BTT: Abandoning Bad Books

btt2“Life is too short to read bad books.” I’d always heard that, but I still read books through until the end no matter how bad they were because I had this sense of obligation.

That is, until this week when I tried (really tried) to read a book that is utterly boring and unrealistic. I had to stop reading.

Do you read everything all the way through or do you feel life really is too short to read bad books?

juliejuliaDrop them like a hot potato. I used to suffer through bad books, believing that some literary overlord was tallying up my unfinished books and making black marks on my record. This was why I made it all the way through The Devil Wears Prada and The Time Traveler’s Wife. (I know. I am one of the fourteen people in the universe who dislike this book.) Now, if a book isn’t working for me, I stop reading. This can happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes, a book is annoys me so much (Goldengrove, Julie and Julia, We Need to Talk about Kevin) I have to quit reading it. It can be the writing, it can be a character that rubs me the wrong way, you name it. My general rule of thumb is, if this book were a person, would I really want to be friends with them? Or, if the characters are intentionally difficult, am I learning anything here? Expanding my understanding of human nature in any way? If the answer is no, I stop.

specialtopicsSometimes I stop reading a book because I am simply not in the mood for it, or can’t focus for some reason. Those books I generally place in a “save for later” pile, and I return to them and generally like them. When I first picked up Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics, I thought it was pretentious and annoying. But one day, I saw it there on my shelf and thought, why not give it another go? I picked it up from where I left off, and I absolutely could not put it down. In fact, when I finished it, I turned back to the beginning and started over! The only book in the latter category that I still haven’t been able to finish is The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt…but I love The Secret History, so I keep trying!

What about you? What makes you give up on a book–or what convinces you to stay through the bitter end?

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19 comments

  1. I’ll have to jump onto that ‘not reading the Time Traveller’s Wife’ bandwagon, too… The point about being in the wrong frame of mind is a good one, particularly since it doesn’t preclude a return to the book in question.

  2. “If this book were a person, would I really want to be friends with them?” That’s great!

    I give up on books all the time if they just aren’t holding my attention or I am not in the mood for them. Sometimes I will go back to them, but not often. I used to feel bad about it, but not anymore, I’m definitely a member of the “life is too short” camp now.

  3. Add me to the ditching the Time Traveler’s Wife.

    Just in the past week I ditched the following books after attempting to get into them and failing:

    The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith (sorry Daily Connossier)
    Mirielle Guiliano’s new book: Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire
    American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
    The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
    I can’t tellif it’s my mood or what, but none of these books have held my interest.

    What is holding my interest are the following two books:
    Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
    Slam by Nick Hornby

  4. Joy, I am so happy to know I am not alone in disliking that book, although I did read the whole thing. My boss had loaned it to me and insisted I would love it, so I felt obligated.

    Sarah, I really find that my mood is my biggest factor in not being able to get into a book. Luckily, I have tended not to pick anything that’s just flat-out bad. But a few do get through…

    Alison, I spend more time with books than with people (the exception being my husband), so I figure I had better like them, or things could get ugly fast!

    Kristi, when it’s that many books, I would say it’s got to be a mood thing–at least, it usually is for me. I have both American Wife and The Abstinence Teacher on my TBR list, so if you get back into either of those, I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts. I’m happy to know that Slam is working for you, though. I will have to pick that up sometime soon.

  5. I can’t leave a book because the character rubs me wrongly no matter the heartaches I would have. I know there are different people in this world and characters are people whose ideologies and perceptions are different from ours. Also, if a character gets me bored I know that the writer intentionally made it so and so I would rather think he/she (the writer) has done his/her homework well. However, there are times that plodding through a books seems like struggle and you virtually have to sweat through. Sometimes a books leaves you dry. Well I still don’t abandon it but would read it and let people know how bad it is.

    Nowadays my readings come from recommendations so I haven’t had much books to reject or to make me swear yet. I hope I don’t face any. I also keep in mind the cliche: one man’s meat is another’s poison.

  6. Julia & Julia, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and The Devil Wears Prada had good reviews as a movie. I wonder why you found the book bad? I haven’t read any of them though.

    Beautiful post and thank you on your comments on my BTT.

    I like this part:
    “My general rule of thumb is, if this book were a person, would I really want to be friends with them? Or, if the characters are intentionally difficult, am I learning anything here? Expanding my understanding of human nature in any way? If the answer is no, I stop.”

  7. I have had the same difficulties with The Little Friend. And I love love loved The Secret History – I thought it was the author’s only book, and I was so excited to find she had written another after all – and I’ve never been able to get more than about fifty pages in.

  8. Melody, you are welcome…and I agree with you, obviously!

    Nana, I think in some respects what you say is true. And to read about characters different from ourselves–I like to believe that is why many of us read. I disagree, though, that authors always intend to create boring characters. In fact, I think that’s rare. One way to tell, I think, is the context of the character. An intentionally boring character can be quite interesting, where an unintentionally boring character can be distracting. I think what happens is that either the writer is not writing for a serious market and he/she has a bad editor, or a writer is writing for a good market, and he/she has a bad editor! Writers are so close to their own stories, they really must rely heavily on their editors and readers. It doesn’t necessarily mean the author will make a recommended change, but it makes a big difference.

    Cutlex, for the record, I really like the movie version of The Devil Wears Prada. I haven’t seen Julie and Julia yet, but I hear it’s quite good. The book was terrible because really it’s just her rambling on about herself and her troubles. I expected her to be more engaged, to write more about making the meals, etc. I hear the movie version is much better, because they also used Julia Child’s My Life in France as the basis for part of it, and that was a terrific book…and also, I love Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. As for The Time Traveler’s Wife, I hated the story, so I won’t be bothering with the movie. Life is too short! 😉

    Jenny, same here! I got the book as a gift when it was first published (2000? 2002?), and every couple of years I give it another shot. *sigh* I’ll keep trying. It’s well written, but it just doesn’t ever grab me.

  9. Well, I’m one of those who did actually read the Time Traveller’s Wife and quite liked the quirkiness of it, but hey, there are lots I don’t finish! If a book does not grab you, or you’re in the wrong mood dump it. There are far too many books waiting out there to be read. I’ll never be able to finish the list anyway….

  10. Seachanges, with The Time Traveler’s Wife, you are definitely in the majority. And for the record, I did finish it! 🙂 You are right on, though–whenever I look at my TBR list, I wonder why even bother to keep adding books. I don’t think I will ever get all the way through it as it stands! It would take years.

  11. I am one who totally subscribes to the life is too short to read books you don’t like philosophy. My father who is a big reader ALWAYS finishes a book no matter how much he is disliking it and for a while in my younger years I adopted that practice too – not any more!!

  12. It’s not too short at all! I completely agree about being in the right frame of mind with certain books–or feeling able to commit or concentrate on them. But it’s so easy to just move on to the next entertaining thing, but the books that are the most challenging can be the most rewarding.

    Of course, there are real stinkers out there, but I have a disgusting habit of wanting to see just how bad they can get …

  13. you’re philosophy sounds a lot like mine. Sometimes I mention an abandoned book on my blog and people tell me whether or not they liked it and I may revisit it at another time. Sometimes I’m just not in a mood for a given book.

    I quit Julie and Julia too. But I loved Julia Child’s memoir!

  14. Karen, I felt the same when I was younger. I felt sort of stoic, really, like I had improved my character or something. Not anymore!

    Schatzi, I think there is a difference between a bad book and a challenging book. I enjoy challenging books. I don’t enjoy books that are poorly written, and will drop them in a heartbeat. Seeing how bad they can get just makes me think of the poor souls who write well but can’t get published, or who write well but aren’t on the best-seller list because…well, it tends to be full of bad books. (Hm. I think I just said popular=bad, and I know that isn’t always true, either.)

    Rebecca, I loved My Life in France. I have tried to get everyone I know to read that book!

  15. oh, i thought i was the only one who didn’t like time traveler’s wife! i tried but couldn’t do it. didn’t read prada either, but did enjoy the movie (the bitchy/sweet assistant was great).

    actually, i have a technique that has yet to fail me. i read the first line of a book. if it engages me or makes me feel something new or interesting, i know i will like the book.

    thank goodness time traveler’s wife was a freebie. will pass it on.

  16. Minette, I use a similar technique to decide what to read next: I read the first page of several books, and the one that grans me is what I read. I haven’t quite gotten as efficient as using the first line, but that is definitely the most important hook.

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