to-read list for-fucking-ever and I finally thought to pick it up from the library last year, and snoooooooze.

I give up when a) things get boring, b) things become repetitious, c) the women are so offensive in their characterization that I want to throw my Kindle, and Kindles are expensive.

RE: b) I have found this so often in romance as of late. The basic problem is restated every single page, or nearly. Yes, I get it–the hero and heroine come from different worlds and can never be together despite their hornypants. I got it the first time it was pointed out. And the second. The fifteenth time in five chapters? I start to feel like the author thinks I’m stupid.

I have often wondered if this was an editorial thing, because I’ve been told by my editors “you didn’t say this thing,” and I reply “yes, I did–it was on page XYZ.” Problem is: I said it once, not twenty times. This has happened time and again, so I really wonder if it’s a genre style thing?

OK, that was a ramble. Sorry and carry on.

Could be a genre thing specific to romance. I think even some publishers like it that way, delight in the badness, so to speak. But if you’re not into it, yeah, what a slog.

And then mystery, it’s about the puzzle, at the expense of character depth. Which is fine too, if you like that. I have no beef with genre writing, even though it’s a smaller percentage of my reading.

I have never given up on a book despite how much I hate something which explains how it took me nearly five years to finish reading Jane Eyre. I almost gave up midway through On Chesil Beach, which was a book that I was warned I would probably hate by the person who sold it to me, but I’m stubborn so I read it through. I hated it.

Wait I take everything back, I’ve never finished Wuthering Heights.

I started a Nicholas Sparks book once. Did not make it through the first chapter. I also ditched a Georgette Heyer after the following line ” ‘Oh, I hope they play a country dance, I do so love a country dance.’ Just then, the orchestra started a country dance. ‘Oh, how lovely, a country dance.'” That was approximate, but, really, was this a bet to see how many times she could fit the words “country dance” into a single paragraph?

And then there was a book where the author refused to use contractions despite the fact that they were totally appropriate for both the style and the setting, which made the dialogue so stilted and unnatural that I couldn’t take it anymore.

Your comment caused a revelation! I tend to categorically dislike/be uncomfortable with fiction books that use non-fiction style prose.* It confuses my brain-am I supposed to be enjoying the story or reading for information? I DON’T KNOW! And it’s like I WANT to care and invest in the story, but the author is holding me at arm’s length.

*Has anyone read “Ragtime” by E.L. Doctorow? That’s the style that I’m talking about. Anyone got a better description of that?**

**Also, am I making sense? A small child coughed in my face this morning and now I have Ebola.

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