People have rules about this kind of thing: I always finish the book; or I only read books by women; or I can’t be bothered with books that are more than 100 pages; or I only read when there’s an R in the month. One friend says, ‘If I start a book I always finish it.’
Seriously – why finish every book? Why make a rule of it? Why do readers think they need to, unless they think they should carry on? It’s an irrational position, an act of faith.
Finding the hidden treasure
Part of me understands that every book might have some hidden treasure. And I can see that if I stop reading, I’ll never find it. I like to be sure of the treasure in the book from fairly early on. If I don’t see it then the book gets tossed aside. In truth, that means it is left in the pile of books on bedside table, slowly sinking to the bottom, and moved on to the Oxfam books pile when I decide to tidy up. Or returned to the TBR shelf to sit awhile. This is what has happened to The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I’m not yet sure whether I have abandoned it or not.
Letting it go
Abandoning a book is a pretty serious action, an indictment, a judgement. So I don’t do it lightly. I decide when I don’t believe the book will get any better. Usually it happens when I fail to feel any interest in the characters. It’s rare, but it happens. If the characters are boring, or lacklustre or facing dilemmas that just don’t seem very important, well I can’t see any point in continuing. There are better things to do and better books to read.
I’m not going to identify the books, because I have no reason for drawing attention to them and my evaluation of them may not be yours. Except I will mention Dombey and Sons, by Charles Dickens, which just seemed to go on and on – but I may get back to it one day!
Not letting it go
Some books contain pretty nasty characters, in whose company you are really not very comfortable. I think of the main character in Money by Martin Amis. He is gross. But that is really the point. Or take Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. The book is full of very selfish characters who behave very badly towards each other. And it doesn’t even end happily. Of course, just because the characters are not sympathetic, it doesn’t mean the book is not worth reading.
Recently I posted about hard-to-read books. Some of those were originally abandoned, but then I managed to get back to them. For example, I found it very hard indeed to read the novella Chasing the King of Hearts, by Hanna Krall. It was one of my five World Book recommendations this year. I am really glad I did return to it. You should read it if you haven’t yet.
Throwing them out
Perhaps it’s the same people who never give up on reading a book who keep every book they ever bought. I wouldn’t have space in my cottage for my cat and my piano if I had done that. The unfinished, the duplicates, the unwanted gifts, the read-but-happy-to-give-away, the unreturned loans, the out of date non-fiction, the painful reminders – all these can go. Other readers can take them in. Perhaps they will make different judgements.
I like this take on the issue from the Guardian Review in May 2014 by Tom Gauld.
What other people do
Goodreads listed the top 5 most abandoned books in July last year (from a straw poll – ie what follows is not to be considered as proper research):
- Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
- Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James
- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
- Wicked by Gregory Maguire
I notice that these books all had big reputations, so perhaps the abandoners were not their natural readers. And some people perhaps were put off by authors who use two initials in place of a first name.
And the 5 most abandoned classics – same source
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (?really???)
- Lord of the Rings by JR Tolkein (there you go again!)
- Ulysses by James Joyce
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Goodreads suggested that 38.1% of readers will continue reading to the end. The writer Peter Wild when he reported on the Goodreads statistics, wrote that these people think that abandoning a book is a kind of heresy. Others quit after a chapter or (this may be a joke) 100 pages minus the reader’s age.
But whatever our practice it’s good isn’t it that readers don’t say, ‘I was disappointed by a book once. Never read a book again’!
Do you abandon books that disappoint you? If you stick with a book, tell us why!
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