‘Did Not Finish’ Books: What Made You Put the Book Down?

Preparing to post my 2012 books read, I was struck by how long it’s been since I did not finish a book. Since I started reading a long time ago, there were only a handful of books I couldn’t get through. Out of deference to the authors, I will not mention them. I did some quick internet research on why readers don’t finish books. Here are some of the reasons:

  • Bad writing
  • Unrealistic characters
  • Uninspiring or boring characters
  • Faulty premise
  • Contrived plot
  • Confusing story

I found a “Did Not Finish Books” list on Goodreads and it included some famous best-sellers: Fifty Shades of Grey, Eat, Love, Pray, The Casual Vacancy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and The Shack. I don’t know the criteria for this list. It could have been books marked ‘To Read’ by Goodreads readers that the reader just hasn’t gotten around to reading.

At any rate, what turns me off are books in which the story isn’t clear or I simply don’t care enough about the characters to keep reading. In one instance, I got 70 pages into a book by a renowned author and I had no idea what the story was and where it was going. I gave up.

Some books are so well-regarded that I forced myself to finish them. One was Moby Dick. Though it was clear to me why it is a classic, I found Moby Dick a tough read. Herman Melville devoted whole chapters to discussions of such arcane topics as the different types of whales. I started reading it on my Kindle, but ended up taking out of the library an illustrated edition that really helped me to understand the things Melville was attempting to describe.

One book I almost didn’t finish was Anne Tyler’s classic, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Tyler is one of my favorite authors and this is one of her best books. When I first tried to read it, I wasn’t focused. I was going through some personal issues and I found the mother and the main character’s brother to be extremely unappealing characters (intentionally drawn that way by Tyler). I put it down, but six months later, I picked it up and read it through in just three days. I was blown away by the writing and I couldn’t believe I almost let this one pass me by.

I will give a book 75 to 100 pages  before I put it down. Some readers are less patient than that. The reasoning is there are too many good books waiting to be read for the reader to waste his time on one that is of no interest. What about you?

How long do you stay with an unappealing book before you put it down?


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7 responses to “‘Did Not Finish’ Books: What Made You Put the Book Down?

  1. I have to mention a book that I stopped reading after 5 pages, it’s a well known (though not highly respected) author. The book opened with a blizzard in the mountains. It mentioned the word snow once BUT the word PRECIPITATION was repeated more than a dozen times. Had it been the other way around I might have persisted…

  2. Thanks for your comment. Starting a book with weather is a big “no no.” And precipitation? Could the author have used a longer, more dull word?

  3. Like you, I discard a book if I find that I don’t care about the Main Character. I ask myself – ‘If they were to get beheaded right now – would it bother me?’ If the answer is no, then it’s goodbye. Harsh, but there are so many good books out there…

  4. I can read through bad characters, predictable story lines and even a few poorly chosen words. But like you, when I get to 100 pages or so and I am still trying to figure out what is going on, or I am still re-reading 10 – 15 pages at a time to try to find the direction of the story I give up. I figure I shouldn’t need a GPS to tell me where I am in a story or where I’m headed!

  5. If a book hasn’t drawn me in within a few pages, I let it go. Recently, I put that law aside to finish Dragon Tattoo, and a book called Hard. I regret the time wasted!

    Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is one of my faves, but I did and do find it disturbing– Tyler’s great gifts are at their best when she shows us the twisted workings of a real family. She knows just where our dysfunction lives.

  6. I never used to leave a book unfinished- I would plow through like a good, disciplined little reader. Now, I have too many books I want to read to spend time on those I don’t. I let 3-4 books go unread this year. A few of them were prize-winning books. Here’s my criteria:

    1) If the writing is too trendy and self-conscious in an effort to be “new”. Blech– don’t make me wade through lack of paragraphs or quotation marks, too many changes in POV, and/or ambiguous meaning.

    2) I’m not grabbed by the end of the first or second chapter.

    3) The writer or characters are self-indulgent whiners.

    Usually that’s it. Almost anything else I’ll give a go.

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