Book chat

When should you give up on a book?

Man sitting on a park bench reading a book. It is a moody black and white scene.
Image by José Manuel de Laá from Pixabay

Once-upon-a-time I would persevere with a book, no matter how much I was hating it, in the belief that it might get better the further I progressed. Often I was rewarded. Many of the books I considered abandoning turned out to be wonderful reads. Some examples include Peter Fröberg Idling’s ‘Song for an Approaching Storm’,  David Park’s ‘The Truth Commissioner’ and John MacKenna’s ‘The Space Between Us’.

But lately, I’ve abandoned several books^, because I simply wasn’t enjoying them. It hardly seemed worth persevering when there are so many other books vying for my attention. Does this now make me a fickle reader? Or maybe a lazy one? Perhaps it was simply a case of right book, wrong time?

Apparently, crime writer Mark Billingham recently told the Cheltenham Literary Festival that if a book hadn’t gripped you after 20 pages, then it was OK to give up on it and “throw it across the room angrily”. I think we can do without the violence, but I’m beginning to think he’s onto something. But maybe 50 pages is a more realistic measure…?

How about you? Do you have any rules about when you should give up on a book, or do you keep going until the bitter end?

^ I’m not going to mention the titles here (head to my Facebook page if you’re really interested), because it’s not fair on the writers, plus I don’t want to put people off reading something that might really “wow” them. Just because they didn’t work for me, doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. Books are the meeting of two minds — the author’s and the reader’s — and sometimes, for the slimmest or most personal or ridiculous of reasons, the alchemy just doesn’t work.

53 thoughts on “When should you give up on a book?”

  1. Abandoning books is something we do all the time. We pick books by the cover, the authors name, the title, whether it won an award or we read a good review somewhere.
    Sometimes we browse, reading the blurb on the back, putting back the ones that don’t fit the bill. We read the first few lines or first page in the bookshop & decide yep, that’s the one for me.
    We start reading at home & on page 8, page 18 or 38 something happens. An icky scene, cliched writing, we lose interest suddenly, we don’t like the direction the story is heading , we’re in the wrong mood….

    I tend to have a 50 page rule, but often decide after only 2 or 3. I’m actually working on a post that covers some of this ground too as I’ve just finished a book for book group that I abandoned over a year ago.

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    1. Hmm… not sure I agree. Picking books by covers etc isn’t abandoning / giving up on a book because you haven’t begun reading it yet. I think it’s probably more accurate to say you are “rejecting” it or “selecting” it, which is a different thing altogether than investing time, money and energy into a book before deciding it’s not for you. Semantics maybe, but an important difference I think.

      But I like how you describe how something happens when you read a book that turns you off it. For me, it’s usually the fact I can see the “joins” and I’m aware I’m reading a book rather than being totally immersed in the story. Things that prevent immersion are, as you say, cliched writing but I also hate it if I discover something factually incorrect or I’m kept at a distance emotionally or the writing is too showy. I’m not one of those people who believes you need to like the characters to enjoy a book, but if someone does or says something that doesn’t ring true my critical hackles are on alert!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is year thirteen of the blog, and I haven’t abandoned one book yet. Roasted in a review, yes, but cast aside? Never 😉

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    1. That’s good going, Tony. I hate giving up – I could count on one hand the number I have abandoned since I started reviewing online, but in the past fortnight I’ve abandoned three! My anxiety has been very bad lately, so I wonder if that might have something to do with it?

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      1. Kim – I think all the drama over the last few years has affected people in different ways, but for me reading is a bit of a safety blanket, and it’s the one thing that has remained constant (so far!).

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        1. It’s the one thing that has remained constant for me too… I normally go through a couple of slumps per year — but touch wood — I can’t remember the last time I went through one.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I answered briefly to this when sharing the post. I think as I’ve got older, I am more inclined to trust when I don’t get on with a novel. Sometimes it is because the writer is young and talented, but as a reader, I’m not inclined to appreciate their stylistic experiments quite so much as some others might. These days it is rare for me to pick up a book I’m going to be disappointed in, but then I’m not being given ARCs to read as a reviewer! All that said, I try to read around one-third of a novel before giving up, because by then I am very clear on why it does not work for me. Also valuable? Great question!

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    1. I think the reason I don’t tend to abandon books is because I know my tastes pretty well and it’s rare I pick up something I don’t get along with. This “radar” has got better and better with age, but also with age comes the increasing realisation that life is too short to waste on books you don’t enjoy.

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  4. Ever since reading Doris Lessing’s intro to the Golden Notebook I’ve given myself permission to ditch a book I wasn’t enjoying – that’s why I never finished the Golden Notebook! She also says give your self permission to read the first then last page, read the chapters backwards, start in the middle etc! All liberating ideas – go Doris!

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  5. I have books all round the house which I have made a start on. But very few which I have decided not to finish, as distinct from not got round to finishing. When I do make the decision to stop usually I have found the book too distasteful to go on reading – usually to do with either racism or gratuitous violence.

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    1. Do you go back and finish those books? Or do you have to start afresh? I used to find that when I read multiple books at once I would have big gaps between books of a week or more and when I went back to them I’d forgotten the thread of the story and would start again. I don’t have that problem now that I only ever have a maximum of two books on the go at the same time, generally a physical book and an eBook (so I can read it on my phone during coffee breaks etc)

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      1. I have said at various times this year I’m “reading” The Cardboard Crown and Bobbin’ Up. But mostly I just cart them around with me and yes, I’d have to go back to page 1 again for them to make any sense (I have a lot of Lessing but not Golden Notebook. I’m going to have to look it up).

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        1. And those are two excellent books! Lessing’s The Golden Notebook has a difficult reputation but it’s always been one of those books I have wanted to read… I did have a copy but not sure where it is now. It might have hot culled at some point when making space in London or it might be in storage somewhere 🤷🏻‍♀️

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  6. I’m quite ambivalent about this. It depends how much I’m not getting on with it, I guess, because it’s true that some books are quite a slow burn. You can tell I’m pretty shallow though, because recently abandoned books include Piranesi, and several others by Respected Authors. These days though, I do try to go for at least 50 pages, rather than 20.

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    1. It’s a difficult call, isn’t it, because those slow burn books deserve our attention – and I know in the past I have read books that I have struggled with but the ending is so powerful that it’s made the hard slog worth it. When you abandon a book, it’s hard not to think you might be missing out on something.

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  7. I don’t have a hard and fast rule about abandoning books. Until a move is on the horizon. Then, I become rather ruthless about culling the print TBR in order to cut down on the number of heavy boxes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, culling and giving up on a book are two different things… you can’t give up on a book you haven’t even begun to read. I am very good at culling books, both those I have read and those that I haven’t, because when I lived in London I had minimal space to keep anything. Most went to charity shops or I took them into work and gave them to friends and colleagues. These days I have ample space, but I only have one small shelf!! And I don’t quite have the finances at the moment to fix that, so, for the time being my books are largely in stacks on the floor!

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  8. I used to never abandon a book, but since I started blogging, I have abandoned quite a few. I think it depends on the book. I have read the whole of several that I have contemplated giving up many times, but something just made me keep reading. However, there have been a few that were so badly written that I could only read a few pages. Generally, if the reason isn’t really bad writing, I try to give them between 50 and 100 pages to improve or pique my interest. If I get to the point where I feel I’m wasting my time, I stop.

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    1. That sounds like a good policy to me. I read 150 pages of one of the books mentioned in my post before I decided I just couldn’t continue, the other was just 30 pages. I guess it depends on how you feel and whether you think there’s room for improvement, but if you don’t like the book immediately and are convinced it’s just going to be more of the same right until the end then I think ditching it is a good call!

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  9. Like Karen, I don’t have a rule. I abandon a book when I think I’ve given it enough time and effort. The number of pages I read before giving up fluctuates.

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  10. I was thinking about this earlier today. Once I decide to read a book, I usually give it at 100 pages before giving up, and usually by then there is something that keeps we continuing to read the book. In the last five years, I would guess that I have abandoned somewhere between 10 and 15 books, and I read between 70-100 a year.

    One reason I don’t often give up on books is that I get to the end of a book and I love the ending and it redeems itself. I just read a book that I felt was not up to the author’s usual writing, and was not engaged in most of the characters, but I persevered. It has a wonderful, unexpected ending, somewhat chilling. So I was glad I stuck with it.

    However, there are times that I open a book and discover within the first few pages that it wasn’t what I thought it was or it is very offensive. At that point I don’t continue and I donate it to a book sale, but I also don’t see that as abandoning the book. So I guess a lot of it is in the definition. If I got more books from the library, or read more of the books from my kindle stash, I am sure I would abandon more books.

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    1. Your last point has given me pause for thought… the two books I’ve given up recently were books I borrowed from the library. I wonder if I might have been more inclined to continue with them if I had have purchased them. Books are so expensive in Australia, it’s a major investment to buy one so you don’t want to abandon something you’ve spent so much money on.

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  11. I don’t have a rule as such, sometimes I’ll get half way through before deciding I’ve had enough but with some others I may get only as far as page 20.
    I was reading an article yesterday that relates to this – apparently there is a concept called sunk cost fallacy which means we have a tendency to follow through on an activity if we have already invested time, effort, or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits. So if you have waited 1 hour in A&E you’re more likely to stay because if you go now, you’ll have waste 1 hour of your time. If you’ve read 150 pages of a book you’re more inclined to finish it because otherwise all the time spent reading those pages is wasted effort.

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    1. ‘Sunk cost fallacy” makes a lot of sense. As I just said to Tracy in the comment above yours, I borrowed the two books I recently gave up on. Perhaps if I had purchased them I might have been more inclined to keep reading because I’d invested so much money in them. (Paperback books are three to four times the price of paperbacks in the UK.)

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  12. I gave myself the 50 page rule years ago and have not regretted it! I look at it as I way of saving my eyesight for something I will enjoy more!

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  13. I have a 50-page rule which sometimes expands to 100-pages, but I do sometimes decide on the basis of a lot less than that. Lame prose, an excess of unnecessary filthy language, gratuitous violence, offensive characterisation*, millennial moaning and whingeing: if there’s any of that in the first 5-10 pages out it goes!
    *I refused to read a book sent to me for review, which featured the narrator’s offensive attitude towards disability. I thought of how it would feel to be disabled and be reading it, and I thought, I don’t want to give this book any air.

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    1. Last year I gave up on a review copy because I thought it was misogynistic. I wrote to the publisher and told them this. I took some delight in seeing it remaindered recently…

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  14. I abandon books a lot more frequently these days after I realised that it’s very unusual for me to change my opinion of a book after I’m about halfway through. (Perhaps I should abandon them even earlier, but I do tend to read to about the 40-50% mark if I haven’t given up in the first few pages.)

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    1. My reading instincts are pretty good… I generally know within a few pages whether I’m going to like the book or not. But sometimes the ones that are a hard slog pay off with a wonderful ending.

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  15. I DNF four books already this year, and two of them I got almost half way through before I got frustrated with them. Others I have quit reading after only 20% or so, when I start feeling like I’m suffering too much by continuing. Life is too short to waste time on books you’re not enjoying.

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  16. I have often heard the 50 pages rule but it seems a bit silly to me – do you read 50 pages of a 200 page book and of a 400 page book? Logically shouldn’t it be a percentage!! There’s that rule about age too isn’t there? 50 pages when you are 50, and one off for every year after that, so, eg, when you are 60 you only read 40 pages. That’s a bit of a hoot.

    Anyhow, I almost never give up on books. I try to choose carefully what I read, and once I’ve committed to it I will usually read it. I have a few books on my “partly finished” shelf, but I haven’t added to that shelf for over ten years. Since then, I’m pretty confident I can say I’ve finished every book I’ve started. My main challenge is the review copies. Occasionally there’s one that I’d rather not read, but if I’ve committed to it (ie I’ve agreed to read it rather than it’s arrived unsolicited) I will finish it. None have been bad books, but some would have been lower priority than books I really want to read. (The unsolicited ones, I may not start, but if I do, I finish it.)

    Oh, I have DNF’d one book in the last ten years. It was a LibraryThing early reviewer book that I “won” in their early reviewer program. It was self-published and it showed – so poorly written. Needed a good edit in content and style. I did the obligatory (DNF) review on LibraryThing and never put my hat in that ring again.

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    1. The age rule is hilarious!

      Impressed you haven’t given up on any books for such a long time! But do you really agree to review everything sent to you? I NEVER promise a review to anyone, even if I have requested the book from a publisher, because life gets in the way and I don’t want to turn the blog into a burden. I always say to publishers it’s for “potential review” and I have never had a publisher quibble about that.

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      1. It is hilarious isn’t it.

        Hmmm … if I have requested a book – or they have asked me and I’ve said yes – I feel honour-bound to read it and, with delays due to my parents’ death and aftermath I am really plodding to get through them (plus reading group books). If they just send to me on spec I don’t feel obliged and certainly haven’t kept up with them. Am I being too conscientious?

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        1. Yes, you are definitely being too conscientious! You’re not being paid and you haven’t signed a contract. There is absolutely no obligation to read anything sent to you, even if you requested it. What’s the worse that can happen? Maybe they stop sending you review copies but that would be their loss.

          I was good friends with a publicist in London and she says they already factor in to their plan that a certain percentage of books they send out (I can’t remember the number but it was very high) will never get reviewed. They treat it like a lottery. They will send dozens and dozens out in the hope that a few might get reviewed favourably online. At one point I used to get 40 books a week. I’m a one-woman blogger with a full time job. How would I ever review all those? I’d be lucky to do one a week!

          I now only request a handful of titles a year and only ones I know I will like but even then they might arrive and I’m not in the right mood to read it or it gets put away and I forget about it. I do not feel guilty about this. But it would be a different story if I was being paid or I had made a promise…but neither of those apply.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Thanks Kimbofo. I feel so responsible for those poor authors, particularly from small publishers, who are desperate for a review, but am starting to feel more and more frustrated about what I really want to read. My reading had become too narrowly focused on Australia. As you say, is it a great loss if publicists stop sending them to me? Not really!

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  17. I’ve given up 300 pages into a book! I love classics, but hated every minute of Stendhal’s The Red and the Black. So giving up after 20 or 50 is very smart.

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  18. I don’t have a rule. I had a phase last year where I think I DNF’d four in one month, but that’s rare, as I usually choose better in the first place. But if I hit something unacceptable (racism / casual racism in a nonfiction book and a novel one after the other) then it goes.

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