When do you give up on a book?

20:08, Nov 12 2012

It's not easy to admit, as a voracious reader, that sometimes I will give up on reading some books, mostly because the writing or storyline doesn't appeal to me.

In life, I'm not known to be a "giver upper". I've been called a persistent little thing on more than one occasion in my previous life as a real journalist. Though I've lost my nose for newshounding and, frankly, the desire, I will still generally see through a course of action to the bitter end once I have started.

I would like to be the kind of reader that doesn't give up on any story, but I have to shamefacedly admit that I skipped through huge chunks of Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and I never got through to the end of To the Lighthouse the first time I tried to read it (I did finish it many years after that, and enjoyed it immensely then). 

As a rule of thumb, for single book narratives, I will give up on a story if the first chapter doesn't hook me in. Sometimes, I will flick through randomly to the middle to see if the writing improves, but I've found that the first chapter is a pretty good indication of how the rest of the book will go.

Novels that come in a series are a little different though. I think they require the reader to be more tenacious, because it can take a while to warm up to the plot or characters, sometimes a good couple of books. With series novels, I'll keep going until they bore or irritate me beyond repair. I gave up on Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series at about book five, when it became clear that Rand 'al Thor was turning into a bit of a...d, and rhymes with "ouch"-bag.

The same thing happened with Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake series - it was clearly a case where the author had become so attached to her characters that she couldn't bear to stop writing about them, even when they had turned into cliches of themselves. The humanity!


In saying that, there is one caveat to giving up on a book when you've barely begun, and I will call it my "To the Lighthouse principle". I have found that sometimes - it can take a matter of months or years - I've picked up a book I gave up on and suddenly become absorbed in the story. It is the oddest thing. Perhaps it has something to do with the different life stages we go through, and how you can suddenly find something to connect to in a story at a certain age that you could not relate to before.

It is also easier to force yourself to read trash-lit through to the end rather than highbrow literature. So even though I found Fifty Shades to be the most awful dreck, I could still keep reading it whereas I came unstuck when trying to read Infinite Jest, footnotes and all, about 10 years ago. I'm about to try it again for a second time but, strangely enough, I think this time I'll actually enjoy it a lot more.

I think the main point is, I give up on books when they bore me - because, as the old saying goes, life really is too short to read bad books. What is considered "bad", of course, depends on personal taste.

For me, a book I'll give up on lacks the magic ingredient that all readers look for in a story: serendipity. That happy moment when you find something in a book which makes you think "ahhhh, and here it is". And the next thing you know, it's 3am and you're still sitting on the edge of the bathtub in your underwear, unable to turn the pages fast enough, laughing and crying and smirking with the characters.

At what point do you give up on reading a book and why?

Follow me on Facebook or Twitter!