When Do You Stop Reading a Book?

Josie Leavitt - July 16, 2012

I was at the gym last week and my trainer confessed that she was getting angry with her book. I suggested that maybe it was time to just put the book down and start something else. She said that unless the book was absolutely horrible, she finished it. Every time. I have never understood this philosophy.
I read too many books to feel compelled to finish all of them. I give most books a fair shake, at least a hundred pages, unless it’s truly awful. I define truly awful as something that is poorly written, when all I can see are the errors. I don’t even mind reprehensible characters, as long as the writing flows well. There are books that will take me literally months to finish because I don’t want to spend too much with it, but I’m still curious about how it ends. I will often start another book while I trudge through the other book. This reading pattern happens with mysteries.
Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for a particular book, even though it is exactly the kind of book I generally enjoy. For whatever reasons, our reading tastes are very particular and all readers know instantly if a book just isn’t right for them, right now. Books that immediately feel like the wrong fit don’t even get read more than 10 pages before they are returned to the bedside stack for a better time.
I’m curious, what makes you want to stop reading a book?

41 thoughts on “When Do You Stop Reading a Book?

  1. Lauren

    I find myself to be very sensitive to awful writing…too many adjectives, a poor plot, a gratuitous scenario or two…I mean, there’s a reason I can’t get through trashy romance novels, even for the sake of fun. But if it’s a book that I fully intend on reading, or a book that I’m trying to read for review, I’ll give it at least ten percent. I used to go with the old librarian rule of reading your age (i.e. I’m 27, so I would read 27 pages before giving up), but nowadays I like the 10% rule. If a book has 530 pages, I will suffer through at least 53 of them before giving up…just to give it a fair shot. If (by the time I’ve gotten through 10% of your book) it makes me want to gnaw my face off, I will stop. More often than not, the book gets better…but that’s also a product of being very selective about what I pick up.

  2. Peni Griffin

    I finish by far the majority of the books I start, stopping only when I reach a point at which I don’t want to read anymore. There are, after all, plenty of other books out there to read.
    The sensation most likely to make me want to put a book away, oddly, is embarrassment. I’ll be reading along and the character will do something so monumentally, obviously, and distressingly stupid that I’m too embarrassed to read on! I’m not talking funny-embarrassing – it’s great when Alice McKinley gets embarrassed! I think what bothers me is that the writer and character don’t realize how embarrassed they should be, so they’re likely to just keep on doing monumentally stupid things, and the plot moves along on that, so I don’t want to watch the train wreck of the plot.
    The other books-stopping sensation is boredom, of course.

  3. Christina

    I think there are as many reasons why I’ll give up on a book as there are books!
    What comes to mind most strongly right now is setting aside a modern-day memoir in which the author clearly thinks he/she is zany and his/her family’s misadventures madcap and is heavy-handed in expressing this humorously…I have several times picked up City-Person-Gets-Out-Starts-Small-Farms books that left me cold by page 20. Others have tackled the same topic and turned out charming books.
    An aside: I once borrowed a book from a friend and confessed later to her that I nearly gave up on it. Then it had signs of life around on page 67 and so I read onward, later feeling annoyed because 3/4 of the way through it was a disappointment again. Her eyes widened in surprise: She, too, had nearly set it aside but on page 67 she grew intrigued again and kept going, only to sigh about 3/4 of the way through the book! Made us wonder if there were mood-influencing chemicals impregnating the paper of the pages…

  4. Barbara Kerley

    I’m with you, Josie. Life is too short (and one’s reading-for-pleasure time is waaay too short).
    If I truly am reading for pleasure, then I want to enjoy the read. I usually find by about page 50, either I’m hooked or I’m not. But I have abandoned really bad books–or books that weren’t my cup of tea–after just a few pages 😛

  5. Annie

    I’ll stop reading when I decide the book is badly written (or read, if it’s an audiobook) or if the main character is doing something I consider too stupid to be borne. Characters without common sense don’t appeal to me, even if the situation is supposed to be funny.

  6. Susan

    Very rarely do I not finish a book. I optimistically hope that there will be some redeeming phrase, paragraph or happening in the book that will make it memorable. Sometimes I’m disappointed, sometimes not. The author cared enough to put the time in to writing it, so the least I can do is try to finish it.
    The worst are biographies/autobiographies, where a small incident is belabored to the point I have to quit reading because I just don’t want to read about it anymore or the author comes across as paranoid; and the trashy romance novels which really don’t have a plot except to see how many times the characters can make it to bed before and after the damsel in distress gets saved.

    1. Michelle

      I’m always on the lookout for the redeeming phrase, also. If I put a book down, I usually plan to pick it up again and finish or reread the book to the end. That being said, I read a book about two years ago that I couldn’t make myself continue reading and absolutely would not ever read again. The author had made the main character unlikable, had given her information that only the reader would know, and re-used [unconvincing] phrases too often: something about having committed to memory something the main character read only once. I decided to give the author one more chance to prove that she actually had an editor work on her manuscript, and she blew it. I ripped the paperback in half and threw it in the trash so it would never again poison another person’s mind! I guess I really have to hate the book in order to quit it.

  7. Barbara

    I have numerous unread books on my shelf (not to mention my Nook) but rarely do I put a book down once I’ve started reading it. Recently, I was reading a book by one of my favorite authors and for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get into it but I plowed on – still didn’t really enjoy it at the end but I just can’t bring myself to leave a book unfinished or put it back on the shelf. I’ve done that twice that I can remember – Punish the Sinners by John Saul (teen suicides) and one called Tamara (a graphic rape scene). Both times, I almost passed out on the train while reading the scenes and that’s when I know there’s no way for me to continue it (I was a college student at the time). Every other book, I’ve struggled through but finished. My aunt says that sometimes, it’s your frame of mind which is interfering with enjoyment of a favorite author or particular book. She often recommends returning it to the shelf for a later time. Another time while in college, I remember getting up at 4 a.m. to finish Stephen King’s the Shining because I kept having dreams about what would happen to Danny. That’s the only time something like that has happened to me and I only read the book because my best friend insisted. I’ve only read one other Stephen King book – Firestarter although his book about trying to stop JFK’s assination did look interesting.

  8. Eve

    I’ve nearly given up on so many what I thought to be terrible books. In some cases I persevered, to find that the final section made up for, or explained, the more difficult start. Others were complete trash, and I should have know that from the cover, the genre, the imprint!
    You have to surely divide books into two categories – those that are worth sticking with, and those that you know just aren’t your thing!

  9. Jessica @ Book Sake

    As a book blogger I felt that I needed to read every book that showed up for review – requested or not. Now I realize that the author and publisher would probably prefer if I stopped reading their book if I wasn’t digging it. (Otherwise there would be a lot more 1 and 2 star reviews.)
    I generally feel OK setting the book aside if I’ve read 100 pages and it didn’t get any better, but I like Lauren’s suggestion of reading 10%. A lot of YA books are only 300 pages, so when I read 100 of those pages, I feel as if I’ve invested too much time to give up and sometimes feel guilty for setting the book down.
    A lack of editing that is seen in the first few pages will have me scanning the rest of the book to see if it continues on. When it does, I don’t bother. If someone didn’t take the time to have it edited before it reaches me, how can I be expected to enjoy the story?

  10. Rebecca

    I wouldn’t put a book down when I was young; but after I started working in a bookstore where we were encouraged to read as many new books as we could, I realized that I couldn’t read everything, so I began putting back anything that didn’t keep me interested. I’m happy to be able to assert myself in the face of bad writing, dumb plotting and self-indulgence! I’ll cut some slack for an author who’s impressed me before.

  11. Peggy

    I use a variation on Lauren’s formula. I subtract my age from 100, and the difference is the number of pages I’ll read before I put the book aside. So the older I get (and I’m a crusty old fart), the fewer pages I have to suffer through.

    1. Sue Campbell

      I’ve always been a finish your peas kind of girl too. But with books, as I’ve aged, I too have been inclined not to waste my ever more precious time. I like your method Peggy and may adopt that formula!

  12. Carol Chittenden

    As a bookseller, it’s more a question of which ones I DO read to the finish, and those are few and far between. Once I’ve read enough to decide to stock or not, it’s on the the next and next and next and all the rest of the 2996 in a given season. A precious few get all the way to the bedside. But when I retire (when? O when?) there’s a huge backlog of highly recommended books that I plan to read from the half-title right through the index.

  13. Goat

    I have subscribed to the fifty-page rule since my yearly count went into the three figures. Still, I find that the number of books I actually abandon in the vicinity of page fifty is around 2% of my total for any given year. Some books are just so horrible they demand a full reading in order to be given the review they truly deserve.
    (For books of less than 100 pages, I will suffer half its length rather than going to full fifty.)

  14. Carin Siegfried

    Occasionally I do stop reading a book, normally it’s pretty quickly in, like in the first 10-20 pages. Often those I will pick back up later. While I am definitely not one of those people who must finish all books, I must say that more than once I’ve been forced by my book club to read a book that I totally would have given up on early on but which had more than redeemed itself by the end (Atonement, As The Crow Flies).

  15. Jon Jordan

    If a book doesn’t hook me in thirty pages I’m out, unless I’ve heard a LOT of good things about it, then I will go fifty.
    Life is too short to read bad books

  16. Michele Brenton (@banana_the_poet)

    I will try and read at least 100 pages if it is a 350+ page book. If it is really tough going I might skip a few chapters and try starting further in because sometimes a writer puts a lot of boring filler in the start I can happily do without and once past that stuff the book kicks in to be a rattling good read.
    If I’m still not able to get into it I’ll read the last chapter and see if it captures me in any way so that I might be intrigued to find out how it got to that final point.
    If I’m still not into it – it moves into the bathroom where I can pick it up and read in preference to the back of shampoo bottles as I like to have something to read (anything to read) during the ‘long visits.’
    If I’ve paid for a book I will eventually end up reading every word in it. It may take a few months depending on my digestive system for a very, very dull book.
    The only exception to this is how I treat library and book club books or borrowed books which I have to give back. Everyone will be relieved to learn I do NOT take them into the loo with me. They are the only ones I will give up on after checking the last chapter. I’ve got one at the moment I think may be a giver-upper. The first paragraphs and the last paragraphs actually caused laughter when I read them out to my menfolk and this book is supposed to be beautifully written and very moving and about traumatic world events. Oops. Not with our sense of humour it isn’t.

  17. Chris Beal

    Wow — I wish the agents I’m submitting my novel to had the philosophy of most of the readers above. I’d love them to read 100 pp or even 20! Recently, 3 chapters were requested, and I thought, “Here’s my chance.” The “no” answer came back in just 11 minutes!
    I love Peggy’s formula — the exercise/heart rate formula applied to reading!
    Myself, in general, I’ll read a few chapters and if I’m not hooked at all, I quit. But I finish lots of books that are just so-so because I’m curious about what the author is trying to do or about how they end. If the writing is terrible, though, I won’t read more than a few pages because — ouch — it hurts, and I also know that I subconsciously acquire elements of the style of authors I read.

  18. P.I. Barrington

    First, I think cost is a big factor–if you’re shelling out money (and I’m not talking $.99) reading the book completely is almost obligatory. Otherwise you believe yourself cheated somehow and I can see how people get upset over that.
    If the first paragraph doesn’t grab me I usually don’t buy the book at all. If there’s passive voice, cliche’ or if I feel the author is trying too hard or trying to imitate another author, I put it down. All three happen a lot–too much in fact.

  19. Carol

    I used to find it very difficult to give up on a book–always hoping it might take a turn for the better, always feeling some weird obligation to the characters and the temporary existence of their universe. I’ve also grown a tolerance for so-bad-it’s-hilarious genre pulp fiction. On the one hand, I read extremely quickly, so it’s never a huge time investment; but on the other hand, there’s only so much time to be had, and there are so many, many books.
    Now that I read more eBooks (or at least preview books first on the iPad before buying), here’s where I stop reading a book that just isn’t working: at the end of the free sample.
    I’ll read to the end of the sample, however long or short it is–well, unless it’s hopelessly riddled with grammatical, spelling, and/or scanning errors. This has saved much time and sanity, so there’s one more reason to love eBooks.

  20. Corina

    I usually read to the end but in the past year I have come across a number of books that I just give up on. Reasons to give up include too many typos or other errors (I figure if they don’t care enough to give me a good, clean, error-free book to read, why should I care enough to read it?) or a book that is just so poorly written that I can’t stomach it. I usually last a number of chapters but in one particular case, I didn’t even stick it through the end of the first chapter. It was just so full of crap that it was not believable to me (and it was supposed to be fiction but it wasn’t credible fiction).

  21. CarrieVS

    I almost never stop reading a book I do put them on hold and read others in the middle sometimes, and sometimes I read only a little at a time and take a very long time to finish, but having started, I usually finish eventually.
    There’s a handful of books I’ve not finished over the years, some which I read opportunistically and never had the chance to finish, and a few I’ve given up on. With the exception of Finegan’s Wake, which no-one finishes, I still intend to read them right through at some point.
    Having begun a story, I like to know how it ends, even if I’m not enjoying it. It bugs me otherwise.

  22. Diana

    I’ll give a book about a hundred pages, and if at the point I’m still asking “Hey! When is this going to get good?” then I know I’ve wasted time and money on it. Some books I’ve given up because of content (one in particular was a paranormal YA title and the witch sacrificed her cat! YUCK)
    Sometimes if I’m starting to feel the urge to put it down I’ll play a game with the book. 😉 The last book that I put down never to be picked up again was another YA, and the author had a terrible habit of pointing out how HANDSOME the main character looked. After stomaching it about ten times in less than 50 pages I decided one more handsome and I’d be done …
    … never did find out how it finished, he was just too handsome for good writing I guess.

  23. Caroline

    When I was younger, I always finished books, but one day I was reading one where the character made a clearly stupid decision, and I thought No, she lost me with that.
    Since then, it has gotten easier for me to give up on a book. Sometimes if I’m not enjoying it I put a book down, and if I don’t feel the urge to pick it up again in a few days, it goes back to the library. I got halfway through one of the current bestsellers before deciding no, not for me.

  24. Andrea Wenger

    I stop reading when I feel like I’m being manipulated, especially when a “secret” is revealed–except it’s not really a secret, it’s just that the author has been withholding information. A real secret is when the *character* discovers something. If the character already knows about it, but the author has hidden it, that’s cheating. It’s okay to reveal information gradually so the reader has a chance to figure it out. But when the reader couldn’t possibly figure it out on their own, and the information is just dropped from the sky, that’s not storytelling. It’s deus ex machina, and it’s lazy.

  25. Laurie

    I’m MUCH MUCH pickier than all of you. Most of the time, I give a book the first page to hook me and the second to reel me in. If I get to the bottom of the second page and don’t care what happens next, I ditch it and pick up something else. I have to confess, I choose a book by it’s blurb (if it sounds like a story I’ll enjoy, but I READ it because I like the author’s voice and style of writing. However when someone recommends a book to me, I’ll give a few more pages before I pass judgement. My philosophy is Too Many Books, Not Enough Time, so why waste it on a novel I’m not really enjoying.

  26. Robert Clay Norman

    When to stop reading a book? When you can find no “gold coins”. Author Roy Peter Clark refers to this practice in his book “Writing Tips.” If your reading does not lead you along a path that has the occasional gold coin for the reader to discover, dropt he book and look elsewhere. You might say “Follow the yellow coined road.”

  27. heidi

    I used to read every book all the way through. But now I’ve decided not to waste time on bad, boring, or predictable reads. Or stuff I just plain don’t like.
    I’m so happy I quit reading the last book I didn’t like (50 Shades of Grey), because I found one that is so much better! (Fire, by Kristin Cashore)
    I wrote about it Here

  28. Albrecht Gaub

    It depends. If I have been commissioned to review a book, I have to finish it whether I like it or not. Especially unfavorable reviews need a good foundation. If I read a book for professional interest, it is almost the same, although I may be able to skip a chapter here and there. To give you an idea about which books I have never finished, I may mention two: Gorbachev’s “Perestroika” and Elaine Keillor’s “Music in Canada.” I hardly read fiction anymore, so I won’t comment on that. Suffice it to say that I had a hard time to read some classics.

  29. Galen

    Years ago I heard a “Rule of 50” that applies to this question. I do not remember the source. The gist is – the reader should give any book at least 50 pages to determine whether or not to continue. But, for each year over the age of 50, subtract 1 page.

  30. Shelver506

    If I keep thinking about another book, I’ll put down the book I’m reading and find the one I’m thinking about. If I’m becoming unduly cranky or frustrated or bored, I’ll put the book down. Life’s too short.
    If it’s a book that I told myself I have to review, I’ll go until I finally realize that there won’t be anything positive in my review. Then I’ll stop and find something else to make me happy again.

  31. Sandy

    I drop a book when I stop caring about the characters or about what happens to the characters or if I still haven’t started caring about the characters or their story by a certain point in the story (it depends on the length of the book but probably between 50-100 pages). If a writing style is down right boring I’ll drop it within the first few pages.

  32. kiki

    When I read a book I can’t stand, what I do is read the ending (dead give away). If the ending was good enough for me then I’ll continue reading. If not, at least I knew what happen.

  33. Grace

    If I keep thinking about another book, I’ll put down the book I’m reading and find the one I’m thinking about. If I’m becoming unduly cranky or frustrated or bored, I’ll put the book down. Life’s too short.
    If it’s a book that I told myself I have to review, I’ll go until I finally realize that there won’t be anything positive in my review. Then I’ll stop and find something else to make me happy again.


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