Maybe Matilda: When the reading gets tough, I run for the hills.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

When the reading gets tough, I run for the hills.

I know readers who finish every book they open. If they start reading it, they see it through, period. I recently read an article somewhere that suggested that readers have an obligation to finish every book they begin, that it’s somehow wrong or irresponsible to start reading a book and abandon it partway through.

I couldn’t disagree more.

If you are one who finishes everything you start, more power to you; I wish you lots and lots of happy reading. But here’s how I see it: I have a limited number of hours every day/week/lifetime to sit down with a book, and I want to fill them with books that will bring me the greatest possible happiness. Why spend my precious reading time with a book I’m not enjoying?

So when I’m not liking a book—maybe the plot isn’t working, or the writing is poor, or the characters are hard to relate to—I ditch it and run to the library for another. I rarely slog through a book I hate simply for the sake of finishing it. To me, that’s wasted reading time that I could have spent with a book I would love.

In the spirit of ditching books I’m not crazy about, I thought I’d share some of my recently abandoned reads.

Yes Please  (Amy Poehler)

I wondered, after returning this book to the library, if I didn’t give it enough of a chance. After all, it took me two attempts to fall in love with Bossypants.

But after listening to an hour or so of this book on audio, I realized that I wasn’t laughing. And if I’m not laughing at a comedian’s book, really, what is the point?

(I do love Amy Poehler. Just not her writing, apparently.)


The Rosie Effect (Graeme Simsion)

I loved The Rosie Project (and included it in my favorite books of 2014!), so I couldn’t wait to read its sequel.

I doubt I lasted more than 50 pages—it was high on tedium, but low on charm. The first book was definitely detail-oriented, but written so charmingly that it was a pleasure to read instead of a chore. This one didn’t have the lovability of the first.


Those Who Save Us (Jenna Blum)

I feel especially disappointed when I fail to be thrilled by a book that is almost exclusively praised on Goodreads, which was exactly the case with this one.

After spending an hour or so reading Those Who Save Us (set during WWII), I felt almost positive that I knew just where the plot was headed and how it would get there (I could be wrong! but I don’t care enough to google it and find out).

I was feeling very iffy about the writing (which aimed for deep literary waters but belly flopped into the shallow end instead) and the characters (who I felt no connection with whatsoever). Then a very strange, sorta rapey sexual encounter clinched it: time to set this one aside.

The Cure for Dreaming (Cat Winters)

After enjoying In the Shadow of Blackbirds (by the same author) last month, I hopped on the library hold list for this one, a YA read set in the early 1900s. It took me a solid 80 or so pages to decide I was enjoying Blackbirds, so I was prepared to devote a little time to this one before falling for it.

But I never fell. It felt slow and boring without the addictive creepiness that made Blackbirds so very fun. (The creep factor in Blackbirds: ghosts. The creep factor in Dreaming: hypnotists. Not all that creepy, you know.)

And have you ever read a book that hits you over the head with a moral takeaway instead of gently nudging you toward some lesson to be learned? Well, this book might as well have been a sledgehammer. It pounded that moral as hard and as frequently as it could. Big turnoff for me.

Dissolution (C.J. Sansom)

Sometimes I don’t have specific complaints about a book I set aside unfinished—something just isn’t ‘clicking’ for me. That was exactly the case with this book, a murder mystery set in in Tudor England.

The setting was interesting, the plot was engaging, the writing was solid . . . but for some reason, I just couldn’t get into it. When you find yourself not giving a hoot about whodunnit in a murder mystery, it’s probably time to move along to something else.

Astonish Me (Maggie Shipstead)

This novel about the professional ballet world has gotten lots of love from many readers whose taste I admire, but it ended up in my ‘unfinished’ pile.

A reading pet peeve of mine is being told what characters are feeling without being able to see/feel it myself—and that’s exactly what this book felt like to me.

I kept being told about various characters’ passion and emotion and deep connections with each other, but none of it rang true to me. When I can’t connect with or make sense of the characters—and especially when I’m being told who they are without being able to see it myself—I have a hard time forging onward in a book.

What sort of reader are you—a forge-aheader or a wanton abandoner?


  1. I'm not opposed to abandoning a book, more often than not though I stick with it. Right now I'm reading Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock- it is absolutely HEARTBREAKING!!! If I would have known what it was about I probably never would have started it, or maybe quit half way through, but that's not what happened and I only have a few chapters left so of course I've got to stick it out now.

  2. I have had that happen to--when you're so deep in a book that you feel compelled to finish but you're not liking it much at all. Good luck getting through that one!

  3. I just finished listening to Yes Please. It was completely different than I expected! I didn't find myself laughing much at all, but it made my commute more interesting and some of it really made me think. I don't think I would have enjoyed actually reading it, though. I have, however, found myself repeating "good for you, not for me" quite often, so I learned something from it!

  4. I really only gave myself permission to do this over the last few years, but if I'm NOT getting into a book, I'm not opposed to putting it down. Sometimes I'll give it a second chance. Usually though, I put it down and move on completely. It is so freeing!

  5. Agreed! I've occasionally picked up a book I abandoned and liked it on the second attempt, but it seems that even more often, I give it a second try and am just reminded of how much I disliked it. It sure makes more time for awesome reading if you're not spending time with a book you're not loving!

  6. oh no! I have 'Yes Please' on hold for an audiobook, I'm bummed that it isn't that great because Amy is super amazing. Up until about 5 years ago I always finished the books I started, then I had too many kids to have enough time to read junk. So yeah, I abandon books now and feel real good about it.

  7. I've only recently let myself not finish a book (my OCD-ness has a hard time letting me NOT follow through). But I agree, children and limited time makes it easier to take that step. I'm sad about the Rosie Effect, I really liked the first one (read from your recommendation) and was looking forward to the sequel. I just finished Attachments, which I LOVED. I was smiling through most of it, and the end just gave me warm fuzzies :)

  8. Maybe you'll love it! It certainly has plenty of fans . . . just not me :-P

  9. So glad you like The Rosie Project! I think it's so cute. And isn't Attachments awesome? Love that one.

  10. I’ve always been a book finisher; according to GoodReads, I can remember a grand total of 4 books that I started but didn’t finish. However, I too have recently started working towards becoming a wanton abandoner, in part because I’ve forced myself to finish too many crap books (I’m looking at you _Scarlett_). Some books are harder to abandon than others, though. I’ve been slogging through _The Biographer’s Tale_ for over a year now, but I just can’t quite give up on it. I loved Byatt’s _Possession_ SO much that it seems impossible to me that I don’t also adore her other writing!

  11. Wow, I'm not the only one who bails on books that I can't get into. Life is too short to spend time reading something that doesn't speak to you.

  12. I loved Possession too, but I haven't tried any of her other books--good to know about Biographer's Tale. And I was just looking at Scarlett the other day . . . it is certainly not very well-loved on goodreads!

  13. Totally abandoned yes please too! Which was sad because I totally ended up loving bossyants and really wanted to love this one as much too.

  14. I normally will finish a book, but I like that I have the option to abandon it. Now, we are reading The Goldfinch for book club and it is killing me!!! I want to quit it so bad, alas I have to make intelligent discission about it in a few weeks so I am schlogging through.

  15. I think I fall into a wanton abandoner....
    I find no fault in putting a book aside when it does not speak to you. Not every book is written for every person.

    cannot read horror. I read Stephen King...obviously horror when I was a
    teen(and not a good thing to do)..and when I picked up a book of his or
    try to watch a trailer of a horror movie I get sick. So not everything
    for everyone. Shouldn't we enjoy what we read...? Even if it is for a is to the final goal a degree or education of a mighty
    mission accomplished.I
    have to say...Dean Koontz is misfiled in the horror category. That is
    how I found him in the bookstore. But he is in fiction in the library.
    he is wonderful and writes about the human connection...quite
    spiritual...and one relates to his characters and events. There is a
    connection. My favorite by far of his is Innocence...riveting....

  16. I rarely abandon books, and when I do, it's because I'm just not *feeling* it, or when I hate the plot and/or subject matter. I am very careful with how I select books, but even when a book is highly praised by many others, I often find I don't share that opinion when I start reading. The audio book I abandoned most recently was Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling. I'm a HSP and just couldn't deal with the subject matter and language.

  17. I had never abandoned a book until just last month. Even if I hated the book it just never crossed my mind that I could leave it. I just need to know what happens. always. I renewed The Goldfinch three time and still only got half way in six weeks. I dreaded picking it up and finally I decided that was it and stopped reading. I've been thinking about it ever since though.

  18. Agreed! It just didn't work for me. Bossypants, though--laughed the whole way through.

  19. OOHHHH boy, I abandoned that one :-/ Just couldn't do it!

  20. That's good to know, because I've heard some mixed reviews of that book--but I'm an HSP too, and definitely need to know ahead of time if there's content I'm not going to be able to handle!

  21. Seems there are a lot of people commenting here who struggled with that one! I abandoned it myself. Just couldn't get excited about it.

  22. Totally agree, I want to enjoy what I read! I'm going to look into Innocence--I've never read Dean Koontz.

  23. Oh yes, the time limits sometimes ruin a book for me! I checked out Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and was loving it but didn't have time to finish it, so I bought it . . . and still couldn't finish it! It's one I might have to take in chunks over a looooong period of time.

  24. I wasn't a huge fan of "Yes, Please" when I started reading it but I stuck with it and ended up really liking it. I think the issue is that Amy Poehler is so funny and the book is more serious than expected.

  25. Finished it. It actually was a good book, just very hard to read. I bawled and bawled and bawled!

  26. I generally feel like I need to know what happens at the end of books. If I do give up, it's usually a biography or classic literature. I started Wuthering Heights the other day. Three pages in I decided to read something else. :P

    I hate when I feel obligated to finish a book even when I've realized it's going to have a horrible ending. When I figured out the ending to The Fault in Our Stars, I had to put it down for a couple of days. I was not happy with how it was going to turn out. I still had to finish it, though.

  27. Oh, The Fault in Our Stars. So many tears.

  28. I especially find that as I get older, my time is more limited and so the books I choose to read - if I can't get into them - I abandon them. I have had a similar experience with many. I've read so many good books and fallen in love with them that I seek to have similar experiences with the others I read and if they don't do that for me, then I stop reading. The ones I've recently LOVED were The Night Circus (INCREDIBLE if you haven't read it), and The Historian. My sister in law has also told me I have to read the Divergent series and Bone Season...supposed to be excellent so we will see. :)

  29. Oh yes, I loved the Night Circus too! Such beautiful imagery. I always admire a writer who is so skilled at creating a landscape. And if you liked The Historian, I wonder if you have tried Possession also? I'm always a sucker for books about people finding old documents, and Possession is a great one if you like that sort of thing, too.


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