When to stop reading a bad book?

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/07/03/when-to-stop-reading-a-bad-boo.html


This means a lot to me. A few days ago I had to bail out of Tender is the Night, and I felt guilty about that.


Not a bad rule, but here’s the problem: you’re gonna miss out on some really good reads that way. I recently read One-hundred Years of Solitude as part of the Great American Reads thing that PBS is doing and I was frankly frustrated through the first 80-90 pages. If I had followed this rule, I would’ve given up too soon. As I plowed on (and yes, I was particularly committed to finishing since this is considered a classic), a light came on and I started to see Marquez’s imagery for what it was and I devoured the rest of the book like it was a fine meal.

That said, yes, I’ve given up on books and will continue to. But like all rules, I temper this one with the knowledge that sometimes rules need to be bent or even broken. If I’m told by someone whose literary taste I esteem not to give up, I stick it out. Most of the time I’m glad I did. There are times, though, when I wish I had given up. But, like most things, it’s a balancing act. I’m willing to waste time on a few mediocre books if it means finding gems I would’ve missed.


I think it’s kind of a given that the 50-page advice is for when you don’t have any other basis to decide. If the book has hundreds of reviews, then you probably have enough info to know whether it’s going to be worth finishing. But if you’re reading an airport paperback to fill time, it’s good advice.

My own strategy is to try to have a couple of different books on the go. If I find that I have started (and finished) five new books without feeling compelled to finish the first one, I just accept that I’m not going to.


Doing something you don’t like? Why not stop?



I’ve always been frustrated by books that start out BAD and get so much better (I read a few such gems, too!)

A beginning can be slow and a little boring while you set up the scene and give characters their necessary backgrounds, but if the boring goes on for 50+ pages, it means you needed to edit and cut, methinks, Ms Author!


100 Years of Solitude is a weird one. I read it for school, we did a lot of breakdown and discussions on it and i found it really dull (not a critique of the book just not my jam). It’s very much a soap opera in book form, that being said i still appreciate it as a work of literature. The author for it is also phenomenal, one of my all time favorite pieces of work he wrote was the dramatization of a real life story of a shipwrecked sailor. It’s literally the thing that made him famous in latin america.

Similarly i read IT by Stephen King and found it an immense chore to get through. I also appreciate the book because i;m a fan of his work and i’m glad i read it but not an experience i’d like to relive.

For me i’m very picky about what books i start, and i generally commit to finishing it. I have only dropped maybe 3 books ever and was about halfway. I would dread reading them which is a good sign not to bother.


William Gibson’s book The Peripheral was a recent book that I forced myself to power through and in the end, I’m sorta glad that I did. The first third of that book is not very good, but once the story starts to move, it gets better.

Worse for me are multi-book series. Too often I’ve loved book one and two but then books three and four get weak and soon I’m rage reading book five just to finish the stupid series.


The first LOTR book (not The Hobbit, the main series of books) i found super slow to start. Tolkien dips heavily into genealogy, which was lowkey interesting but just really slow to read through. Then the part when the party leaves The Shire and walks onto a meadow… and Tolkien just HAS to tell you about the history of this meadow, and what it looks like. Thankfully it picks up after that chapter. But going off this 50 page rule some people might never enjoy the series.

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Charles Stross Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle is one I wouldn’t have finished had I followed this rule, in fact I did put it down somewhere in the first half of the first book the first time I picked it up. I came back to it later though, and it turned out to be one of my favourite series.


I dumped the Bible at the cover.


I’m a big fan of epic fantasy. Steven Erickson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series is one of those that few people wade through, but I’ve done it and can attest that it is genius. The thing about Sci-fi and fantasy is that they are often confusing for quite a while until one becomes acquainted with the world.

I’ve taken to calling that one Tender Is the Meat. With a protagonist named Dick Diver it has no reason being the boring read that it is.


You should try again. There’s some good stuff in there. But I’d recommend skipping around. Don’t forget Two Corinthians, Herr Drumpfster’s favorite.


She does say that in the piece though - we change but the book doesn’t. (Reading Catcher in the Rye at 50 is a very, very different experience…)


I wish I’d followed this rule with Colm Tóibín’s Nora Webster. Since his Brooklyn was a good read and he has a great rep, i kept thinking “this is sure to get better, something more interesting will happen any minute now,” but it remained a slog all the way through.


The one where they walk into a bar?


That’s it, no more exercising for me! :wink:


I usually try to slog through most books that I’ve paid for even if I’m not enjoying them that much (I really should use the library), but Catch-22 defeats me every time.

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Oh I still found that same section a slog the next time, but the pay-off was worth it.