In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • "So Many Books, So Little Time"
  • Sara Dreyfuss (bio)

Do you give up on a book after a few dozen pages if you are not enjoying it? Or do you always finish what you start? Most avid readers fall into one of those two groups. Goodreads, an Amazon website that specializes in book reviews and recommendations, polled its users on that issue in 2013. About 44 percent of respondents admitted that they stopped reading before the 100-page mark if a book bored them. Another 38 percent said they always finish their books, no matter what.1

To Finish or Not to Finish?

To finish or not to finish? There are good arguments on both sides. The ancient Roman author Pliny the Younger wrote, "No book is so bad as to not have something of use in some part of it."2 Juliet Lapidos, an opinion editor at the Los Angeles Times, declares, "Once you start a book, you should finish it." She explains, "I can't count how many novels have bored me for a hundred pages only to later amaze me with their brilliance . . . With the exception of Portrait of a Lady, every Henry James novel I've read has tested my patience. Yet in each case I've hit a transcendentally good scene that makes up for all the preceding irritation."3 Alex Clark, a British writer and literary critic, agrees: "Seriously good books are immersive experiences, demanding of time and patience. Respect them." He adds, "In a long and complex novel . . . there are bound to be longueurs and bafflements, moments when you think, can I? You know what? You can. And you should."4

On the other side of the argument, many people think you should drop any book that fails to engage you, and the sooner the better. Katy Guest, the literary editor of the British newspaper The Independent, advises, "If you're really not getting on with a book, please put it down before you really grow to resent it."5 Iain Broome, a British novelist and editor, says, "It's always okay to stop reading a book. For some reason, we often feel obliged to carry on, even when we're not enjoying it, but there really is no obligation."6 Unless you must read a book for a class or a job, you may be better off abandoning it. Set it aside and move on to something more rewarding.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to ditch a book you do not enjoy is that there are thousands of good books to read and a limited time in which to read them. Guest urges people "never to struggle on with a book that you hate. Life is too short for ironing [End Page 231] and bad books . . . the next book you read could be the one that changes your life."7 This argument can be summarized as "So many books, so little time," a slogan that appears on many T-shirts and other merchandise, often attributed to the rock musician Frank Zappa. A similar T-shirt saying, ascribed to the author Joy Daniels, is "Life is too short to read bad books or drink bad wine."8

People have many reasons for jumping ship on a book. The Booklist Reader, the official blog of the American Library Association magazine Booklist, took what it describes as a "random poll" of readers, editors, and librarians asking why they give up on a book. Kaite Stover, director of readers' services at the Kansas City Public Library in Kansas City, Missouri, listed the top five offenses that make her stop reading:

One: cliches. Two: grammatical errors. Three: lazy descriptions. Four: unbelievable dialogue. And five: unrealistic situations and characters. Typically I'll give a book about 50 to 100 pages to hook me and then I'll toss it back.9

Robin Bradford, collection development librarian at Timberland Regional Library in Tumwater, Washington, said:

I can't handle badly done dialect. That will make me drop a book. If I'm constantly correcting the author's grammar in my head, I will stop reading. That, and misspellings or using the wrong form of a word. (Their...


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pp. 231-236
Launched on MUSE
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