In the February 2023 newsletter, I asked readers how long they last on a book they are not enjoying, before giving up on it. Here are the responses:

Chris: Hi Graeme–I’ve only had a few books that were so hard to get into that I eventually gave up trying. They all happened to be books that I was supposed to read for my book club. One was just a big book that I can’t remember the title of–I tried so hard to read it. I would pick it up, read for about 20 minutes and then put it down. I did this for days, leading up to the meeting. I admitted to the group that I just couldn’t finish it. It turned out that several other members felt like I did—it had too many characters and it jumped around so much that you couldn’t keep track of the story. Another book club book that was challenging to read was The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, written in the early 11th century. I loved the idea of reading what has been called ‘the first novel’ ever written and by a lady of the Japanese court, no less. One problem was that it was huge–my copy was almost 1000 pages, I think. It was also a very stylized translation and it took more time than I had patience for Again, I would pick it up, read a few minutes and then set it down. A few days of that with any book means I probably won’t finish it. On the night that the book club gathered to discuss the book, the first thing everyone asked was, “Who recommended this book?!” One woman sheepishly admitted that she was the culprit. Turned out, no one, except her, finished the book. I may try to read it again in the future, but it will be when I have no deadline and have lots of free time to devote to it—like if I’m ever shipwrecked on a tropical island somewhere!

Louise: When I was young I never gave up on a book. I would read and read and read no matter how boring the book was. For some reason I had gotten the idea I had to do that. Now that I’m pretty old, I don’t do that anymore. Life is too short. If something doesn’t happen in the first 15 minutes, it’s gone, and I’m on to the next book.

Christine: Firstly, the great majority of the time I do finish a book I start. If on the rare occasion I am not into a book I don’t have a set amount of pages that I say it is time to call it quits — instead if there is a book I am reading, and I find I am dragging my heels finishing it and I am not excited about continuing to read it then I decide to end things — but I will go to the end of the book and read the last chapter just to see what happens, or I will google some cliff notes on it. It is hard for me not to finish a book that I have started though.

Jennifer: I never used to quit either, but since I hit the age of 60 I decided life is too short to waste on books that don’t grab me within the first 50 pages. I don’t think that’s unreasonable; for many books, that’s 10% or more. I have altered this practice recently, and I will read the last chapter before I quit (something I NEVER used to do either and which I still won’t do on a book that interests me). If I like the resolution then I give it another 50 or so…

JR: How much time I spend on a book will vary from book to book. There are a very few (The Room comes to mind) that I quit after about 2 -3 pages. Others I will give a little longer, but they need to get better quickly, if not then I quit after about 2 -3 chapters. If a book has not grabbed my attention or gotten better after about 100 pages, I quit. At my age (72), I do not want to waste any time on a book that I do not enjoy – there are too many good books waiting for me to read. Like the saying goes: so many books, so little time.

Bette: I used to always finish a book, no matter what. Now that I’ve been a “senior” for some time, I have given myself permission to stop reading because life is too short to waste on something you’re not enjoying.

Christine: I find I can usually tell by the time I get through the first chapter whether I’m going to stick with the book or not. (Mostly I do.)

Tarana: I give a book 50 pages – the book squad doesn’t knock on your door and scold you!

Louis: Great question. For me, it depends on the book and I imagine it makes the issue truly relative. Example: I started reading a book my wife enjoyed and after 25 minutes, I gave it back to her. Too busy and going in so many directions. One other time, I read a mystery for some 50 or so pages, finally laying it down and returning it to the library, realizing I could write a better story. Disjointed characters and story line. My background is insurance, not writing. Any new book by this author I avoid. And then, I started a book yesterday from a very accomplished author whom I’ve read before and I have finished nearly 100 pages as of this morning. I’ll be picking up the book again after I send this back to Graeme. Thank you for the question, Lori.

Loretta: In answer to “When do I give up on a book” – I find that I have given up on a book when no matter how much I read my mind starts wondering to other things like laundry or don’t forget to get trash out tonight. I figure it’s time to move on to another book and be taken away.

Linda L: I have rarely not finished a book. I think it is because I choose books by my favorite authors or books that come with a good recommendation. Every once in awhile, I do pick a book just because of the review on the back of the book. That way most books I start are very good. I think there was one or two that I did not finish. I usually know within 25-50 pages if a book is going to be good. I just finished “Dead Lions” by Herron. I had seen the series first which made me want to finsh his series of books. This book was quite involved and a little hard to follow at times as it slipped in and out of characters. Now this book might have been one I would not finish had I not seen the tv series. I knew what was going on, so I was able to follow. Thank you for the recommendations. I have already put two on my list. Of course, I am eagerly waiting for the new Ophan X book. They are the best.

Linda: I started the latest Jack Reacher by {not} Lee Child. Quit after first chapter. Already having sex with a waitress from a coffee shop. In all the books, I can only remember that happening once and she was the daughter of an old friend! Reacher has become a thug. Not only not buying anymore but selling my whole collection in protest. Very disappointed.

Kim: I have no problem putting a book down five pages in or 100 pages in …. If I think it’s going to make me feel bad! I don’t remember the name of the book, but it was recommended in your newsletter. It was about the EM pulse that nocked out all electric. No communication or transportation (among other things) . My daughter is 25 miles from me and my son is 2000. The thought of not being able to get to them, or know that they were ok was terrifying! I had sleepless nights – I had to put it down. I never found out if things turned out ok in the long run, I couldn’t get past that first part. Then there was a Stephen King novel where an evil entity was able to become anyone, and a guy was arrested for murdering a child – complete with his DNA. Good grief!

I read four books in a series and the main character did stupid things in every book. The first time she got abducted it was just part of a good story. Then she got her daughter abducted. And she got fired (and rehired) from the FBI in every book. I just got tired of the bad behavior part way through the next book and just quit.

There are just too many really good books to spend any time reading ones that don’t ring your bell – in a good way!

Barbara: It depends on each individual book. It’s whenever I just can’t take anymore.
One of those came really early. I don’t recall the name of it but it was about this woman in China and what happens in her life. It was an ARC so I wanted to try to read more than just the first chapter. I just couldn’t do it. I had to stop right there.
Another one is the new author I am reading right now. Tracy Clark. Borrowed Time is the book. She is new to me so I wanted to really give her a chance. I am about 80% done, but I am really struggling. It is very predictable and it is moving so slow that it is painful. I am determined to finish it because now I need to know who killed Tony. And all of the suspects are getting knocked off. ��
So my point is that it depends on the book as to when I give up. If it is a favorite author I would probably push through to the end, thinking that it HAS to get better. I have done that. James Patterson’s biography is one of those. And it would also depend on my mood. I might put it down and read something else and maybe go back at a later time. Or maybe never. There is just no predictable formula for me to follow.

Jessica: There are two books I didn’t finished. One was a fantasy book called Druids (I think). It wasn’t what I thought the book was about. I read more than a few pages with it. The other book was part of Fearless series by Francine Pascal. It was a young adult book series. I didn’t like how the series was going so stopped. It sounded too stupid.

I usually finish books though.

Phoenix: Dear Graeme, good morning! This month you asked how long I gave a book before giving up on it. I think it depends. I was pretty excited to read The Name of the Rose, for example, but I never really got past the introduction and prologue. I might have given it more time, but it just wasn’t speaking to me. I, Claudius I put away after a few pages, but I might go back to it if the mood strikes. I didn’t realize it was a two-volume series, and I was eager to start something else. I don’t like books where the dog is abused or killed, even if there’s a “happy” ending. I try to give a book at least a couple of chapters if I can, but if the book seems to be “speaking down” to me, or is poorly written, I’ll give it a pass. I never did get into “True Grit.” Everything was “he said,” or “she said.” No “she replied,” or “he answered.” Only “said.” Bored me to death.
I hear what you’re saying, though, about attempting to read a book numerous times before it suddenly grabs you. I was that way with Jan de Hartog’s “The Peaceable Kingdom.” I picked it up a few times and it just didn’t move me. Then one day, I picked it up and I was hooked. Now, it’s in the top five. It’s way out of print now, but if you can find a copy in a used books store or the library, snap it up. If historical fiction that is truly based on fact is your bag, this book may be for you. It’s all about how the Quakers got started in England, and again in the States. There are two other books that follow it, if you’ve a mind to.

Donna: I try very hard to give an author a fair shake, but if I am 100 pages into a novel and it is not grabbing my interest, then sadly, I quit reading it. I’m almost 70 and I just don’t have the time to waste on a book that my brain can’t wrap itself around.

Brian: I very seldom give up on a book. I usually will give it 75 – 100 pages, if it’s not working I will pick it later and try again most times the 2nd try is a successful read. If I’m having trouble reading it I will usually ask my self what’s going on in the book if I can’t answer it I put the book down. A example is Tom Clancy’s Patriots Game could not get into the book I put it down picked up months later and read the whole series.

Caryn: I read about 1/3 of a book before I give up. Suddenly the storyline truly kicks in and grabs me after MANY chapters sometimes, so in fairness I go pretty far into the book before quitting. I do forgive some grammatical errors, fact untruths, and overall poor writing if the storytelling becomes engaging.

Chrisse: How far do I read? I used to be fiercely committed to reading every book I started. One book I could never finish – ever – was The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. What an utter bore!
Now, however, in my dotage, I realize there is no shame in putting down a book. I don’t do it very often, but the most recent one I abandoned was Surrender by Bono. What an utter bore!

Claire: Well, it used to be where I would die before I gave up on reading a book I started. Over time, however, I began to realize that life is too short to agonize over the completion of a book that I wasn’t enjoying. So, now I don’t hesitate to quit reading a novel that just isn’t ticking off the right boxes for me. However, I do make sure that I give the novel a fair shot by reading at least 33% – 44% of it before signing off.

Gail: This question for me is an open end. If I’m reading a book from a favorite author I will try very hard to read on until it almost ruins my enjoyment in their work. Then I know it’s time to give it up. If it’s one I’ve never tried I’m not as willing to push through.

Order of Books » Newsletter » Reader Mailbag: When Do You Give Up On A Book?

One Response to “Reader Mailbag: When Do You Give Up On A Book?”

  1. DIANE BENSON: 1 year ago

    I give up after if by the 2nd chapter it doesn’t grab me. I may continue reading if I’ve read the author in past I know the author’s pattern.


Leave a Reply