In which I am pondering a personal reading quirk

At what point do you give up on a book?

I struggle with this. The English teacher in me does not want to give up on a book – EVER. I want to finish it and be able to find something of value. The competitive, neurotic list-maker in me doesn’t want to give up because I don’t want to be able to say it beat me and I want to add it to my list of books I’ve read. And the lit lover in me doesn’t want to give up because, hey, it’s a book and surely every book has something in it to make it worthwhile. I have this mental picture of the Island of Misfit Toys in my head when I think of the books that I can’t love, and I’m sad that I can’t find it inside of me to appreciate a book on some level.

But that’s ridiculous, right? I’m not going to love every book I ever attempt. My TBR pile is raging out of control. In fact, it’s less like a pile and more like several stacks that are slowly but surely taking over my living room. I have so many new releases this year that I’m excited about, and I work in walking distance from an eight story library. Eight. Story. I will never live long enough to read all the books I want to read, and I want to be sure I have time to reread my favorites periodically too. So why waste time slogging through something that I’m not enjoying just so that I can say I finished?

I ask because I started a book in January and I can’t seem to motivate myself to carry on with it. It’s The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth. I specifically asked my friend to buy it for me for Christmas (if you’re reading this, Alana, I’m sorry!  I will pick better this year).  I should be loving this book. It’s about fairy tales. It’s got a beautiful cover. It’s historical fiction and romance. It’s by an author that I’ve read and liked in the past (although, in fairness, it took me quite a while to really get into Bitter Greens too). And yet…

I have completely stalled on reading this. I hit a point in the book where I can tell something is about to happen, and I am really, REALLY not happy about it. Part of me says, “Power through it, finish the stupid thing, and move on.” Another part of me says, “Just let it go already.” Which voice to listen to?

At the moment, I’ve given up on it because I have Orchid Affair, My Dear Bessie (which I am LOVING – more on that at a later date), and 2 ARCs that I am really pumped about. So I have moved on for the time being, but I’m arguing with myself about whether or not I will eventually go back to The Wild Girl and finish it up.

So here’s what I’m wondering – what would you do? Are you the type of person who opens a book, reads a chapter, and has no trouble saying, “Not my thing – moving on.” Are you the type that feels like, in order to have given this book a fighting chance, you read 150 pages or so and then think, “Well, I made it this far. Might as well finish.” Or are you somewhere in the middle?

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34 thoughts on “In which I am pondering a personal reading quirk

  1. I was asking myself the same question last week. Am about 30% into an ARC and it’s not holding my interest. It’s by a well know author and I need to post a review for it. I have put it aside and am reading another book now. Will start it over next weekend.

    I usually read 100 pages or so before I give up. That’s enough to know if I like the characters, setting and plot. I must like one character to keep reading. I don’t like to give up on a book either. It bothers me.

    I am probably the only person who did not love Gone Girl. Everyone at work talked about it. They loved it. I read 120 pages and returned it to the library.

    • The problem I have with the 100 page “try” is that I wind up feeling like, “Well, if I made it this far, surely I can finish it!”

      Never tried Gone Girl, but the premise didn’t really call to me…

    • I haven’t read Gone Girl, yet. I keep thinking I should, but I am another person that just wasn’t feeling the premise. If it helps validate you, one of my dearest friends did not like the book. 🙂

  2. When I first got my kindle, I loved the idea of free books, until I realized that most them were worth the price, so I usually avoid them. I too am a “bitter ender”, with hockey games and books. By this stage of my life I have learned that I am never going to read everything I want to, and also to read what I am sure I will like. Yes, I do try some new authors. There are two current big bestsellers, one I loved, the other….not so much.

    • I did the same thing with B&N’s Free Book Friday for the Nook! I was downloading them every week until I realized they were, for the most part, pretty unremarkable.

      • Ha ha ha ha. I am having a moment because I have just recently had a bit of the same epiphany. 🙂 Reading is one of my very favorite things. I love books and the written word. My story is such thAt in the pAst few years my ability to read is diminished. I can’t read as quickly or in the amount that I once could. I want to read books I love. I am reading The Other Side of Midnight, and it is worth every penny I paid for it. I hate to think that I could be reading an “okay” free kindle book instead, if that makes sense.

  3. My thought on it is if I can’t finish it I find myself putting it aside to read at a later date. Sometimes the timing is just not right. I feel that way about some TV shows as well. There are shows that my husband and I have to start twice or three times before we go on and watch the rest of the seasons. I feel like books can be that way too, maybe you need to put away the book and restart it when your mind is in a different place. I had a lot on my mind and wasn’t really getting into a book even though I should have loved it(!!) but I had so much going on in my life I had to set it aside and reread an old favorite (Harry Potter series) now I am rejuvenated and less going on in my life so I am excited to read some new books.

    • That’s interesting that you have done the same thing with TV shows! For some reason, I don’t feel bad at all about watching an episode or two of a show and not continuing. I tried Man Men and could NOT see what the fuss was about (please nobody throw things at me) and felt no qualms about giving up on it. Don’t know why I feel differently about books…

  4. Like Rebecca, I’m always open to saying to a book “not today” – most of my books are on my e-reader now so they can sit for a while in the cloud. I’ve got less time for reading, so its been easier to focus on the ones that really appeal to me. Some books just have to wait until I’ve got the time to work through them.

      • it depends….for example if it was a free/1.99 book sometimes it never gets opened again. But if it was a recommendation or an author I knew, those would find their way into back into the reading cycle, it just had to be the right time. I love Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) for more hardboiled fiction but I have to be in the right mood for it – A Drink Before the War was one that I started, stopped and eventually returned to when I was ready for it. Another was Carole Nelson Douglas, I really liked Goodnight Mr. Holmes but it took me a while to get through The Adventuress(Good Morning, Irene).

  5. I’m a Middle School librarian, and I tell my students all the time that it is OK to give up on a book if they have given it at LEAST 5 chapters. I personally will give up around chapter 7 if I get bogged down in it….I will sometimes skip ahead a couple of chapters to see if it is worth while to keep going. Did that for my current read, and its finally starting to pick up in chapter 27!

  6. I find that I read in genre cycles and if I am finding it hard going on a book, it is usually because I am winding down in the cycle I have been in and am getting ready to move to a different genre. So I might try to finish but if I set it down and move on, I will leave the bookmark where it is and pick it up again at that point at a later date and usually have no trouble getting it read. I do find that my personality is that I “have to” finish a book that I have started, but no rule about when. There has only been one book I started that I did not go back and finish, I just couldn’t bring myself to read any more of it (it was just too disturbing to me). I still plan to go back and try and read the rest of Count of Monte Christo, I started reading it when I was a lot younger and got stuck about chapter 3 and set it down for later and have just not gone back to try again. Even if I start reading something I recognize as having read before, I will finish it (once read a book they changed the cover on and re-released and I did not realize it was the same book). I recently finished a book I started 2 years ago, because I was ready to read that genre again.

    • Good point about genres, Debra. I have also found the same thing – maybe it is a lot like seasons, enjoying them for a while, but happy to move on to the next. You might want to try the Count of Monte Christo now that you are older. It would have been hard to read as a young person.

      Some things are very disturbing to read about, so I have to be careful about starting a book like that. One that comes to mind is Kite Runner which I read for my former book club. Then I made myself read A Thousand Splendid Suns because I felt I needed to be informed about the struggle of the Afghani people. I firmly believe that any government officials making decisions about that country should be forced to read those two books. The cruelty of humans against humans is always a horror to me.

  7. This really hit home to me, Ashley, because I am a lot like you. I have to finish every book I start, even if it is horrible – the best reminder of that is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. This has to be the worst book I have ever read, and I can’t even remember why I thought I needed to do it. The only way I finished was to put it aside multiple times, but I was determined. It never got better, and I even wanted it out of my house when I finished!

    Why do I feel that way? I imagine it is a combination of things. Like you, I think the teacher in me will not allow me to not finish (convoluted statement). Second, I was raised to always do my best and finish what I start – first of three children, so expectations hit me first, and I grew up with that intrinsic value, as well as a desire to please. Lastly, in recent years I have finally accepted that I am somewhat OCD! Maybe a lot!

    Good advice from those who mentioned “put it aside for a better time”. I find I am a lot like Sheila, realizing I will never read everything I want, so I am trying to be more selective, especially since I will always have to finish!!!

    • Good to know about the Marquez – that one has been on my radar, but maybe I’ll give it a miss.

      I am really trying to be more selective and not read things just because they fall into my lap. I’m only recently getting better about telling friends who try to give me books that I just HAVE to read that I’m not interested. I have this uncontrollable need to please people, but I’m learning not to let that dictate my reading list!

  8. I totally will finish EVERY book I start. I can’t NOT finish a book. Instead of trying to actually fix this problematic quirk, I have instead named the result of reading something I hate. It is called Rage Reading, and yes, I suffer from it.

  9. I think I’ve said this before but my reading takes two forms- there’s the fiction and gardening and travel books I read for my own interests and there’s the history books I read for teaching and research. If I haven’t gotten into a book in the first category by the fifth chapter, I let it go because this is my fun reading. But I finish the history books because I see it as being my job to finish them. There is one exception to this rule, though, and it was a book this past winter. I think all of you who have commented that wider circumstances can affect whether you finish books are on to something because the book in question was making impossible claims with no evidence to support them and it was the third Massachusetts blizzard of the winter and I decided that if I had to be snowed in, I could at least read well written history!

    My evening reading for tonight is At Home with Beatrix Potter by Susan Denyer which I am very much looking forward to. My husband gave me the complete tales of Beatrix Potter for Christmas a couple of years ago and I’d never realized just how many of them there are and how varied they are, though my favorite remains The Tailor of Gloucester.

    • I just read all the Tales recently for the first time and it is fascinating how different and odd they all are. Totally let me know if your reading tonight is good, I might have to check it out!

      • I can highly recommend it! It’s one part history of Beatrix Potter in the Lakes district, one part travel book, one part garden book and the photographs are gorgeous.

      • Once you move past Peter Rabbit (not that I don’t love Peter), the collected tales cover a great deal of ground and some of them are small novels. I am biased, of course, towards the Tailor of Gloucester but it’s a very Pink Carnationesque book with its beautiful embroidered clothing which looks like something Turnip would wear. What would you recommend, Eliza?

      • Oh, Peter and his family could have totally been killed by the farmer and I wouldn’t have cared. My favorite of ALL TIME is The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan, which is hilarious. It’s about a dog and a cat who are friends and have tea together. There’s even a reference to Dickens Bleak House. It’s fabulous.

    • I love Beatrix Potter! That sounds like a great book with all of the parts you described. I have many Peter Rabbit and friends memorabilia, because I am a child at heart. Also, in The Ashford Affair, The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle was 6 year old Addie’s favorite book – love all of Lauren’s literary references!

  10. Ashley, I loved your post!!! Whether or not to finish a book is something I’ve struggled with many times! I’ve gotten to the point in my middling years where I determine my goal in reading the book. If it is to discuss at book club or for research then I persevere, which may include speed-read skimming (that’s how I got through “The Girl on The Train” for book club). If it is purely for pleasure then I give it about 100 pages and give up if it isn’t giving me pleasure.

    And I’ve got to wholeheartedly agree with Betty’s comment above about Gabriel Garcia Marquez!!!

    • Thanks, Elmira! I have definitely skimmed a few books for book club that weren’t my favorites, but lately I find I’m just tempted to not even put THAT much effort in if it’s something I’m not enjoying.

      Tough day for Marquez!

      • I have to chime in here, I liked One Hundred Years of Solitude! Though I think I preferred Love in the Time of Cholera.

      • I couldn’t get into either! He’s just not my cuppa tea…Being in my job description, most of my reading is dystopian and YA….Some I love, but I’m getting VERY tired of Hunger Games rip offs…I will admit that with my TV watching the only thing I have time for is watching Wolf Hall on Masterpiece. (Its making me want to pick up the book)…Right now TV wise if its not on Disney Jr. I don’t know what it is.

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