Sam Asks: When Do You Breakup With A Bad Book?

I recently read a book that I wasn’t thrilled about. Ok, honestly I HATED IT! I knew I wasn’t going to like it on the first page, pretty much from the first word. Ten pages later I despised its vague story line. Ten pages after that I loathed the ridiculous language. Ten pages after THAT I was vocalizing hatred for the underdeveloped characters. By 50 pages in a thought occurred to me: when do you breakup with a bad book?

Let’s say you’re on a first date with someone. There definitely aren’t sparks, but it isn’t a disaster so you think, “maybe I’ll give him another chance.” On the second date he says this one thing that’s really weird. Really, really weird. However, you say, “maybe he’s just nervous around you.” That thought is actually kind of flattering so he probably deserves one more try. On the third date his breath smells like onions, combined with the fact that he “really prefers the movies over the books, especially in the case of The Great Gatsby…” and that’s when you know for sure that this isn’t going anywhere.

But in books where do you draw the line? I think for me it comes down to the characters. I like it when I can see the character walk off of the page and into my life. I like it when I start talking about them as if they are old friends of mine (this confuses the heck out of my husband!) In this book I couldn’t have cared any less about the characters. They were flat, dull, and infuriating. It simply didn’t matter to me what happened to these people so I stopped reading right then and there.

I know I figured out my loathing on that first page, but something in me had to keep going. I wanted to like this book so I gave it more than a fair chance.

What about you? When do you throw in the towel? What’s that one element of a book that HAS to be there for you to keep reading?

53 thoughts on “Sam Asks: When Do You Breakup With A Bad Book?

  1. I haven’t figured out exactly what the criteria is that determines whether or not the line has been crossed and it’s time to let go, but I usually know pretty early on if I’m going to like it. I typically give the book one or two chapters to pique my interest, because I have a lot of books to read and I don’t have time to waste on the bad ones.

  2. That happened to me a few times this year. I am doing a book challenge, so it was hard for me to keep going with a book I disliked, but it was hard to give up in the middle when I had gotten so far. I think I finally gave up because I was complaining to my (book loving) dad that the book was boring and painful to read. He told me, ‘Why don’t you just stop reading it?’ and I did. Lately I have been getting free samples sent to my kindle because that way I know I can read a good chunk of it without paying in order to gauge the writing and storyline. It’s always interesting to go on goodreads and read reviews of books you stopped reading, because sometimes others say they pushed through and wished they hadn’t.

  3. Cozy mysteries, when poorly written, are ditched by the end of the first chapter. I sometimes skip to the last chapter to see if that will sway me…..

  4. I have a 20% rule now after years of finishing every book. For me the story line has to be believable, I know it’s fiction but… Poor dialogue and clunky phrasing will turn me off a book more than anything else.

  5. I very rarely give up on a book, but when I do…..

    Recently, I got 11% through a book on my Kindle before the burning fury of anger reached critical levels. The book was marketed as a sexy read, but when the main female character started seriously referring to her now-ex’s manbits as a salami, I had to stop. That, and the fact that the ex’s name was Ronald MacDonald…(seriously, it was!)

    I do find that I have to want to see the characters grow and change. If that desire isn’t there, I cannot keep going.

  6. I could not agree more with you! I always feel guilty, especially if it’s a book that has been recommended and heralded by a friend as the greatest book in the universe. Although, frequently I find that if a book has a lot of hype then I create these expectations for it and if it doesn’t reach them I am disappointed. So maybe it’s my fault again. Why all this guilt!?!?

    • I agree with you! Kim told me I had to read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. She talked it up a lot, but I put it off because I was afraid I wouldn’t like it and I didn’t want to disappoint her because she LOVED it! I finally caved and now I’m obsessed with it, but before I read it I felt so guilty for maybe possibly not liking it!

  7. I love this post! I think it’s hard to decide when to breakup with the book… I recently heard someone say that they give a book about three chapters before they throw in the towel. If the plot is interesting enough, I’ll sometimes forgo the fact that a book may have terrible writing or character development. I feel like I should be more strict, however, because I find myself dedicating too much of my time to books that I don’t really enjoy just so I can finish them!

  8. I used to always finish a book regardless of how I was enjoying it, but now? If it isn’t working for me, I don’t finish. There are too many good books and too little time to waste reading something that just isn’t doing it for me. I usually try and give it about 100 pages before I give up, I think that’s pretty fair!

  9. I tend to be not very aware of when I dislike a book, but I know its really bad when I walk away from it for say dinner and then don’t start reading again after. Otherwise if I’m given the time I’ll often read it till the end focusing on the good points. Then again, I rarely come across a book I can’t read in 3-5 hours so that helps get through most bad ones.
    I think I’ve only ever put down two books and never picked them back up. One was thanks to it not letting me feel engaged with the characters (I gave it 5 chapters) before it killed one off and expected me to be sad. I put that down for dinner in the middle of a battle and didn’t come back. The other was a book where I really liked the fantasy plot but found the romance constantly pushed in my face, I don’t mind a romance subplot but this one kept pretending to be the main plot.
    Otherwise I’ll get to the end of a book and then never pick it up to read it again. There’s been a few of those, including Eragon.

  10. There are some books that I continue till the end with, hating every word of the way. But there are some, that I take so long to read, I actually forget I was reading it until it turns up some corner weeks later, and I just can’t be bothered anymore…But actually I don’t think I know how to properly break up with a book 😦

  11. Until now it has been almost impossible for me not to finish a book, even when I absolutely hate it and prefer to throw it against the wall… I’m trying to allow myself a limit of 50 pages to decide if I want to continue or not, mainly to not waste any time reading a book I detest. But it’s been hard to keep that promiss to myself…

    As far as the thing that keeps me reading: I guess that as long as the storyline stays interesting enough, I can coope with flat characters, bad writing and a mountain of cliches. Either that or only having interesting characters, but since I had to choose one, I’ll stick with the storyline.

  12. Great post! Quitting on a book is hard. It’s like there’s a compulsion to always finish everything you start.

    It’s characters for me, too, since it’s characters I care about more than anything. Sometimes I’ve read books that overall I didn’t enjoy, but it wasn’t a total loss because of some aspect of a character I really liked. Once I realize I’m not in love with a single character the thought, what else have I not read, what book that I’ve been dying to read am I putting off because of this thing I don’t like? And that’s when I’ll put the book aside, even if I haven’t made it all the way to hate yet.

  13. I was thinking about this the other day. I have this compulsion to finish each book I read even if I just cant turn another page For me the break-up happens when I put the book down and dread picking it back up. I need a story that has me from beginning to end and I keep thinking about it after. And if it is a series then I need to finish the series. Ugh I just realized I have gone through some bad books and probably wasted half my life….

  14. I’m usually pretty tolerant; either that or discerning when selecting the book. However, certain things drive me insane: repeating catch words dozens of times; slow plot with no purpose or prose; and total lack of believability.

  15. Usually I lay a book to rest after the first three pages. It’s harder if the book has some interesting paragraphs thrown in, then I keep reading hoping for more. If I find myself dozing off after a few paragraphs I stop and look for a better book. Sometimes in a research book about American History I TRY to read it because it’s interesting to see how our ancestors lived in New Amsterdam for example, I end up skimming over the things I find less interesting.

  16. I have to admit I RARELY break up with a book, even if I hate it. I don’t know why, but I feel I have to finish a book once I’ve started, even if it’s awful. It’s some sort of misplaced loyalty I guess. But I’m with you, I think characters are crucial if a book is going to captivate my attention.

  17. I used to religiously finish any book, no matter how bad, in the hope that the end would save it somehow. But now I have too little time to waste on rubbish. If I keep coming across cliches, crass dialogue, poor storyline and characters I do not care about, I will abandon around the 50 page mark. If it is slow-moving but well-written, I will stick with it for longer. There are a couple I made a genuine effort with: abandoned after a while (thought I just wasn’t in the mood for them) and tried again later. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

  18. A great discussion topic for book lovers.
    It took me years to be OK with giving up on a book, and it’s still pretty rare for me to do so, I have so much respect for an author who takes the risk to publish — I feel like a bad friend to books when I give up.
    However, there are millions of great books waiting for me. If I still don’t care about the characters, story or writing after 100 pages, it’s time to move on.

  19. It depends on what drove me to pick it up in the first place. If I just picked it up on my own, not long. If it comes highly recommended, I will try to make it to page 50. I had a recent book that I hated at page 24, but I stuck it out to 50 and it got better. I’m still not sure I want to finish it though. Too many other books out there!

  20. I push myself to the %50 mark, if I still hate it, I delete it or give it away. Characters have to be interesting and dialog well written or the whole story is a waste of time, at least to my way of thinking.

  21. For me, it depends on the book and the purpose for reading it. If the book has redeeming quality beyond mere enjoyment, I will read most or all of it. If I’m just reading it for fun, though, usually 50 pages is enough for me to decide whether or not to go on.

  22. I have a somewhere between 50-100 page policy. If we’re not cooking along by then, that’s ballgame. I always have a stack of books on my desk so there’s another one always waiting to take its place.

  23. I almost never put down a book and have this irrational desire to finish them at any cost. It is frustrating at times, especially if a book turns out to be a big bore, but i get a strange feeling of accomplishment when I do finish it. 🙂

  24. I hate giving up on books but I have. Recently I read 3/4 of The Book Thief. I was told it was a great book. I just did not like it. I could not follow the premise of the story, characters or the plot. I found the movie on Netflix. The movie helped me understand the book. I stopped reading it because why bother now that I know the ending.

  25. Hmm… I haven’t really thought about when it is time to “break up” with a book… It is just an intuitive thing for me. The decision to stop reading a book usually comes within the first chapter. Sometimes it is the language, sometimes the characters, sometimes the deplorable plot, and sometimes a combination of many things. I can usually tell from the get-go whether or not a book has value and I follow that gut instinct pretty close.

  26. I don’t think I have a clear cut guideline to just call it quits on a book. I used to not be able to not finish a book. I couldn’t pick up another book before finishing the current one being read. In fact, I didn’t read a book for a YEAR because I started reading Eat, Love, Pray, I was super frustrated with the author and couldn’t finish it. WEIRD! Not the frustration just the year hiatus. I know but it’s the truth. I picked it up a year later forced finished it so that I could read other books.

    Now, I pick up a book and if I’m not into it, I put it down and pick up another.

    I will say that the DNF pile is growing and some of the factors have been: I don’t like the characters at all, I don’t like how a subject matter is being handled, writing is atrocious (rarely), uber boring (rarely put it down for this reason, though.), it simply is not for me.

    You can’t like every book you read.

  27. I do not have a hard and fast rule, but just at some point know when I start thinking about all the other books I want to read-there they are staring at me. As I get older one of the hardest things for me is realizing I will never get to read all the books in my TBR pile and all the others not even there. So with that in mind, and thinking about the thousands of books out there, I just stop reading that one and think nothing more about it. And that includes those highly touted, five stars which just don’t make me want to run and pick them up after I’ve started them. Life is too short. You know when you have a winner. When you read until the book falls out of your hands and you realize you just cannot read another page, then you fall asleep and cannot wait to get back to that book. And you do just about anything to get that book in your hands-you just know you have a keeper! Enjoy those and forget the rest!

  28. I’ll drop a book after I’ve read the first chapter, skipped a few chapters ahead to see if it picks up, and if it isn’t required reading for something It’s gone… though I might try to pick it up again the next year and see if it wasn’t just my current mood that made it a bad read. Otherwise I don’t like too give up… bad habit.

  29. I love your comparative analogy of the dating/breaking up. That is great! I have to be engaged pretty early into the character’s lives. But I will say I read a book about four months ago that I almost put down several times. It was a very long book, too – about 500 pages I think. Anyway, half-way through the story plot just took off and I couldn’t put it down! That is the first time that has ever happened to me, but it ended up being a good read! 🙂

  30. I never gave up on books until probably the last year. I used to read all the way through, even if it wasn’t the best writing, or the greatest story. It was like I felt guilty for not finishing it, even if it was a library book, or something I borrowed from the office.

    In the last year, I’ve stopped reading two or three books. One I really thought I would like, I wanted to like it, and was willing myself to like it. But it just wasn’t happening. I even tried skimming through the second half just to see if there were good parts that would make me come back to it. But I couldn’t muster it. I couldn’t continue a book by Eudora Welty because I just wasn’t feeling it — again, even though I really wanted to like it. I felt like I had betrayed her and betrayed myself.

    When I read some books recently by authors I generally like, I was annoyed by their writing, and annoyed with the characters, but I pushed through. I guess it just depends on my mood and depends on how much things bother me. Usually, an annoying character and really bad writing will force me to stop a book more than anything. When an author tries too hard, I can smell it. When it’s not believable, I’m over it.

  31. Great question. But I find that I change my criteria based on how busy I am and what else I have to read! Something better in the wings and I will drop a book. But truly, I often pick it up again happily in a different state of mind!

  32. It is depends on what kind of book I’m reading.

    If I’m reading technical books and other manual or educational book, I pushed myself to continue reading.

    For non-fiction and other literature books it just take me to the first chapter then I’ll leave and do more important stuff.

  33. I normally give it a chapter or two but if it has not caught my interest by then, then I’ll move on to something else.However if it is by an author which I have enjoyed in the past I will properly persevere a bit longer.

  34. Difficult really. I am lucky most of the time and read books by authors I trust. But it does happen that I really do not like a book. Sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s him or her, the author. I need to determine that. If it is me, I make some efforts. If it is the author, I flick through another one of their book and give them one last chance that way.

  35. I used to think that any book I started, I had to finish. No matter how dreadful or convoluted, I would soldier on. I ascribe this to my education in English Literature.
    Lately, however, I have come to reject this, and twice put down books I had started reading. These were not horrible books (in fact one was a major, major, prize winning novel) but just didn’t do anything for me. They didn’t speak to me. They didn’t capture my imagination. They might be critically acclaimed, but I wasn’t the one acclaiming them.
    I am more than willing to give a book time to develop. I read everything from pulp fiction to classics, fiction and non fiction. I have come to realize that some books, great or not, have their time. I also realize that sometimes we are just not ready for a book, and even if we manage to complete them, we might not have gotten everything out of them we could. As a result, this year, I will be re-reading some books that I am pretty sure I was too young (physically, emotionally and intellectually) to fully appreciate.
    Unfortunately, some of these books might not have aged well and the complete opposite might be true. That is the risk you take.

  36. Nicely written…there is nothing more infuriating than a horribly written book…i dont know where to break up. I always torture myself through it hoping that by the end I will find that one thing to really like about the book. When that doesnt happen, I am left with a broken heart and I mope about it until i can get it out of my system.

  37. I’ll stop reading a book if I’m beginning to get angry at the characters, if the writing isn’t grabbing me or if the story just seems too ridiculous. I’ve never been one to force myself through a book I hate, unless I absolutely must see what happens or if I think it might redeem itself. Then I get really upset when they don’t!

  38. I’m rarely certain when it’s time to break up with a book, so I go with the trial separation idea. I put the book aside, and see if it calls me back. Sometimes I find I just have to know what happened to the characters. Sometimes it’s like fascination with a train wreck. I’m willing to put up with a lot from my stories, just as long as they don’t leave me uncaring…

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