When Do You Abandon A Book?

And I’m not referring to when you would renounce all physical ownership to a book (via donation or re-gifting) but at what point in your readings, do you decide that the book you’re reading is a waste of time and you want to stop?

In principle, I’m not fond of the idea of abandoning books because in essence, I don’t like not being able to finish things. I just want to know what happens. I need to know what happens. And I hate quitting. I know it’s a sunk cost but I’ve already spent money and time on it, so I might as well finish it. Maybe it’s because I was raised to finish eating everything on my plate but it looks like the general idea has stuck.

I don’t abandon books that are below what I expected them to be, or if they were bad. It doesn’t even have to grab my attention in the first fifty pages because sometimes the book gets better or maybe the writing style is a bit long-winded.But I do quit on books, and when I do quit on a book, it’s usually because:

  • It’s disjointed, and that includes the ideas and/or writing style;
  • I didn’t understand it;
  • It was just really boring.

Just to be clear, when I abandon a book, it has nothing to do with the quality of the book; it’s just there was a misalignment with its topic and writing style, with my personal preference. For example, I couldn’t finish ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ (translated from Spanish). Or ‘Crime and Punishment’ (translated from Russian). Or Margaret Thatcher’s biography (in English). Or Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ (in English).

But I also stopped reading stinkers like the Charlie Chan novel because it was pretty racist and tried to do too many things so yeah, occasionally the quality of the book plays a role.

I did a quick google search and it looks like very man and his dog has an opinion on this. And the general consensus seems to be that everyone abandons a book at some point and that although there are some who ardently stick to the bitter end, most believe that life is too short to waste being unhappy. You will never be able to get round to reading all the things you want to read in your life so why waste that opportunity on something you didn’t want to read, other than for self-satisfaction. Seems rather masochistic to me.

But how many pages of the book should you read before you decide to move on? I try to make a sizeable chunk in the book to make sure I have a rough idea of the plot and writing style. And when I am absolutely sure that I don’t care how it ends or what happens (and because I’m pretty nosey, that’s a dead give away to me), then I abandon ship.

It doesn’t even have to be due a poorly developed cast. Another point of no return for me is, if I can prove to myself the story will drift into badly plotted territory, terrain so treacherous with its crumbling plot, its unsteady setting, its unstable atmosphere, then I cease all explorations into the new world. There’s no need to martyr myself.

I’ve seen guidelines of a chapter or even 25% so maybe that’s the general benchmark. I’ve even seen a unique one from fellow WordPress blogger Nancy Pearl, who advocates this:

In response to that question, I came up with my “rule of fifty,”  which is based on the shortness of time and the immensity of the world of books.  If you’re fifty years of age or younger, give a book fifty pages before you decide to commit to reading it or give it up.  If you’re over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100—the result is the number of pages you should read before making your decision to stay with it or quit.  Since that number gets smaller and smaller as we get older and older, our big reward is that when we turn 100, we can judge a book by its cover!

The Guardian came up with a hilarious benchmark called the Hawking Index (HI) which measures roughly the point at which a book is given up on. Naturally the more prestigious the novel, the lower the HI for example, readers abandoned ‘Catching Fire’ 43.4% of the way into the book, but for Hawking’s ‘A Brief History Of Time’, it was 6.6%.

Do you quit on novels? Or are you finisher? If you quit, what’s your general rule of thumb?

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4 thoughts on “When Do You Abandon A Book?

  1. Generally I finish which has expanded the number of genres I enjoy and opened my eyes to various story-lines that I normally wouldn’t have finished before. However, if I find myself dreading picking up the book again and again I usually put it away for good.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I usually will know within the first few chapters whether or not I will like a book. However, I don’t stick with just one style and I try to remain open to different ideas and perspectives within books. That being said, I forced myself to finish Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity because I was reading it in order to review it for my blog and that was one of the most difficult slogs I have had to endure as a reader. I hadn’t really thought about this before reading your post, so thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am glad you enjoyed this post! I aim to be like that as well but I don’t know how successful I’ve been. I try not to let my own biases influence my judgement of the novel even if I did find it dull, and try to be open to different writing styles. But there have been the occasional times I’ve just given up and accepted that, despite the popular opinion, I’m not as moved as everyone else by that piece of work (100 years of solitude, for example).

      Liked by 1 person

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