Disliking a Book

Barbara Vey -- August 14th, 2013


I’ve had an interesting conversation with a friend about books.  No surprise there.  The fascinating thing was that instead of asking me what I liked in books, she asked me what I don’t like.  I’d never thought about it from this angle and it was really different to look at this subject backwards.  This is how I feel about the personal choices I make on my own time.  So, here’s the 5 things that make me, a reader, not like a book.

1.  Unlikeable characters

I really need to like my hero and heroine.  If the hero is flawed, he has to be redeemable.  I recently started a book where the hero and heroine both displayed bullying tactics.  Definite turn off.  As a reader, I couldn’t finish the book.  I didn’t want to waste my time even to find out if they were redeemed because bullying is something I can’t tolerate.  The heroine can’t be “too stupid to live.”  The old going into an abandoned building when everyone told you not to doesn’t fly anymore.  I find it hard to cheer for an idiot posing as a heroine.

2.  The Cover

I know this is harsh and it’s not the author’s fault, but many times I peruse the internet and bookstores looking for new and interesting books and if the cover doesn’t interest me, I don’t even bother picking it up or reading the blurb.  This is the reader in me.  If the cover looks cheap or cheesy, my mind is telling me the writing may be also.  This doesn’t mean it is, but it is a perception thing.  I see this especially in self published books.  Writers really need to be aware that the cover is the first look many readers will have of their book and we all use first impressions to guide us.

3.  Breaking the Rules

It drives me crazy when people do or say things out of character.  The author puts the readers in a world and lets us know the rules, then breaks them.  It’s something that has me scratching my head and makes me go back to reread things to see if I understood them wrong.  When I find that I’m right, it frustrates me no end and I’m not happy with the book or the author.

4.  Bad Things Happen to Kids

I realize that bad things happen to kids in real life, but I don’t want to read about them in my books.  Sometimes I can take it, if it’s not graphic and the book has come highly recommended.  The interesting thing is that I have no problems with adults being tortured, just not kids or animals.  Maybe I need to talk to someone about this.

5.  I Don’t Like the Author

Another not really fair thing, but it’s my right as a reader whether I want to spend my valuable time reading a book that was written by someone I’ve seen act appallingly to readers.  We’ve all seen the backlash of movie stars who have done something publicly and what happens to their careers.  With the speed of internet, things are spread about authors too.  They are in the public’s eye more than ever and they should remember it.  I’m sad to say there are a few authors who totally turned me off after meeting them.  There is absolutely no need to be rude…ever.

This is an extremely personal blog of my own reasons to dislike a book.  I would never post anything bad about anyone’s book because that is not fair, but I’m more than happy to share what I like.  If everyone looks inside themselves, I’m sure they have reasons not to read a certain book. 

What turns you off to a book?  Do you find the need to finish a book you started if you don’t like it? 

Bottom Line:  “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” ~ Jackie Robinson

79 thoughts on “Disliking a Book

    1. Stephanie

      I have a whole bevy of things I dislike, a while back I did a post on the subject. But in general I do not like a story where things are unrelentingly depressing. If I can’t figure out why anyone wants to live in the world and it doesn’t seem likely anyone would ever be inspired to paint a beautiful picture, sing a song, tell a joke or smile and have a moment of joy, then I just don’t want to read about it. Characters are more than dramatic set pieces enduring tragedy after tragedy.

  1. anny cook

    I understand this was a personal blog. I did want to comment on your #2. I’ve been on the other side of that one–had one of my books (with an appalling cover) rated with one star (several times) because of the cover. The reviewers were quite scrupulous in admitting they’d never read the book. It made me sad.

    I forwarded the comments to the publisher, but they refused to redo the cover. The book died.

    Not every book deserves to be read. I agree with you on some of your reasons–especially on the incredibly stupid heroine. But after my own experience, I try to ignore the bad book covers. I kind of like the ones that have NOTHING to do with the book. Then the reader has to take the story on its own merits.

    1. Barbara Vey Post author

      Amy, I have to say that what I meant was that the cover stopped me from picking up what may have been a wonderful book. I would still read a book with a bad cover if it was recommended. No one should review a book if they haven’t read it. A complete disservice and totally ridiculous.

      1. Sheila

        I agree with Barbara. No one should review a book without reading it. I will say that a bad book cover does keep me from picking up a book, but I will check it out if it is recommended. The cover alone does not make me not want to read the book, it’s just that a bad cover for a book I know nothing about is less likely to get me to give the back copy a glance.

    2. Christie

      I shudder over some of the covers–what was somebody thinking? (or stuck with)–but I’ve learned to ignore them. I’ll read the blurb and an excerpt, if available. I prefer to go by the author’s writing style; if I don’t like what I read in an excerpt, I know I’m not going to like the book.

      1. Rosemarie S.

        I’ve been turned off by ugly book covers too. It’s sad to say, but if you are in a book store and there is a lot to choose from, I’m going to gravitate to the covers that appeal to me. On the flip side of this, a pretty cover often makes my buy the book if I wasn’t sure about it.

  2. Sheila

    For me it’s characters, overall story and pacing. If the characters are great, but the pacing is slow, I’ll most likely stick with it. But, if things drag the first few chapters I will not finish the book.
    I never feel compelled to finish a book I don’t like. I don’t have enough time in the day for reading, especially since I’d rather be reading all day, but with what little time I have allotted to reading I am VERY picky about what I read. I don’t waste my time with books I don’t like.

  3. Ciar Cullen

    You hit the big ones for me. I’m also sorry to say that bad covers do influence me. You wouldn’t walk into a butcher shop with flies in the window, so to speak… And covers that copy very popular books…it’s worked for many, but it’s a turnoff for me. Show me two hands holding out a red ________ or a greyscale ______________ and I’m out. Now, I know Anny Cook’s writing, so if she got a bad cover, it wouldn’t influence me to not buy her book.

    I’m not a fan of erotica, so it probably is unfair of me to say what I don’t like there, but a book without a plot full of sex scenes is pretty much just porn to me. If it has a good plot and great characterization, I’m okay.

    And I’m over the headless buff torso. Oh wait, that’s covers.

    Books with crouching cat-like heroines with swords/guns/steampunk items strapped to their backs. Wait, covers again. Wow, very important to me.

  4. joysann

    Hi, Barbara, I’ve been thinking about this very thing for the past few days as I’ve experienced the dilemma myself, and you’ve hit a couple of things that are true for me. And I have something I’d like to add.

    I KNOW there’s a bad guy, and that s/he’s really bad. Authors might enjoy creating their antagonist with great detail, and there are readers that enjoy that. I only want to know how the antagonist influences the plot. I don’t want to spend time there. I don’t want to observe, develop any sympathy or understanding, and spend pages and chapters with someone so ugly, graphically doing all the ugly things, whether its physical cruelty or manipulation and bullying. I’ll stop reading a book when the evilness gets too uncomfortable or I get just plain bored, having figured out the impact on the story. Besides, most often s/he’s going to die anyway, usually without facing any other consequences.

    Sometimes, I just skip to the end…

  5. Vicki Batman

    Hi, Barbara: I’m agreeing with you on your points. Sometimes, the cover is not what the author wanted either; that’s when I go to the blurb. But I do finish just about every book I start.

    1. Barbara Vey Post author

      It really doesn’t matter who’s idea the cover is, the fact of the matter is that covers are important and I think it impacts sales. Again, not fair, but it’s the way things are.

  6. Loretta Rogers

    With some publishers, the author gets very little imput about the cover. They get what they get, and complaining doesn’t help. One annoying point for me is when the character’s names don’t fit the time period of the book. I have stopped reading a book and skipped to the end because the pacing was so slow that the plot was stalled.

    1. Barbara Vey Post author

      Loretta, I’m with you. Another thing that irritates me is how many books insist on giving women names that generally are considered male names. I know people have them, but I need help separating the male and female characters. How many books have you read where the woman is named Sam, George, Andy, Alex or Chuck. Too many for me lately and that includes historicals. I just think it’s overused.

  7. Inara Scott

    I’m completely with you on #4! Also, I can’t read books with sad endings. Anything with a review or blurb that claims, “triumph of the human spirit” or “wrenching and emotional” or any such nonsense and I’m outta there. This, of course, is why I love romance!

  8. katy lee

    Too much of the author talking and not enough of the characters. I like a book with a point but not an agenda. I also don’t like stories where sexual tension is the only conflict. I want a unique story and characters to fall in love with.

  9. Dana Stabenow

    i so agree with your number 1. I only made it about a quarter of the way into Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth for that reason. I need at least one character I can like.

    And your number 4–I just reread through my collection of Dick Francis, and stubbed my toe yet again on Wild Horses, where a thirty-year old man invites a seventeen-year old girl to come to L.A. with him. No strings, he says, but he’s thinking that in a few more years…isn’t that called grooming? Ick. It’s going to the library book sale this time.

    1. Ginny Jones

      Dana – I agree with you about House of Mirth, but I plugged through it because a friend said it was wonderful. The character doesn’t get any more likeable. She was pathetic, right up to the end!
      And I just finished reading Lolita for the first (and last) time. I didn’t like or sympathize with either of the main characters. But I finished the book, just because it is a “classic”. And I wanted to get it off my TBR Banned Books list. Silly reasons for sticking it out!

      1. Dana Stabenow

        “Classic” novels. There is a whole ‘nother topic. I hereby give you gracious permission to stop reading any book you don’t like. Heck, any book you don’t love. Life is too short to read either.

          1. Dana Stabenow

            And disliking a “classic” novel always makes me feel inadequate, in the wrong, too stupid to understand why all the critics and list makers loved this novel that I couldn’t stand. There was a time when I felt that I ought to read all the Pulitzer prize winners. That lasted until Wallace Stegner, who never wrote a woman character he liked, so how could I? I made then the decision to stick with popular fiction. It’s just less enraging.

        1. Christie

          Oh, “Anna Karenina” does it for me every time–ugh, that character makes me mental! And “Entertainment Weekly” just put it at the top of their best books of all time list–of course, they also chose “Citizen Kane” as the best movie (another ugh). But that’s a subject for another blog :-0

  10. Ellie Miller

    Interesting that this shows up today when just yesterday I walked away from a novel that I SHOULD have relished: an historical mystery/unusually interesting concept/well (perhaps too well) written, and I got to thinking at the time: why did I decide…this is just not for me? Conclusion? Primarily its graphic guts-and-gore scenarios (a la Jack the Ripper) graphically and repetitively portrayed. As a senior (retired, widowed and living alone), I read close to a book a day, and more and more lately, I’m choosing to reread old favorites rather than find myself thoroughly fed-up in media res of something new which outrages my sensibilities. And, believe me, I’m no prude! Perhaps its an age thing, but I’ve discovered/realized lately that my tolerance levels for graphic sex and violence have decreased enormously. Dammit! Less really IS more from my POV, and writers whom I enjoy, respect and follow know exactly when to stop and turn things over to my imagination.

  11. JD Thomas

    When an author tells me – blatantly or through inference and implication – that a character is very intelligent and then goes on to prove themselves wrong.

    One of the hardest things for any author to do is to create a major character that is smarter than the author. This is hard to pull off and should be avoided by anyone without that special knack needed to accomplish it successfully.

  12. Cindy Ulrich

    I agree with everyone. I read for pleasure and enjoyment- not to see the daily traumas recreated in the book I am holding. If I want that I’ll watch the evening news. But when I read I escape to a different time and place (preferably Regency England, but I will ‘go’ elsewhere & even have a few contemporary books/authors l like). I don’t want an over abundance of graphic violence, blood and sex and like the rest of you – leave kids and animals alone! My biggest lament is some of my favorite authors are no longer writing and I am searching for new favorites and re-reading my old ones!

    1. Ellie Miller

      In some cases, it isn’t that they’re no longer writing…it’s that they’re no longer being published. IMHO Mid-list authors are an endangered species these days. One of the joys of the Internet for me is being able to gain direct access to authors whom I enjoy to tell them so and (usually) ask what next? Recently I’ve corresponded with several authors of series which I really love that have suddenly come to a screeching halt and been told in each case: YES! I have more in my head, but my contract was not renewed.

  13. Leah

    I agree with Joysann, some books are just too depraved. I really liked the characters in Jonathan Kellerman’s series, but the books were too much for me to read at a certain point. I didn’t want to immerse myself in evil, nastiness & horror. I understand evil exists, I prefer to read murder mysteries & understand that there may be some unpleasantness, but I see no need to wallow in it.

  14. Nancy Holland

    Two comments. One, I totally agree about grim books with unhappy endings. Get enough of that in real life. The one that hasn’t been mentioned is predictable stories. Read a series of three books that were beautifully written, but I could pick out the bad guy early on (and I’m not usually a mystery reader) in all three, except the third one had an only somewhat believable twist at the end and it turned out to be someone else. Doesn’t encourage me to seek out others by the same author.

  15. Paula R.

    Barbara, this is an interesting post. Number 5 is the biggest things for me. Number 1 won’t make me hate the book because there is always something for me to like…the setting for instance. i have read a couple of books where I didn’t like the characters too much, but i fell in love with the setting. That said, i would probably re-read the book again yo see if the characters affect me the same way. being an emotional reader, my mood definitely plays a big part in whether or not I like the characters or I don’t. That’s why I don’t let number one be a deal breaker. However, number 5 is a big no no. If I see an author being rude to anyone, not just readers, I don’t buy their books. They could be the best authors in the world, and it won’t matter. I am a big believer in treating people the way you want to be treated, and their is no gray in that for me.

    Peace and love,
    Paula R.

  16. Jacs

    Before Internet (B.I.) authors were faceless people who wrote fantastic books. I fell in love with their characters and stories and I had so many ‘keeper’ authors.
    And then social media happened. More and more authors were accessible to the fans online or by meeting them at signings or conferences and for the most part, I loved (love) that they are. Authors like Sherrilyn Kenyon, Dianna Love, Sharon Sala, Eileen Dreyer, Linda Howard, Virginia Kantra Deborah Cooke are among the many authors I have met that are just fantastic not just to their readers but their peers as well.
    I’m lucky that the few authors that have been rude to me or I have seen be rude to fellow writers are few and far between; unfortunately some are NYT best selling authors that I loved reading for years until I actually met them or saw how they treated my friends and others. Both in person or online. When that happened I was a little upset that I invested MY money on those writers. And while you can say said writer could have had a bad day or that they don’t like going to public events then they should not be doing them.

    As for the book itself–unless the cover is gawd awful ugly with clashing colours, I may still look at it. Especially if the title is catchy or if I see an author I love, do a cover blurb.

    Yes TSTL heroines bother me, heroes/heroines that I can’t root for or don’t want to root for, authors writing plots for shock value only,

    Bad editing, bad grammar that has nothing to do with characterization, and many misspelled will stop me from finishing a book and not want to buy that authors second one.

    And I don’t like it when I like both a hero and heroine in a book but together. They have no chemistry together but for some reason the author thinks that they are ‘made for each other’, while I’m ‘yeah I don’t see it’, especially with those secondary characters we may have met in other books.

    Great topic, Barbara :)

    1. Laurie Giese

      I agree with the editing and grammar. If the bad grammar is relative to a character, that’s fine. But an author should be a master of spelling and sentence structure and the editing should catch any errors. One or two errors wouldn’t stop me from finishing a book, but more than that, I’d really have to think about reading more books by that author. No excuse for it.

    2. Barbara Vey Post author

      We agree on the grammar, spelling and bad editing, although I’ll really try to stick it out if I’m liking the book, but these are easily corrected on an ebook. Not so much on a print book. Too bad.

  17. Misty H

    Author impressions are very big with me. I had a major author treat me fairly rude once and that was the last time I either suggested or read one of her books. I will also go on a limb her and mention that authors need to give independent book sellers some love too. We are the front lines when it comes to putting books into readers hands. Not only am I a book seller, I am a cover designer as well. In this era of self publishing authors have to look at the cost when it comes to covers. Those major publisher covers don’t come cheap when it comes to art work. So sometimes you will have a cover that might be beyond simple and yet the book itself is very good, that goes back to the don’t judge a book by its cover phrase. If I am reading a violent suspense book, I expect an author to use real life situations and if it means children or animals getting hurt, I deal with it.

    1. Barbara Vey Post author

      Ditto on the independent booksellers. Everyone is in this together and should be working like that. I do have to disagree on the cover though. If it’s going to be so off putting that people won’t even take the time to read what it’s about, it isn’t worth anything. Better to consider spending a little extra for the long term. IMHO.

  18. Kat B

    My friend and I don’t mind what you do to the humans, but if animals are harmed it really upsets us. We have developed a warning system. If a book or movie hurts an animal, it is labelled “Red Fern.” And then usually followed by a gradation. For instance, The Conjurring is “Red Fern, but not gory and is respectful.”

    1. Barbara Vey Post author

      Kat, when my son was in grade school he had to read “Where the Red Fern Grows.” We read it together and when we got to the end we were both crying and saying how much we hated the book. Red Fern is a great code to use.

  19. SteveA21

    Excessive cynicism is something I can’t stand. I can’t even remember the name of it now, but the poster-child for what I don’t like was a book set in Texas, I believe, and the whole point of it was for the author to show how much he hated Texas and everybody in Texas and how much better he was than the place and the people he was writing about. I hated that book – and the author!

  20. Lise Horton

    Barbara, I actually agree with all of your points, including (maybe we can get a discount on our joint therapy?) the issue of harm to adults vs. children and animals. Perhaps that’s because we presume adults have the luxury of judgement and fighting back whereas children and animals so much less so.
    The one thing I will add is my personal issue with subject matter. I recently was reading a book by an author I have always enjoyed (and recommended). She chose to address a very volatile social issue on which I have strong feelings and opinions. Her stance was made very clear in her book and it was not mine. I have now found myself unwilling to buy, read or recommend any of her books. Just the opinionated reader in me and perhaps dovetails with your own issue with unlikeable authors (I do the same thing with TV/film/music celebs, too). There are many things I am willing to give an author a pass on, but several hard and fast ones I will not. Great discussion!

    1. Barbara Vey Post author

      Lise, I’m fine if it’s the character’s POV with social issues, but I agree, it’s not comfortable when you know the author has a personal agenda and and is force-feeding the readers. If someone writes about a controversial subject, there will always be people who love it and those who hate it. Just the nature of the beast.

  21. Kate Pavelle

    The five points above are interesting, as well as the responses below. I find that with no. 1, liking at least one character, I have to change my expectations when I read books written by European authors. Their characters tend to be more fallible, and the authors don’t feel oblige to disguise the base motives of their actions. Instead of being inspirational, the books bring the heroes to the common, base denominator in search of what makes us all alike. It’s not “beautiful.”
    American literature in general, even the gory and violent kind, tends to have some kind of a happy ending, and even if the hero is flawed, he or she is redeemable. It’s positive, inspirational, optimistic. Europeans often scoff at our “Hollywood happy endings” and “Disneyesque approach to reality,” but I happen to enjoy the positive and inspirational aspects of a good read.

    The flip side of our national sensibility is that, when an author offs a character, there is hue and cry. Never mind that she killed him in order to save the dramatic tension in a long-runnig series and that he lived a good life and died a worthy death: we don’t tolerate that sort of a thing well at all.

    1. Christie

      Remember–Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to resurrect Sherlock Holmes because of the hue and cry from readers after his ‘death.’ I think that’s a ‘reader’ trait, not one of nationality. And I can think of a couple of other British authors I’ve read who have done the same thing (one resulted in a resurrection and one didn’t).

  22. Barbara Vey Post author

    Kate, great point about the killing off of favorite characters. I watch the BBC shows and they actually seem to revel in killing off the regular characters. I don’t like it, but it sure keeps you on your toes when you’re watching it.

    1. Ellie Miller

      Agree re: BBC but there, especially in the case of long-running shows such as “Downton Abbey” (NB: don’t you LOVE IT!) , as I understand it, the script is reworked in order to allow the actor portraying the character to move on to other roles in something else.

  23. Wendy Loveridge

    I don’t like a book which is supposedly written about Regency England with words like “out back”, “gotten” or “trash” as examples used, as this reminds me it is a story written by someone who has not properly researched. I also prefer our heroes or heroines to be not always handsome or beautiful as this is not real life. I particularly like books written about heroines or hero’s who sometimes have physical disabilities (to use an example Lady Gwen in one of Mary Balogh’s books) where her leg was shortened by an accident and the hero was slightly less than the normal type of gentleman.

  24. Inara Scott

    What are your book turn-offs? Mine’s easy: anything with a sad ending. I attribute this to my overly empathetic nature, rather than my shallow brain. :)

  25. Heather Mars

    I have to like or at least find some common ground with my protagonist. And, I need to have some light somewhere in the story. There’s enough darkness in the world, give me a wee bit of light at the end of that tunnel.

  26. Sharon Sala

    The first thing that always sets my teeth on edge is a character who does something stupid…like going outside in the dark to see what’s making a noise when there’s a killer on the loose… the old “too stupid to live” syndrome. Once I am introduced to that kind of a character, I lose my investment in caring what happens to her.

  27. SteveA21

    Another thing that will stop me in my tracks is if I’m reading a non-fiction book and I fun into a point where I conclude that there’s no reality to the book. One example was a recent book, “Full Service” where the author claimed to have been a sexual provider to virtually every major Hollywood star. It wasn’t well-written, and at the point that I concluded that it was completely made-up – very early on in the book – there was no reason to continue to read it.

    Another example was a book about the drug cartels in Mexico. Again, it wasn’t well-written, and when the author started writing about the tons of cocaine being carried in briefcases, it was pretty clear that there was no veracity to anything in this particular book and I stopped reading it.

  28. Loraine Bond

    #1 & #5 I don’t like to read about people that I wouldn’t invite into my home – that is as central characters – bad guys and gals are different. I don’t want them in my home but there is a thrill. Authors who are creeps are a turn off. I used to love a local detective fiction writer until I met a few of his girlfriends – they had to wear scarfs to cover up the strangulation marks. i couldn’t read his books anymore and when he died and everyone wanted to honor him I was shocked. Kids dying is an interesting scenario. The Lovely Bones is a case in point. Kids die and if acknowledged properly it doesn’t bother me, but for shock value I would rather read something else. I don’t feel required to finish something I start. If I don’t like it there are always other books. I agree with the Wallace Stegner – when I admitted in book club that I skipped part of the book because he was pompous the women agreed and the men scoffed.

  29. Edie Ramer

    This is a great post. Probably everything you said turns me off too. I’m also turned off by whiny heroines. When they start off thinking their world is so awful because of petty things, they’ve lost me. Especially since I have a friend who’s been going through a lot worse for a long time, and she’s always upbeat. (You know who I’m talking about.)

    I could go on about other things I don’t like in books, but then I’ll start sounding whiny, too. lol

    1. Ellie Miller

      Oh wow! May I PLEASE second this! When I got to the end of the latest Shugak novel (a simply GRAND!!!! read as always), I quite literally let out a howl of NO!!!!! that you could have heard a block away.

  30. Dorothy Cora Moore

    Dear Barbara,

    I teach a creative writing course in Prescott, Arizona, and my students have ranged from 16 to 70 years old. I am also a screenwriter and epic novelist.

    An attorney in my class forwarded your blog to me this morning re “Disliking a Book.” I am forwarding it, and the responses thereto, to my students in that I think it will help them to understand what readers like and dislike from more than one point of view.

    We have talked about each point mentioned in class. What you and your followers write, backs up what I teach. It is my hope that your article will now cement a reader’s likes and dislikes, into their sweet little heads.

    This year I have taken all my class handouts and have created a book entitled “Writing Made Easy — How to Create a Tight Plot and Memorable Characters.” I am using your blog to make sure I haven’t missed anything important to readers. Please let me know if you would like a copy of my book to critique, either in manuscript or published form. I hope to have it ready this fall.

    Thank you for a very insightful article, and the important comments that followed.



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