To finish a bad book, or not to finish a bad book…

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Allow me to set the scene: You’re on page 98, about a quarter of the way in. The story started wellย  – intriguing premise, characters with potential, even a few snappy one-liners. But as the pages went on, that intriguing premise got left behind, the characters now have more marshmallows in their heads than brains, and those one-liners have gone from snappy to crappy.

It’s not alllll bad… There are a few parts you like. Maybe you’re just in a slow spot. But slogging through is such a chore…

So what do you do? Read or flee? Finish or banish?

This can be a tough call for me. On the one hand, there are too many excellent books in the world to waste time on a dud. I’m not the kind of reader who finishes no matter what. If I’m struggling to get to the end of each page, much less the end of each chapter, then the decision is easy. Banished!

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But sometimes it’s not so easy. Maybe I like the characters but the prose is a drag. Maybe the plot’s become a bore, but I want to see how it wraps up. Maybe I feel obligated (the book was a gift, or important to my genre as an author). Maybe I’m just too optimistic in thinking, “It’ll get better soon, right??”

How far I am into the book doesn’t really help matters. If I dislike it early on, I might say, “Well clearly this book isn’t for me,” but sometimes I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. If I’m a significant way through, I might say, “Well I gave it more than enough chance!” or I might press on because it seems silly to stop so close to the end. All depends on my mood.

As my to-read pile grows taller and more precarious, I’ve become more ruthless in my cuts. If my predominant emotion is a resounding “mehhh,” then out it goes. There are too many other great books waiting for me.

Tell me, how do you decide whether to stop or keep reading?

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52 thoughts on “To finish a bad book, or not to finish a bad book…

  1. I am currently slogging my way through a dud. It is a Janet Evanovich novel that I picked up for $5 out of the seconds pile. The thing is, it was co-written by another author… in other words written by another author copying her style. Granted, Janet Evanovich is not Dostoevsky but I like her clean and humorous writing style and when I read her books, I am usually inspired to knock off a few of my humor essays that echo her writing. This one is a dud though.

    A good question for people (like me) who always finish a book no matter how bad, is how much damage are you doing to your reading habit by reading bad books? ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t that such a bummer? When an author you really like produces a dud? That’s always a disappointing feeling.

      That’s a good question about how much it damages one’s reading habits. Well, the biggest damage I’d say is that it reduces the amount of time you have to read better ones. And if you coincidentally get stuck with a lot of duds in a row, it could make reading in general not fun anymore. That would be a travesty! What do you think? Has it negatively affected your reading life?

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s an interesting question. I think it evens out, though. If you “read outside the box” of books you’re pretty sure you’ll like, then yes, you’re bound to come across some duds. But you’ll also probably end up loving some books you wouldn’t have come across otherwise. So it’s not so much damage as trade-off.

        And yes, hitting a series of duds is disappointing. But it also makes that rare feeling of “Whoa, I can’t put this new book down! Bye, social life!” so much sweeter.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I like to be sucked into a story, eyes darting, pages turning, eager for more. If I find myself slumping along thinking the blanket on my lap smells like dog and could really use a washing, or how fun it might be to balance my checkbook, back to the library book return it goes.
    As a side note, check out this week’s poem on Just Joan 42, inspired by your LET’S DEWEY THIS series: https://justjoan42.wordpress.com/2016/11/13/now-where-did-i-put-that-poem/. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • That eyes-darting/pages-turning is such a great feeling! That’s how I know a book’s going to become a fave, but I’ll finish a book even if I don’t have that. I can enjoy a book in a low-key way too. It’s when I’m completely bored (musing over the wash status of my blanket, as you said, haha) that I’ll definitely put it down.

      I saw that poem and forgot to respond to it, I’m sorry! This week has been overwhelming. I’ll go over there and respond now~

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I keep reading . Its a hard decision for me too but if there’s something I like , if the starting was good , if the characters were well developed , I’d give it a chance . Atleast to know what happens . After all , it may get better .
    On an unrelated note , yo blog is amaazin .
    Can ya check out mine and offer some tips maybe ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • If I like it *enough* then I’ll stick it through, see if it picks up again. But if I find myself getting aggravated with it, then better to stop while I’m ahead. I don’t want to end up throwing it at the wall, hehe.

      Thanks for the compliment on my blog! You’ve got a great header image and I like how your posts show your personality and natural writing voice. You’ve only just started so keep it up!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t even let it get that far. If I’m not engaged after the first few pages then I’m done. My reading time is too scant to dedicate it to something that doesn’t click. Sounds a bit brutal know that I think about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nah, that makes sense. If you don’t have much time for reading, you’re not going to waste it on a book you don’t like. I can definitely be like that when I’m trying books out in the bookstore or library. Writing style matters to me, so I can tell within a few pages if the prose is going to bug me. Even if the story sounds good, I won’t buy/borrow it if the first few pages are bleh.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m also quick to judge but when handling a new book I like to look at the middle pages. Because you know an author’s rewritten the beginning a whole bunch of times ๐Ÿ˜‰ I like to think sampling the middle gives me what the bread and butter of their writing style is like, but who knows? Maybe that’s when they hit their stride, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. For me, it’s a combination of many different factors. If I have a reason to get through the book (such as there will be a test, it’s important to a topic I’m researching, I’m reading it for another author, etc) then I will keep reading hoping to find some redeeming quality. At other times if I’m not engaged and have no particular reason to continue the book will be banished.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it’s a lot of factors for me too, and also my mood. Sometimes I’m more tolerant than usual, or the book’s an easy read so “might as well.” Other times I’m more harsh. Sometimes I have no idea why I’m not into a book and feel bad about stopping because I “should” like it, so that pressures me to keep reading… It all depends!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. My friend has a requirement for watching new TV shows: if they can’t get her hooked by the first three episodes, then she doesn’t waste any more time on them. I stole her idea and usually give books a 50 page test: if I’m not hooked 50 pages in, it’s probably not the book for me. Probably not the best way to go about it, but eh, works for me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great system. If you’re not into it by page 50 (which is a pretty generous amount), then it’s safe to say it’s not your cup of tea. What’s harder is when I’m up to page 50 and actually enjoying it, but then it starts slowing down, getting worse… Then it’s harder to decide whether to forge on or not. Sometimes this occurs when I’m fully 50% through the book and I realize I don’t like it anymore!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I try and give the book the benefit of the doubt because I really *really* hate not finishing things like that, but some books, I just can’t do. Although to be fair, if it’s really bad I will skim through those 50 pages pretty dang quick, lol. As for the books that start out strong and fizzle out…yeah, there’s no saving you there! Sometimes I just put them down somewhere under a magazine or something and conveniently forget about them, haha!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha, it’s totally like that! And then when I find it a few months later under some old blankets or a pile of notebooks, I don’t remember all the beginning parts; I just remember that I didn’t like it and then I can safely put it away for good, lol

        Liked by 1 person

  7. What a perfect bookish topic! I absolutely agree that life is too short to finish bad books. However, if lots of folks whose opinions I trust have raved about a book, I will force myself to give it second and third chances and read on. Usually if I lose interest in a book I’ll skim-read, slow down for the good parts, and ultimately read the whole book. This happens with maybe 3 out of 100 books. But if I’ve gotten to the point where I care so little about the characters and plot that it feels like torture to read on, I will allow myself to DNF–this happens with roughly 2 out of every 100 books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll do the same at times – skim through, absorb the general story. I don’t enjoy doing that though, so I’ll only do it if I feel obligated for whatever reason to finish. I used to be a lot more adamant about finishing, but as time went on, I’ve become way less tolerant. My TBR pile is far too big to waste time on one I don’t like, when one I could LOVE might be waiting for me! I’m really glad you enjoyed the post, thanks for reading. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s a tough one. I’m one of those who very rarely gives up on a book, even if I hate it. I think I actually feel almost a personal sense of failure if I couldn’t manage to finish it. I feel like I can’t properly express my opinion unless I’ve read it all, especially if for my book group for example. Crazy I know. If I really know I’m going to hate it, I just refuse to read it in the first place!
    The last book I didn’t finish was ‘The Magus’ by John Fowles, which was very annoying as I absolutely loved The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Collector. It was ok in the beginning just got a bit dull for me. I feel like I will try it again one day, I got at least half way and it is a big book…

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    • I used to feel guilty about not finishing books too. It felt so wrong! But now I value my enjoyment more, hehe. I’ve become more selective as time’s gone on and with the more books I read. That said though, I don’t give up on books very often, only once in awhile, because I’m pretty good at knowing what I’ll like when I go in.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Really great post – stop reading and cut your losses every time I’d say. No point pouring good reading after bad. I can’t remember much about the books I loved a year ago, let alone ones about which I was ambivalent. Life’s too short and all that. But then I guess I would say that, given my blog’s title…..also, contradicting myself, reading really rubbish books can be quite useful in a kind of how not to do it way…as your post points out, it’s those pesky ‘well it’s not awful’ ones that generate the real dilemmas…

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    • Yup, those “it’s not awful” ones are the hardest! I’ll hem and haw for awhile and maybe I’ll stick it out til the end (“I mean, it’s not THAT bad…”) but usually I’ll figure that if I’m not actively enjoying the book, why bother. That actually doesn’t happen too often – I’m pretty good now at picking books I’ll like. Weirdly enough, I don’t remember a lot of details from books either – but I remember how I felt about them, and that emotion lasts.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I can’t. I cannot finish a book that rubs me the wrong way. If I don’t care about the characters, I know I’m not going to finish it. The only two examples I have are Wild – Cheryl Strayed, which I know you’re either currently reading or finished it already! And the other one is everyone’s favourite: The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger. I have never met a more infuriatingly annoying book character than Holden freaking Caulfield.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I am definitely a finisher, not a “life’s too short-er.” Something to do with my personality, I think. I could probably count the number of books I haven’t finished on one hand, and I have very distinct memories of the ones I abandoned because it’s so rare for me. That said, though, I don’t think my approach to reading (or any one approach) is better than others, or right for everyone.

    In a sense, I don’t actually mind disliking a book. I enjoy the process of forming opinions (whether good or bad) and engaging my critical thinking skills. And as one commenter said above, I don’t feel like I can fully form my opinion until I have all the information (i.e., finish the book). Of course, I’d take a great book any day over a bad one, but it has never occurred to me that finishing a book I’m not enjoying is a waste of time. To me that’s like saying that talking to someone you don’t agree with is a waste of time.

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    • Does your commitment to finishing change how you select a book to begin in the first place? Are you pickier, knowing you’re about to invest loads of time? And does your always-finish rule apply even to the first few pages? (Like, do you have a “trying out” period of a couple pages or so to see if you even want to read it?)

      I don’t mind having strong negative feelings about a book, as long as I can discern exactly what they are. What I dislike is when a book is just nebulously tedious or dull. I don’t want my reading to feel like a chore (or even torment!) to get through.

      Like

      • I gave this a lot of thought yesterday. Yes, I would say I’m picky, but not in the sense that I only pick books I’m pretty sure I’ll like. I may choose to read a particular book for any number of reasons, but I’ll stick with it no matter what, and I’m fully committed from page one. I don’t think I’ve ever read trial pages or chapters first — maybe because I would already consider that an investment I’d want to follow through on?

        I definitely hear you on the nebulous dislike. It’s more satisfying to be able to define what I don’t like, and why. The times that have disappointed me the most are when I’ve reread something I used to like and been disappointed (or worse) the second time around!

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      • Re-reading a beloved book and disliking it the second time around – ohhh man, that is the worst! Because not only are you reading a not-good book, but your memories of your first read are now tarnished! This has happened to me enough times that I’m hesitant to re-read books anymore… But there are other books I’ve read plenty of times and loved every time (or more!) so I wouldn’t want to lose that experience either… Tough call. It’s interesting how much of an impact the time of our life has on a read. What we’re going through, feeling… It changes how we interpret a book, and re-reading from a different mindset won’t be the same.

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  12. I think I’m on pretty safe ground in saying that I’m 99.876% sure that until the kids were born I never gave up on a book without finishing it. Now I’ve got a hit rate closer to one in three ๐Ÿ™‚ Also, almost every time I give up on a book it’s in Kindle form rather than made of paper. I read Lee’s comment about reading time being scant and precious and it’s the same for me – but also I think having spent over two years now reading short story submissions for LS I’m a lot better at quickly understanding what’s going to work for me and what isn’t. I still have a moment of agony knowing that someone has laboured over a novel and I’m about to cast it aside but then I get distracted by a dust mote or something of equal import and then I’m fine ๐Ÿ™‚

    Great topic! (probably about the fiftieth time I’ve written those two words on your blog!)

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    • Ahhh, that’s an interesting point – I can see how reading stories for a journal would put you in a different kind of “mode,” which would influence your regular reading. Sounds like you’re a more *efficient* reader now, which is probably a good thing! I don’t usually feel too bad about setting down a book, unless I’ve really liked that author before, then it feels like I’m personally offending them, heh. Or if I’m like, “This book is exactly the kind of book I should be into, so WHY am I not into this one??” I hate those indiscernible grey feelings about a book.

      I’m glad you liked the post! Hey, you can say “great topic” a hundred more times and I’ll still be happy. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

      • Great point around the “but WHY am I not into this one?” – that is a weird feeling. There’s something about expectation that amplifies disappointment. Oh and I think you’re on safe ground for several hundred more great topic repetitions ๐Ÿ™‚

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  13. Great post! I always feel bad when I don’t finish a book, but I confess that I will sometimes leave it if I’m just not that into it. Sometimes I find that I revisit that same book a few months later and race through it, so maybe it’s to do with being in the right mood, too!

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  14. I, too, am getting more ruthless with my cutting. If I can’t get into it by the first hundred pages, I stop reading. So far I haven’t regretting not reading anything. But it’s also a gut thing, and I keep reading. I also haven’t regretted those decisions either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry for the delay, I didn’t see this comment before! 100 pages is definitely a generous trial period to give a book. What books have you read that you almost gave up on, but you kept reading and ended up liking it?

      Like

  15. Ahh this is a problem I’m ALWAYS facing. The book wouldn’t be THAT bad, but definitely not anything I’m liking, but.. I’m almost done with it ๐Ÿ˜“
    Great post ๐Ÿ‘Œ๐Ÿฟ

    Liked by 1 person

  16. If I’m really into a book I can read half of it in a day if I have time. Although, initially I do tend to give books that are not so great at first glance – if at two weeks I’m still on page 4 then it has to go

    Liked by 1 person

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