“Grown-Ups Shouldn’t Finish Books They’re Not Enjoying”

“Grown-Ups Shouldn’t Finish Books They’re Not Enjoying”

Last week my assigned writing course reading was a John Irving interview from 1986. (1986! His work-in-progress was A Prayer for Owen Meany. It was like a time machine.)

I shared one of my favorite quotes from the interview on the MMD facebook page and asked you to share your thoughts.

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“Grown-ups shouldn’t finish books they’re not enjoying.” – John Irving

Abandoners and Finishers

The answers fell into two categories:

  1. Those who abandon books they’re not enjoying.
  2. Those who wish they could.

The Abandoners said things like this:

Rachel: “I give it 60 pages. I call it The Giver Rule, since the book The Giver was super boring until around page 60. If I’m not enjoying a book after 60 pages, I’m done!”

Krystal: “I used to think I “had” to finish a book once I started. This limited the books I chose to read. Not so anymore. Because I know I don’t have to finish it if I don’t like it, I try a wide variety of books. Books that before I would have felt were too difficult or not my style. Now I’ll try anything!! Almost.”

Walking Through the Valley: “I started doing that a few years ago, and it changed my whole reading style. About 30-60 pages in, if I’m not hooked, it’s gone.”

Celeste: I implemented the 100-minus current age rule and read that many pages. Sometimes I continued, other timesI have given it a good effort.”

The Finishers said things like this:

Amy: “I can’t not finish a book.”

Carrie: “I can’t! Do you know how many books I have “in progress” because I can’t bring myself to give up on them??? Darn fake-OCD.

I’m a Finisher who would like to be an Abandoner. I know when it’s time to quit a book: it’s that point when I consciously decide to switch to lightning-fast reading mode so I can get the thing over with as soon as possible. I occasionally abandon books altogether, but I don’t do it enough.

My new anti-reading goal

It’s just March; it’s not too late to make new resolutions. I’m belatedly resolving to quit bad (or less-than-stellar) books. Next time I catch myself switching to speed-reading mode, I’m just going to put it down.

I’ve already read plenty of not-so-great books in 2013. I should have abandoned First Light and Looking for Alaska. I strongly suspected Gathering Blue and Messenger wouldn’t be to my taste. These books were all by good authors, but I knew by page 60 I didn’t want to finish them. I did anyway. I shouldn’t have.

My new goal for 2013 is to have a nice long list of books I abandoned to share with you at the end of the year. I’m gunning for a dozen or more.

Wish me luck.

Abandoner or finisher? Share your thoughts in comments. 

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I loved the interview with John Irving, and not just because he prompted an anti-reading goal. Read the whole thing here.

"Grown ups shouldn't finish reading books they're not enjoying." - John Irving

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  1. Brandyn says:

    I think of myself as an abandoner. My rule is 50 pages or 10% (whichever is longer). The only caveat is that there are books where I care about how they end, but I’m no longer enjoying reading them – those I start skimming at some point just to find out what happens.

  2. Abby Brown says:

    I’m most definitely a finisher. What’s worse is that if I start a series, I feel compelled to finish the WHOLE series. Everyone loves the Throne of Glass series, but I’m not a huge fan, but I’m already 4 books in so now I have to see how it ends. For standalone books, I don’t really mind if I’m not in love with it because there’s only one, but for series, I might just have to stop after the first or second book and google how it all plays out haha.

  3. I find this amusing as I love Irving and Owen Meany was a book I had a very hard time getting into. It ended up being my 2nd favorite Irving.

    I had a 30 page rule for about a quarter century. It took me a year to finish ‘Sister Carrie’, 2 years to finish ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, but I did it, right? And then last year when I was reading a book recommended by a friend and she kept asking me ‘did you start it yet?’ ‘are you loving it?’ ‘have you still not finished that book?’. I didn’t love it. A funny memoir that started out as humorous as reported and then ran more toward the realm of ‘you’ve been talking about yourself for 200 pages now’ and I left it at about 2/3 finished. And lied to my friend. ‘Oh, yes. Great recommendation. Very nice.’ UGH.

    So now I have no problem putting a book down. I have put down 2 books this year- both the last book in a series. And you know what? I do not care what happened in the end.

  4. debbi says:

    interestingly, I had a similar experience and it was with doris lessing. she said ‘There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag-and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty-and vise versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.’ this was in the introduction to the golden notebook – a book I started three times before I was able to get into it. interestingly, she also said ‘I am sure everyone has had the experience of reading a book and finding it vibrating with aliveness, with colour and immediacy. And then, perhaps some weeks later, reading it again and finding it flat and empty. Well, the book hasn’t changed: you have.’ this makes me want to re-read the golden notebook and see what resonates with me – if I could get into it again like I had before.

    however, I still struggle with putting down books. even with the sage advice of a writer I greatly respect

  5. Pam says:

    I am a finisher but I would like to learn how to be an abandoner. Teach me how! I have abandoned books in the past, but with much, much reluctance. The latest book I have tried to get through with no success, but have not officially abandoned is…Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre. Have you read it? Worth soldiering on or should I truly give up on it now?

  6. Sabrina says:

    I kind of abandon books all the time — but since I always read a chapter or two and then read the ending to see if I want to read the whole thing, I don’t know if it counts as abandoning. But then again, as one of that minority of folks who read endings at the beginning, I’m probably not the best one to ask about it.

    I have an aunt who was so excited when she realized (at retirement!) that she could put a book down and not finish it. One of her golfing partners asked about what she was reading and she complained about the book she was trying to finish and her friend asked her why she was still reading a book she clearly didn’t like. She was initially shocked at the concept of not finishing and then thrilled as she realized it really was okay to stop mid way through a book.

    • Marla says:

      I read a chapter or two. Then I read the last chapter. If I can figure out what happened without chapters of description, I am done. If I decide I don’t care what happened, I am done. If I find myself thinking how on earth did they get here, I go back to where I skipped forward and start looking for clues. I often find a book I really like by this method. I also save a lot of time by eliminating books I really don’t care for.

  7. Aimee says:

    Anne, I just want to thank you for your repeated reminders to become a quitter. I am definitely a finisher, as I hate to think I’ve wasted my time beginning something that I won’t finish. But I started a memoir the other day that made me cringe every time I picked it up. Each distasteful portion I slogged through was immediately followed by a new cringe-inducing passage. I looked for something–anything–that would redeem all the angst, but I was unable to find any hope in the story. This book is a 2016 bestseller that I spent several months waiting for at the library, so at first I assumed I just needed to power through. But I happened to search for it on your site and saw that when it had a been a Kindle Deal, you admitted to abandoning it. And suddenly I knew I could too. I’m on to much more uplifting, enjoyable reads now. Thank you for the encouragement and for always being honest with us about your thoughts on what you read!

  8. Charles Hess says:

    I have come around to not finishing a book that I don’t enjoy. I get my books from our library, usually several at a time. Because of this, I choose to give my reading time to those books I enjoy.

    There are some authors, who when they have a new book out, I will move to the front of the line. But generally, I take the book due to be returned first as my ‘next read.’

    I learned to read as a young child, and I sometimes think that it is my greatest accomplishment. It has given me joy throughout my life.

  9. Stephanie says:

    If I don’t care enough to find out how the book ends, I put it down. I didn’t used to do this; I was definitely a Finisher. I realized that life is just too short and there so many good books to get to!

  10. I am an Abandoner. I do give books a good chance, sometimes I read a hundred pages or more, but I stop when the fun stops, as recommended for gambling. I have recently resolved to read shorter books, so that by the time I have read a hundred pages, I am at least half way, if not nearly finished!
    I really enjoyed reading this post, it’s fun and interesting, and a great way to start the day.

  11. Catherine says:

    I’m new to the group but I immediately was attracted to this subject. I’ve learned to be an abandoner. It’s a must if I want to ever finish all the books and ebooks I have waiting. My most
    Recent abandoned book – Fates and Furies. Ugh. But in general my rule is 100 pages at most.

  12. Angie says:

    I give a book about 50 pages and then I don’t abandon it, exactly; it’s more like going out with a guy a few times and then he just doesn’t call again. No drama. If it’s a library book, it’s easier; just return it unfinished. If I own it, I will usually give it another chance. Your post included a photo of Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier at Home” and that reminded me of my experience with her first book of the series, “The Happiness Project.” I bought the book because some cousins were going to have a Facebook book discussion/implementation of the concepts in the book. I started reading it and was underwhelmed. If the book club idea had really caught on, I probably would have soldiered through it, but since it didn’t, I didn’t either. I kept keeping it, though, not giving it away. About a year later, I tried it again. Again, not so much. Several months later, I tried again. Third time’s the charm; I enjoyed it so much, I applied some of the principles to my own situation AND bought the next two books, too! A case of “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I will give “classics” several tries before I just say, “Steinbeck and I are not compatible.” At my age, it just doesn’t matter if I’m not considered literary; I know the truth! I like your blog very much.

  13. Carolyn West says:

    I am a finisher as well but see I need to change. Part of the problem is books are soooo much longer than they used to be. Books used to be 200-250 at the most now they have almost 400 and are part of a trilogy.
    Will try to be a quitter on those books I don’t love ❤️

  14. S says:

    I am super late in commenting on this post, since I just came across it. I used to be a finisher, but after giving birth to twin boys in January 2012, my time for reading became much more limited, and I became an abandoner. It’s been liberating!

    I will give a book 50 pages or so usually, unless I can tell sooner that it is just really poorly written. There have been books I ended up liking that took the first 50 pages or so to get me interested, so I feel that this is a good approach for me.

  15. Rick O'Brien says:

    Usually around page 40/50 I will abandon if it’s not going well. The author has the obligation to make me want to continue. If not I will start something else. It’s rare but it happens, Wolf Hall was the last book I put down. I wanted to like it but the writing style wasn’t working for me.

  16. Barbara says:

    I will abandon a book I am not enjoying or can’t get into, way too many good books out there to waste time with boring ones. On a side note, “A Prayer for Owen Meany” was one of my favorite books, and I’ve reread it many times.

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