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Book Stoppage

I have stopped reading another book.  A long time ago, I would read a book to the end whether I liked it or not.  Sometimes, if I was only two or three pages in, it felt fair to quit.  Sort of like spitting out a piece of gum after two chews when you suddenly remember that you don’t like spearmint.  But once I had blown a bubble with the gum, I was all in until the flavour was gone.  And that’s how I’ve always been with books.

Since September, I have stopped reading dozens of books.  Sometimes I’m a chapter in.  Other times, I’m only a chapter or two to the end when I quit.  One time, I was six pages from the end.  Six pages.  I literally couldn’t read the final six pages because I wasn’t enjoying the story anymore.  I have a sense the three main characters live some version of happily ever after, but who knows… they could all be dead, hit by a meteor.

It feels cruel to put down a book.  It’s like making someone your best friend and then saying a day later, “I don’t really like you.”  Sometimes it really is me and not the book; my mood changes and I’m no longer grooving on apocalypse fiction.  Sometimes it’s losing patience with a meandering book in grave need of a different editor.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve gotten everything I’m going to get out of the book and I don’t need the ending to feel satiated.

Time feels short.  Life feels short.  It feels too short to feel pressure to finish a book, even a good book.  It feels too short to feel pressure to read certain books just because everyone else is reading them and you don’t want to be left out.  I’ve been using our mortality as a barometer: if I died tomorrow, would I be okay with the books left on my to-read list and would I be okay with the books I just consumed?  What if this book I’m reading now is the last book I ever get to read… will I be okay that this was the last story that passed before my eyes?

The answer to those questions usually leads to me finishing the book.  But dozens of times, it has led to me to look at the to-read pile and think something else would be a better use of my time on earth.  We only have so much time to consume stories and information, and I want to use that time well.

I recently finished The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.  It was amazing.  Such a good read.  I’d be okay if that was the last book I got to read (though… er… I’d love to still be around and read a lot more books).  I just finished reading One Good Egg by Suzy Becker – a memoir about assisted conception – and it’s fabulous.  I blurbed it, hence why I got to read it ahead of time.  All I can say is that I couldn’t wait to get back to it every night.  I just gave up a book-which-shall-not-be-named, and I’m instead reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (thank you, Loribeth!) along with Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link.  I am so excited about all three of those books.

What is your personal rule for stopping reading books if you have one at all?  Do you feel any guilt when you stop reading?

And leave a book recommendation or ask for one by telling us what else you like.


1 serenity { 02.28.13 at 8:00 am }

I stop reading as soon as I realize I’m not into the book. Mostly because I have very little time to read and I deserve a story that captures me; one that sucks me in and spits me out the end. And I don’t feel guilty about putting down a book which I don’t like; it’s nothing personal, it’s just not a book for me. 🙂

I am in the middle of an audiobook right now which I absolutely adore – I woke up in the middle of the night thinking of the characters and wondering what was going to happen on my ride into work today. It’s called “Days of Grace” by Catherine Hall.

The last print book which I felt as strongly about was “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak.

(Hrm. Apparently I’m in a WWII phase.)


2 Pepper { 02.28.13 at 8:15 am }

I feel really guilty when I stop a book, even if I’m not into it. I also feel guilty when I love books that others think are just “meh.” I feel pressure, as a former English teacher, to read “good” books (whatever that means) but I do love me some fluff and YA. I think I am going to use your barometer on my current book. The thing that has me conflicted is that it is the middle book in a trilogy. I liked the 1st but am just not loving the 2nd…too slow. I have kept at it because I have questions. However, I keep thinking “I could just google how this all ends.” Probably not a strong indicator of the greatness of the book. Ok, decided – I’m putting it down (metaphorically, since it’s an electronic version on my tablet). 🙂

3 a { 02.28.13 at 8:50 am }

I used to force myself through to the bitter end. However, in the last couple years, I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter if I don’t finish it. If I, at some point, feel compelled to know what happened, I can always get the book and read it again.

I had to give up on C. Alan Bradley – I read the first 2 and gave up on the 3rd. I love the characters and the story lines are good, but I don’t like his flow or writing style or something…I always end up feeling like I missed a conversation somewhere. Let me know what you think.

I loved The Fault In Our Stars, and a couple other John Green books that I’ve read.

4 Amy { 02.28.13 at 9:18 am }

Perfect timing that I read this post. I don’t know why, but I always feel obligated to finish a book even if I am not truly enjoying what I am reading. Like I have to give it a chance or something. Crazy! When my oldest son (13) was about 9 he told me he had a five page rule for if he liked a book. I should take his advice.

A favorite that I read last year was “Little Bee” by Chris Cleave. An captivating story of 2 lives intersecting. I seem to like stories set in England, as well.

Also really liked “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” but can’t recall the author.

5 Ellen { 02.28.13 at 9:20 am }

As an author, I actually think it’s perfectly okay to not finish a book. If someone ‘don’t finish’ my book, I’m going to assume that it’s not their speed. There are hundreds of genres, thousands of styles, and millions of author voices. It’s okay to find a place that you belong and accept that there are voices that don’t suit you.

6 Orodemniades { 02.28.13 at 9:32 am }

I can’t actually remember the last book I stopped reading, even though it was only a couple of weeks ago. For work I am currently reading The Night Circus which I am loving, along with Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, Keyes’ Courage to Write and Around the Writer’s Block, all of which are brilliant and, for once, helpful. aka This Is The Year I’m Going To Get An Agent.

7 Ana { 02.28.13 at 9:46 am }

Like you, I just recently came to the realization that I actually could quit in the middle of a book. What helps me is remembering that I can always go back to it later if I absolutely must know what happened. Maybe a book is not for me, period. Or maybe its not for me at this moment. I read very very little the past few years because I couldn’t finish the book I had started (usually a book club pick) and refused to start anything else until I reached the end. Now that I gave up that silly rule, I’m reading like crazy! I even did go back and finish the 2nd half of a book I had abandoned last year. I was in the mood.

8 Sharon { 02.28.13 at 9:57 am }

With the limited time I have for reading these days, I will usually quit a book if it doesn’t grab me in the first chapter or two. I used to stick with books much longer, and at one time in my life would refuse not to finish a book I’d started. Not sure if I’ve becoming a more discerning reader or if it’s just the lack of free time entirely.

9 Peg { 02.28.13 at 10:02 am }

First, I am sooo glad you found Flavia. She is an absolute delight and each book is like a treasure. The latest just came out and I’m on pins and needles waiting for my sister to finish so I can get to it.

I too, have a hard time not finishing a book. I know many people will disagree with me, but one of the only books I haven’t finished is Eat, Pray, Love. I didn’t like the writing. I didn’t like her. I didn’t really care what happened. I got through the first two sections and once she hit I think Malaysia I gave up.

I am usually pretty patient with books, because some of my favorite books have slow starts and end up being worth the investment. I’m usually pretty good though of knowing up front whether or not I’m going to like a book. I didn’t even consider reading Shades of Grey or the twillight series despite everyone telling me I’d love them. It’s terrible to say, but I often consider the source of a book recommendation in terms of whether or not I’m going to like it.

I also always finish my book club books even if I think they are atrocious. I have a huge issue with not being prepared for a discussion (a leftover from my nerdy student days).

I just read an interesting book called Night Circus that you my like. Also, I always recommend to anyone anything by Elizabeth George.

10 Cheryllookingforward { 02.28.13 at 10:18 am }

I read a lot on my lunch break. I have been reading books where I’ve stopped and thought, “I’d rather be working right now.” That is when I know it’s time to stop a book.

11 Brid { 02.28.13 at 10:28 am }

I’ve stopped a couple, but I get in this weird habit of starting a new book before I finish one I’m already in. Thus, I switch back and forth till I’m done. Sometimes the themes or styles don’t mesh and I end up dropping them both. That happened with Midnight’s Children, and it guts me I haven’t gone back to it… I always think about it at a bad time, or something.

One of my favourite books is “Sweetness in the Belly” by Camilla Gibb… also “Good to a Fault” by Marina Endicott… They are both excruciating! Or if you want a tragedy, “Down by the River” by Edna O’Brien (wrote my thesis on that one!)

12 loribeth { 02.28.13 at 10:32 am }

I have gotten worse about abandoning books in recent years. I very seldom stop reading because I don’t find the book at all interesting and don’t intend to return. More often than not, something distracts me, I put the book down and it just doesn’t get picked up again — or another book becomes more attractive in the meantime. ; ) I have a small pile of “books to get back to” (among the larger piles of books still to be read). They include Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project,” Barack Obama’s “Dreams From My Father” (sorry, Mr. President), “The Phantom Tollbooth” (sorry, Mel, I know it’s your favourite!), Rosemary Clooney’s memoir “Girl Singer” and a couple of others.

One book that I memorably abandoned was a big thick novel that came out in the late 1980s or early 1990s, called “And Ladies of the Club” by Helen Hooven Santemeyer. Everyone raved about it and it was on the best-seller lists for months. And I tried, and tried, but I just couldn’t get interested in it. I’m not sure if I still have the paperback in my basement somewhere, or if I finally gave it to Goodwill.

Right now, I am reading “Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest” (which pretty much sums up the subject matter, lol) by Wade Davis. I read Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” some years ago, & have found the story of Mallory & Irvine fascinating, especially since Mallory’s body was discovered some years back. I’m at the part about the first (1921) Everest expedition right now. So far, there’s been a lot of history about the British in India & Tibet, the “discovery” of Everest, how the initial expeditions were organized. And a lot of details (some of them truly horrific) about the first world war and the impact it had on Britain and a generation. It might sound dull if you’re not into history, but I’m enjoying it. It is a big thick book, though (about 700 pages) & I’m about 1/3 of the way through.

Hope you are enjoying Flavia. 🙂

13 Rain { 02.28.13 at 11:11 am }

I always try to give a book a second look. If I don’t like it at first, then I put it aside for a month or so (sometimes much longer). And, then I give it one more try before abandoning it completely. I find that often my mood, my day, and what’s happening around me will impact how I view a book.
Generally, my first read is a good predictor of how I’ll like a book. But, not always!

14 Jenny { 02.28.13 at 11:15 am }

The Fault in Our Stars was a wonderful book. I devoured it quickly. I’m currently reading The Age of Miracles, so I’m glad to hear that it’s worth the time. 🙂

I used to be the type of person who HAD to finish a book. I felt that I had a responsibility to see a book through to the end once I’d started it. But one book cured me of that sense of duty. My book club chose Super Sad True Love Story one month and it was an excruciating experience for me. I hated every minute I spent reading that book and came to resent the time it was taking out of my life. I did manage to finish it, but I vowed that I would never again waste my time on a book that made me miserable. I’m happy to say that I have dumped several books since then.

15 ak { 02.28.13 at 11:17 am }

ive discovered sometimes its a place & time thing…ie, ive put a book down before just because i couldnt get into it. ive gone back to the book some time later & realised its actually very good. sometimes its a state of mind for me!

16 magpie { 02.28.13 at 11:18 am }

i have a lots of guilt about not finishing books, but i’m getting better at doing it.

i quite liked The Fault In Our Stars. Where’d You Go Bernadette is also terrific – put it on your list!

17 KeAnne { 02.28.13 at 12:52 pm }

It’s hard for me to stop reading a book I don’t like, but I’m improving. Not enough time to spend on crap! I’m currently reading Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree. I highly recommend Tana French if you like lyrical thrillers set in Ireland.

18 Gail { 02.28.13 at 1:25 pm }

The only books that I force myself to finish are those that I have to read for an assignment or work. I frequently begin a book and then put it back on the shelf (or in a folder on my Kindle) and rarely come back to them. If it isn’t what I want to be reading or isn’t for me, I stop. However, if I’m over halfway through a book, I usually keep going until the end, even if I am still not enjoying it. But, I figure that if I toughed it out for the first half, I might as well know how it ends.
I also have a lot of trouble reading what everyone else is reading or enjoying at the moment, with a few raw exceptions. One person’s tastes are not going to be the same as mine and I find this especially true with many of the “classics”. Thankfully, most of them are free on my Kindle, so I don’t feel bad having wasted money buying them if I quit reading them.
I agree with Mark Twain who once said, “A Classic is something everyone WANTS to have read, but no on actually wants to read.”

19 Finding My New Normal { 02.28.13 at 1:39 pm }

I’ve got an 8 month old so I don’t have any time for reading except for when I’m at the hair salon. I go to get my color done every 7 weeks so that’s a long time in between sessions. So by the time I can read again I have forgotten what happened in the book and have to go back. It’s quite frustrating.

20 Maria { 02.28.13 at 1:43 pm }

Even if it takes me months, and I hate it, I’m going to finish the d*mn book. Annoying. The last book (trilogy), sadly, that I couldn’t stop devouring was The Hunger Games. I’m in need of a few can’t-put-it-down kinda books.

21 LC { 02.28.13 at 2:10 pm }

I have a 50 page rule: if it doesn’t have my interest in the first 50 pages, I’m probably not going to finish it. That being said, most books I start get finished. I also have the (reportedly annoying) habit of reading several books at once. This is nice because I can switch to whichever book sounds interesting at the time. Luckily, I read quickly, so even the 50 page rule doesn’t leave me feeling like I’ve wasted a lot of time on a yucky (to me) book.

Recommendations: “His Majesty’s Dragons” by Naomi Novak (imagine if there were dragons who could fight during the Napoleonic wars)
“The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss

22 Blanche { 02.28.13 at 3:00 pm }

I’ve started to stop reading books more that I’m taking full advantage of the free books I find for Kindle. Some of those self-published authors on Amazon can sure write an excellent blurb but when the first page doesn’t catch me, or there are many typos and grammar mistakes on the first page alone, I don’t feel bad giving up on it. I think that says something about how I am much more selective when it comes to physical books whether they come from a library or a bookstore, but I’m willing to give the freebies a much less critical eye before downloading because they aren’t taking up space or taking money out of my wallet.

23 Mina { 02.28.13 at 3:21 pm }

I used to be the same about both books and movies, I would see them to their end no matter how horrible I thought they were. That changed when I realised I do not have all the time in the world to finish all the books and movies I can get my hands on, so I need to be more selective. Sometimes I read best sellers people are raving about just to see what all the hype is about. But I have stopped reading books in which characters, especially children, are suffering in one way or the other. I started Pillars of the Earth, read the birth scene in the beginning there, got mad, tossed the book. Simple! Right now I am getting back to the Outlander series, I have still some three books left, but I am trying to find my groove again. I feel like reading some Asimov, and that is always such an irresistible temptation to me…

24 jjiraffe { 02.28.13 at 3:32 pm }

I am horrible about reading books at all, full stop. I wonder if being online so often has ruined my concentration as I used to be a total bookworm. We are off to our annual family vacation in about a week, and I can read then as there are no phones or iPads so I’m loving all of these recommendations…

25 Tamara { 02.28.13 at 4:12 pm }

This happens to me very rarely, but it happens. It happened with an Anne Lamott book recently and I don’t even remember the title. I’m horrible!

26 persnickety { 02.28.13 at 4:54 pm }

I used to be completist, but I have realised life is too short to waste on books that don’t work for me (or movies or tv shows). My husband is still a completist. I actually have a folder on my kindle- DNF- did not finish, so I can label those books in calibre.

Book recs
I love all of Lois McMaster Bujold’s books, but I have been avoiding many of them for the last couple of years, because one of her underlying themes is parenting, in any number of forms and the other is the effect that the invention and development of gene enhancement and artificial wombs has had on humanity (this is a subtle but really interesting theme in most of her Vorkosigan series). I am consumed with envy of the artificial uterus- it would eliminate so many of the IF issues. The many variants of the changes bring about the other theme- what it means to be human and responsibility to others. It is sci-fi, but there are no aliens.
Anyway, for those who start reading the vorkosigan books, I would recomend not starting with the “1st” book (Shards of Honor) as it is the only one I will read only once. I forced myself to finish it out of love for the rest of the series. She wrote most of the early books in such a way that they can be read as stand alones, which means that one is far far better to start with Warrior’s Apprentice or the Vor Game.

27 Mali { 02.28.13 at 5:00 pm }

I hate having to abandon a book, so I’ll often push myself through. But more and more I am prepared to abandon a book – it is much easier to do that on my iPad/Kindle app than when there is a hard copy book sitting by my bed looking at me accusingly!

If I struggle a book, I’ll either put it aside and forget it (thinking of Anne Enright’s Booker prize winner), or I’ll realise that I’m not in the right headspace, and wait for another opportunity to try when I’m ready for the particular subject matter/style.

I have to say I read a series of books last year that I couldn’t stop reading, yet I hated the writing style and knew vaguely what was going to happen. That made me feel a bit dirty!

28 persnickety { 02.28.13 at 5:13 pm }

and hmm, I actually wrote a post about one of Bujold’s books
as did Smart Bitches
And a review of Cordelia’s honor, the book where uterine replicators really matter- http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/blog/cordelias-honor-by-lois-mcmaster-bujold-a-guest-review-by-carries

29 Mrs. Gamgee { 02.28.13 at 5:13 pm }

I worked with a woman who did regular book reviews for the local paper and she would give a book 80 pages. If it didn’t grab her in that length of time, then she would let it go. Personally, I’m more of the “I’ve started it, so I have to finish it” frame of mind. There have been a few over the years that I gave up on, but for the most part I finish every book I start (oh how I wish I could have stopped reading 50 Shades).

I recently read an interesting book that incorporated ART (although I didn’t know that when I bought it. I just love the author and picked it up on her merit alone). Jennifer Weiner’s “Along Came You”. I think she did a pretty good job with the subject matter, with only a few assumptions about the women who go through IVF, surrogacy, and donor gametes.

Another author I would recommend is Kate Morton. Start with House at Riverton. A nice blend of contemporary and historical, with a mystery and some upstairs/downstairs drama.

30 Lori Lavender Luz { 02.28.13 at 5:40 pm }

No guilt. I just worry that I may quit right before it gets good.

I just requested some of your recommendations from the library. Nidah! is coming to the top of the queue soon.

31 It Is What It Is { 02.28.13 at 11:28 pm }

I still read both physical books as well as e-books. I try not to buy or start books if the first page doesn’t grab me (either the writing style or the content). Kindle is great for this because I can preview like 25 pages of the book before deciding.

But, yeah, I have not qualms about not finishing a book if it isn’t a page turner or story that makes me want to delay sleep to read it.

32 Justine { 02.28.13 at 11:51 pm }

I always did everything until the end, even if I hated it. Read books because I felt like I had to finish. Cleaned my plate at every meal because that’s what you did. (Interesting that the picky eater in you didn’t make the same choice about books … growing up in my house, not-quitting was a pervasive mantra.) I can think of only a few books I haven’t finished. But here’s the interesting part: I have only started books that I think I have a good chance of finishing. So maybe I take less risks?

33 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 03.01.13 at 3:17 am }

I read very little fiction, but when I do, I finish. But, since I read so little, I usually choose very carefully.

I don’t worry about not finishing nonfiction since there isn’t the same expectation of reading cover to cover, and often you only read certain parts that are particularly relevant/interesting.

The last book I read, which I very highly recommend, was The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption by our very own Lori. I read that cover to cover — well it didn’t have covers since it was (a) advance and (b) digital, but proverbial cover to cover. But there will be actual covers in just over 2 weeks!!

34 Katie { 03.01.13 at 8:17 am }

I also used to read books until the end, regardless. Now I give myself the first chapter (or the introduction and the first chapter). If I’m not feeling it by that point, I stop. If I’m unsure, I’ll keep going for another chapter or two and reassess. Usually by chapter two, though, I know for sure whether it will be a book I finish.

I’m currently reading “The Signal and the Noise” by Nate Silver. I don’t usually read nonfiction, especially nonfiction about statistics and probability as I’m not a math fan, but it’s very interesting. I’m somewhat surprised by how much I’m enjoying it.

35 Tiara { 03.01.13 at 8:25 am }

Aw I miss reading. I love your posts about books & I add to my to-be-read pile (which is actually a list it Notes on my iPhone). I can’t wait to have the time to read again.

36 Jamie { 03.02.13 at 1:33 pm }

This post could not come at a better time! I have been trying to read the last of a trilogy and just cannot get into it. I have always finished books, even if I wasn’t really into them. But I like many of the suggestions here–to put it down and give it a break, 25/50 page rule and being okay with not putting energy into something I am not enjoying. It may be very freeing.

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