Friday Fun — What makes you abandon a book?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: We’ve all been there. Sometimes, you pick up a book with great expectation only to find that you just can’t bring yourself to finish it. Whether you’re one chapter in or three-quarters of the way to the end, what types of things make you give up on a book? For extra credit – as a writer, how to you try to eliminate those “crimes” from your own stories?


headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: It has taken me half a lifetime to get over the guilt of abandoning a book that I just can’t seem to finish reading. But, now that I have finally learned to be more discerning about how I spend my reading time, abandoning books that aren’t living up to my expectations has become something of a sport. My knee-jerk response to the question “What makes you abandon a book?” is this: I’m bored. I don’t mean to say that a book needs to be full of non-stop excitement and over-the-top adventure. Far from it. In fact, many of the books I’ve enjoyed recently have been what I call “quiet books” in which nothing (or hardly anything) seems to happen at all. But still, despite the lack of outward activity, something is happening in these stories – something that gets under my skin and keeps me coming back for more, page after page. I will confess that I still give each book I read more than one chance to win me over, hanging on just in case the story gets better. I think the death knell is when I realize that I feel apathetic towards the characters. Once I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t care what happens to them, it’s all over. Good night, Irene.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: First, I have to chuckle that there is an extra credit question. I haven’t had one of those since my college years! Wow. Flash back! I don’t have an answer for that one other than I try my best to write well every time.

As for what makes me stop reading – editing and grammar issues, hands down. If I see more than 1 blatant issue in a chapter, I’m hard pressed to keep reading. Multiple issues within a few pages and I’m absolutely done – the book (gasp) might even get thrown away. If I can tell an author hasn’t even run a spell check on a book, there is no way I’m giving my time to reading it.

When I was younger, I’d force myself to read a book even if I lost interest in it — it’s been many many moons since I’ve done that, but I certainly know that if I lose interest in a story for any reason, unbelievable characters – characters I can’t get behind – unable to suspend my belief – whatever reason, I will close the book and move on. Thankfully, I’ve only stopped reading a handful of books, so far.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I read a book not too long ago that had so many errors in it–glaring mistakes where people who were standing up suddenly “stood up,” and people who were out in the rain carrying umbrellas suddenly had arms full of flowers–where did the umbrellas go? that I actually kept reading because I was so fascinated by how bad the writing was. Usually, though, I put down a book, like Jamie and Lisa, if it’s poorly written or if I’m bored and don’t care about the characters. Also, if something happens that’s so implausible I find myself saying, “Come on!” as I toss the book aside. in Gone Girl, I didn’t necessarily like the characters, but I was definitely interested enough to keep reading!

As far as the extra credit question, one of the reasons I kept reading the book with all the mistakes was to try to make sure I didn’t make any of those mistakes! (I’ll probably just make different mistakes!)

Susan Nye: It is exceedingly rare for me to toss a book aside without finishing it. The few books that I just couldn’t bear to finish committed no great crimes. For the most part, they were written for someone else. I seem to remember dumping one because it was too violent. Another was a best seller with teenagers but it’s been a long time since I was sixteen. Still another was dry as dust but well respected by historians.

So, when it comes to dumping a book, I can with all sincerity reassure the author that … it’s not you, it’s me.



M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: I’ve been reading library books on my Kindle, which are on a two-week loan, so if I can’t finish it before it’s due (and disappears) – poof! I don’t finish. Simple as that.


29 thoughts on “Friday Fun — What makes you abandon a book?

  1. I can overlook glaring mistakes if the story is interesting enough. What really makes me drop a book are characters I can’t connect with–especially if they’re overly whiny. I have a very low tolerance level for “woe as me” characters (and people come to think of it) 😉

  2. I agree. Grammar errors are sometimes too horrible to overlook. I’m the same way. If it hasn’t been edited well, then I won’t finish it. And if the grammar isn’t up to snuff, the characters and plot usually aren’t either.

  3. Of the relatively few books I’ve stopped reading before finishing, it’s probably a good hook in the early chapters or long, dragging scenes where very little seems to be happening in the middle. Another issue is characters – as Fairytale Feminista said, I need to be able to connect with them.

  4. I’ve only given up on a few books, and only one of those for good. For some the beginning seemed to drag on a bit – although I can overlook that sometimes – and for one, it was just that it was a very hard book to read when I was tired, which is most of the time now. Also, I was borrowing it from someone and wanted to be able to give it back before the summer.

  5. I’m in the same boat as Jamie. I hate when a book bores me. Although I’ll admit that I haven’t quite mastered the art of abandoning books just yet. I really try to stick it out until the end and keep telling myself “maybe something special is just on the next page!”

  6. In this order…
    1. Boring. I don’t care if it’s a “masterpiece” if it’s a snoozer.

    2. Characters I hate and/or don’t care about. But the reason this is secondary is because some characters are intentionally “unlikeable,” like Scarlet O’Hara.

    3. Bad writing. I can get past this if the story is excellent, but if I see clunky wording, dangling participles or sentences with simultamious action, I start to lose my trust in the author. It’s more subconcious, but I’d say bad writing is the nail in the coffin for most books I close.

    As a writer, I try to give every scene a purpose with forward momentum to avoid #1. I create realistic characters with real issues, but I dim the melodrama to subvert #2. As for #3, I try to learn my craft well and the rest is up to personal taste.

  7. Thin or obnoxious characters. When it gets to the point that I no longer care what happens to them, scratch that book. For instance, years ago I just got tired of Holden Caulfield’s whining about half way thru and never finished Catcher in the Rye. Characters need to have goals, I the reader need to understand and sympathize with those goals, and Character has to work toward them. Frodo Baggins has his goal explained to him, in great detail, by Gandalf in the second chapter. That carried me thru the full trilogy back in grade school. Plus all Tolkein’s character are interesting, decent people who anyone would love to have as friends.

  8. If I find myself rolling my eyes over the dialogue between characters, or with character descriptions and personality quirks, I’ll put it down. As for how I avoid this in my own writing, I read everything out loud to myself. That really helps me decipher between what is acceptable and unacceptable. Hearing it spoken changes how the thoughts appear. I also spend a considerable time studying both good and bad books – finding out what makes them tick and how to use what I’ve learned in my own writing.

  9. In addition to characters I can’t connect with, I sometimes have a hard time if a book takes too much energy to read- even if I like it. For example, I’ve been reading Caroline Knapp’s book of essays “The Merry Recluse” for several months now. It should be a quick read and her essays are smart and funny- but they’re also so poignant and emotionally laden that I feel exhausted after I read them. It’s not the kind of book that I can pick up at the end of the day and read until I fall asleep- I need to be in the right frame of mind with a certain amount of emotional energy. When books require a very particular frame of mind that isn’t common during a hectic several weeks or months, my interest begins to drag.

  10. Well-developed characters are a big thing for me; there has got to be substance. And it’s not about whether or not I necessarily like the character. I’ve read plenty of books where I’ve hated every single character (okay, maybe not every single character), but it says something about the author when you can see the time, effort and design they put into crafting a character. There’s a love present, and it shows. Also, I don’t like reading the same old story and plot line, but that’s not to say that any random bits of fiction tossed together make a great story either. For me, it’s got to be intriguing and believable, regardless of whether it’s actually possible in reality.

    In regards to the bonus question, I would say that careful planning, writing and then rewriting would help eliminate these crimes. However, depending on whatever one was writing about, this would often be easier sometimes than others.

  11. Page after page of details. Yes details are important but readers don’t need every little thing. I have the opposite problem I don’t add enough, When I do add more I usually include too much. So I understand how difficult it is to add just the right amount. Sill to much makes a long boring read.

  12. Now that I’m older, as Jamie said, much more discerning with my reading time – there are so many amazing books out there that I haven’t read; why would I waste my precious time on a book that’s a) pretentious, difficult to read and wordy b) repetitive c) boring and poorly written?

  13. If I start reading a novel that is poorly written, I have to stop right away. My biggest gripe: lack of necessary punctuation. If I begin skipping paragraphs because a story is too detailed, I will sometimes abandon a book. I’ll also give up on a book if the plot goes askew and I can no longer accept the premise. Bonus question: I try to write clearly and succinctly, avoid being too boring, and keep my story on track.

  14. I actually aim for the “oh, come on!” moments, so I hope that doesn’t put everyone off. 🙂 I like being a step or three ahead of the reader, setting up situations of high drama or peril and resolving them via something that’s been bubbling along out of view of the protagonist. I have to trust that my readers will be intrigued enough to want to read further to see exactly how that coconut fell out of the sky and flattened the bad guy, because in my work it’s never a coincidence.

  15. What makes me give up on a book? Overused plot structure and devices. Most books that I pull from the bookstore shelves are boring to me because they are so predictable, using the same old plot structures and development devices. I find that I can predict with impressive accuracy how a story will develop and how it will end just by reading the first chapter or two. At this time in my life finding a good book to read is very difficult. If I do finish a book, it’s usually because I force myself to.

  16. If the book is littered with spelling and grammar mistakes, or other signs of poor writing, I won’t even get past the first pages. But often, I’ll get halfway or so and abandon a story due to annoying characters, dialog that doesn’t ring true or a plot that doesn’t go anywhere. And cringe factor is the kiss of death for me: if it’s corny or embarrassing, I just can’t go on.

  17. If a scene or description of something goes on too long without moving the story forward-that’s reason enough for me to abandon a book. That being said, I abandoned Ian McEwan’s Atonement because the beginning scene went on and on. I went back to the book a few years later and stuck with it, and I am glad I did. I would have missed out on a terrific book!

  18. I sometimes have to give up reading translations that are horribly done. It’s rare for me to do that since most translations are on par, or quite forgivable if there are any huge mistakes, but when it sounds like someone has just translated the book using google translate I usually give it up. Other than that, it’s when book is not for me…if it’s too political, if the author is passionate about something I see no need to be so passionate about I will dump the book. Also if the characters are unreliable, but not cleverly so. When I feel betrayed as a reader – that usually makes my interest in the book vanish. And of course if I’m not in the mood for a book (I gave up on Half a Yellow Sun, Small Island and The Diary of Anne Frank and put them aside for another day because I didn’t feel that I could enjoy the book at the moment) I abandon it – although I do wish to go back to them when my reading tastes venture towards them. So many reasons for abandoning books! It’s a wonder that I actually finish the books I read!

  19. It wasn’t until this year that I finally became okay with not finishing a book. I usually give a book at least 200 pages before giving up. There’s too much great writing in the world to waste it on something I don’t enjoy.

    • What do you do about author friends’ books? Or if someone asks you to beta read? That’s a tough spot to get stuck in, especially if the writer has gifted you the book in exchange for an “honest review.” I still haven’t figured out a polite or tactful way to handle these situations. Any advice?

      • Great question, Linda. I generally say ‘the story doesn’t work for me’ and list a couple of reasons why. And I do point out that everyone has different tastes. Some books just aren’t for me and it doesn’t do my friend or person who asked me to be a beta reader any good to have me read something I won’t enjoy – don’t like – am not interested in.

        As for being gifted a book on the condition you’ll do an honest review — repeat that back to them at least twice, making sure they want ‘honest’, and then do that. You don’t have to publish the review, but definitely send them your feedback.

        I find it’s best all around to be honest up front if you don’t like the subject matter, genre, whatever it is, and take a pass if that’s the case.

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