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Reading Books: to Finish or Not to Finish?

For a while now, I’ve been struggling to read more. Part of the problem is what I’ve written about before: the fear of getting too immersed in the book which would result ditching everything else (books have kept me from sleep, eating, and many other things). At the same time, I found myself getting more and more picky about the books I read, so it’s getting harder to find a book that would actually enchant me enough for the first fear to be true.

Recently, I decided to fight the reading slump and promised myself I’d try to read at least two books in July. It seemed doable, and I picked a book that was on my “to read” pile for a long time, so I was quite excited to finally get to it.

It started slow which I didn’t mind, but “the slow” also proved to be quite boring, with a rather poorly set hook, but I kept going. After all, this book was supposed to be good, so I thought it might have been on me: maybe I was in the wrong mood or tired.

So, hopeful, I kept going.

I wasn’t even a quarter into the book, only slowly warming up to the characters, when a major drawback occurred. In order to progress the plot, the characters did something stupid, and entirely not within their character (since they were painted as rather smart). It’s one of my pet peeves when it comes to stories in general (both in books and in movies), especially when “the stupid” is not just an emotional decision coming from emotional pressure but… simply stupid and not matching the characters’ personality and knowledge. It was also clear that they needed to be stupid just to make the plot work (there probably were other ways the plot could have worked, but they’d require a different setup, a slightly different cast, and a lot of rewriting).

I confess, I nearly tossed the book at that point, ready to never go back at it again.

But I told myself that I could get over “one stupid thing” if from now on the protagonists behaved within their characters, and the story progressed smoothly.

Less hopeful, but I kept going.

Sadly, not long after that some more “stupid things” followed, and I once more questioned the point of continuing reading, especially that whatever interest I had in the characters kept dwindling as they came across as inconsistent: behaving in a way it didn’t match their personality when the plot needed to progress.

Halfway through the book, I was basically forcing myself to read another chapter, using the lure of hope that after all the book would live up to my expectations and positive reviews that got me excited about it. Yet, after a month of reading, even though the book improved a notch (no more “stupid things”), I’m still only around the three quarters mark, having never reached the point of “I can’t put it down!” I was somewhat looking forward to.

I can’t help wondering whether I should keep going, but at the same stage, it would feel like a waste to abandon the book this far in. On the other hand, in the time it takes me to read it, I could have easily read two or even three more engaging books, so maybe it’s not worth it?

Another book that I tried recently seemed a much easier choice. After a very disappointing first chapter I decided to put it away. Of course, I promised myself I’d give it another chance some day, but realistically I don’t see it happening.

What do you do if the book fails to keep your interest? Or even worse, when certain things (characters, plot solutions, etc.) in it annoy you? Do you mark it as DNF (”did not finish”) and move on to the greener pastures of the bookish world? Or maybe this far in you’d give the book a chance after all? I seem to be stuck at this decision.

Joanna Maciejewska

Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games. Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English. Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Carolyn Astfalk

    The more I read and the less time I have to do so, the more discriminating I become. My personality makes it difficult for me to set aside a book unfinished, but if the grammar and craft are atrocious, and/or I’m so bored my mind is wandering while I’m reading, it’s a goner.

    1. Melfka

      Same here. It’s the mediocre ones I have trouble with: not horrible enough to justify ditching them, but at the same time a pain to continue. 🙂

  2. J.R.Bee

    I used to ‘have’ to finish a book, no matter how bad, but since everyone can write and publish a book there’s no leeway for spending time on things like that. There are authors out there with good work that I’d like to discover, so discarding ones that don’t work for me now makes sense.

    1. Melfka

      Indeed. I should apply similar approach.

  3. sjhigbee

    DNF. Every. Time. Life is toooo short to trudge through ANY book:))

    1. Melfka

      You’re right. I think I just really wanted this book to be good, so I kept going.

        1. Melfka

          Not that nice. Once I was done, I wrote a long, ranty email to my friend, sharing my emotions.

          1. sjhigbee

            You’re allowed:)). If we didn’t care so much about the worlds we have access to, then it simply wouldn’t matter.

  4. saraletourneau

    I used to be reluctant to quit books; I guess I preferred to give authors and their stories the benefit of the doubt. But now I’m not so lenient. I try to give each book about 100 pages. By then, if I don’t care enough for the characters, or if I have too many issues with the plot or world-building early on, I put it down and move on to another book. (Sometimes I keep going a little longer before I reach that point, though.) If, for some reason, I’m motivated to resume the “on hold” book, I will. But usually I’m not, and so it becomes a donation to my local library.

    It’s up to the reader in the end. Personally, I think that if a book is too frustrating, or if you’re not really enjoying it, then what’s the point of continuing?

    1. Melfka

      I like the idea of donating the book to the library. Back in Poland, I used to donate all the books I knew I wouldn’t read again (I had a very small room with limited shelf space).
      I think I might adapt your 100 pages rule (or make it 25{fd816789381be2b25dc0c4c24e83c7c5d878f14214e162ad1afaed77eed2e013}, since some books are longer, some shorter), unless I’m really determined to read something to the end (for example, non-fiction or something research-related).

      1. saraletourneau

        And I’m sure your local library would accept any donated books, too. Most libraries do nowadays.

        And that’s true. Some books are shorter, so 100 pages might get you a third of the way (or even halfway) through. And when you lose yourself in a good book, sometimes it shocks you when you realize how far along you are. I’m in the middle of a 320-pager right now; and when I reached Page 184 last night, I thought, “How am I more than halfway done with it already??” *lol*

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