Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On Abandoning Books

  So in a recent post, I mentioned that I had recently abandoned two books in a week and several commenters expressed interest as to why.  Other commenters mentioned how they did not like abandoning books for fear of missing out on a good ending.  I thought it was an interesting idea for a post, so ... here it is.

  I've actually abandoned three books in the last two weeks:  Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey, and The Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst.  I should say that all three of these were borrowed from the local library -- I might have stuck with them longer if I owned them.  
  In the case of Freedom, I gave up after about 20-25 pages because I wasn't feeling anything for any of the characters introduced to that point and there was nothing in the storyline that grabbed me enough to motivate me to read further.  I couldn't get through The Corrections either, so I'm not sure if it's him or me.
  For Parrot & Olivier in America, I made it to about 70 pages but I was getting confused - it seemed as if the narrative was changing from first to third person and I couldn't keep track of where the story was going.

  I only made it through about 50 pages of The Spies of the Balkans, again because the characters to that point and the storyline did not inspire me to read on.
  I don't normally like to give up on a book, especially if I have heard good things about it.  However, I have so many books on my to-read pile that I feel I'm wasting precious reading time on a book I'm not completely interested in.  Sometimes I can go back to these books and read them in their entirety and enjoy them (Atonement by Ian McEwan is one example) -- I guess I just need to have the right time for those types of books.

  Have you read any of my abandoned books?  Do you think I should try them again?  What makes you abandon a book?



  1. I really hate abandoning books but sometimes you just have to. What I often do is put down a book and then come back to it a few days later, hoping that I can get into it again. Most of my books come from the library which can make this difficult.

    I did it with Parrot and Olivier in America. I had to put it down twice and give it a few days. In the end I was glad that I finished it, it did definitely get better, but overall I didn't like the book.

  2. I have rule that I have to read at least 150 pages before I abandon a book. However, I think you are right to say there are just too many books out there to read to be stuck reading one you can't get into. It happens to everyone and I think you're smarter to abandon it than to stick with it and not enjoy yourself.

  3. Thanks for addressing the comments :o) I'm at a make or break point with Freedom, but since I paid $35 for the hardcover edition, I'm more invested in finishing it. I'm not too thrilled with it but I think I'll plough through. I don't blame you for giving it up.

  4. I am pretty darned picky about what I pick up anymore, so I don't abandon a lot of books these days. My rule for abandoning a book is that I don't have a rule. It really is more of a gut-feeling with me. I just all of the sudden realize that I don't care for the writing, or the story that the author is trying to tell.

    A relatively recent example of a novel that I abandoned was Denis Johnson's 2007 National Book Award winner, Tree of Smoke; which was, in my humble opinion, a piece of crap. I tried to read that damn book several times over the course of a couple of years, and finally gave up in disgust. I mailed it off to someone who wanted it via the bookswap feature. I was stunned that it was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Literature Prize. I never saw it in that novel, not at all. Frankly, I am of the same opinion about Franzen too. Personally, I think he is highly overrated, and if he is the best of American fiction I am concerned.

    Good posting, this made me stop and think about things a bit. Cheers! Chris

  5. I'm a fan of giving up on books when you just aren't into them. I made it halfway through a book and then gave up on it because I'd had enough. There is no point wasting precious reading time on bad books (and yes, there are bad books but what those books are varies with individuals). I try to read 50 pages before putting a book aside but sometimes I can tell from the first 10 pages that the writing is going to bother me and affect my ability to enjoy the book. I have so many books on my tbr stack that I don't enjoy spending time on books I'm not enjoying. I read for pleasure (well, since I'm a student it isn't always for pleasure). I don't want reading to be a chore.

  6. Great post!! I hardly abandon books in the fear that I will miss a good ending/wrap-up (i.e Freedom) but, in the last 5 months I did abandon these two books: One Hundred Years of Solitude (too "magically realistic" for me) and The Elegance of the Hedgehog(I thought the book was merely an excuse to boast about all the facts and tidbits of information the author knew).

  7. I haven't read any of the ones you've abandoned, so I'm no help there.

    I never used to give up on books, but the older I get--the less time I have ahead of me for reading, so I figure why waste it on something I'm not enjoying? I don't have a hard and fast rule on it--just once I get to the point where it seems too much like work (as in mind-less, why am I doing this work--I don't mind difficult books if there is a purpose [good plot, great characters, learning something, etc]). The most recent book that I abandoned was Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser. Could not take one more word.

  8. Shan - Sometimes when I pick up a book for the second (or third) time that is when it clicks for me and I enjoy it; I might try Parrot & Olivier again and see what happens.

    Brenna - Thanks, yes I want to be able to enjoy what I'm reading it and if I try something and it's not interesting me I have learned to move on.

    Teacher/Learner -- I'd have probably stuck with Freedom if I shelled out that kind of $ for the book; again I might go back to it one day ...

    Christopher -- hmmm Maybe my problem is that I'm not picky enough? There are just so many interesting-sounding books that I feel I must try them all....

    WonderBunny -- 50 pages is about my threshold too before deciding whether to bail out on a book. Most of the time something happens by then to set the tone for the rest of the story.

    Ruby/BookQuoter -- Oh please try Elegance of the Hedgehog again! It is heavy but it does kind of come together at the end -- though I have to say I was very mad at the ending.

    Bev -- Your turn: please try Mary Queen of Scots again; I think Antonia Fraser is amazing at telling the stories of history (ok, I'm a history dork and I have an interest in Elizabeth vs Mary Queen of Scots, but still....). I do get your point though on abandoning when it feels too much like work -- reading should not feel like work.

  9. Hi Suzanne~ Well, I had to give up Freedom, too! See why. My bookstore offers full refunds for editor's picks, so I should luck out with a full refund or exchange.

  10. I follow Nancy Pearl's rule: read 100 pages-age before abandonment. I'm getting better at letting go of books I don't care for.

    Also: Tag, you are it. I have tagged you for this fun little activity. Feel free to do it or not.

  11. I hate abandoning books, in part because I feel like at least some part of a like or dislike is my mood at the time. For a lot of books I expected to like, I'll let them for after a few chapters and try to read them again later if I can. I'd like to be better at letting books go though - so many good ones and so little time.

  12. I haven't read any of the books you abandoned; but I don't blame you for doing so. Life is too short to waste time reading a book just for the sake of reading it. If a book doesn't grab me by page 50, it's outta there! No regrets. I just move on through my list, stack, pile—whatever I'm working from at the time.

  13. Sue, I abandon books far more often than I would like to admit to. I have SO many books I want to read and life is too short to waste on rubbish. To be fair, sometimes I feel compelled to finish a rubbish book as I have to know what happened, but if the author can't even make me care enough to find out what's going to happen then I give up and move on to the next.


What do you think? Good or bad, I'd love to hear from you (but be nice - I'm sensitive!)