The ‘Crime’ – Or Joy – Of Not Finishing a Book!

I so agree with this post on The Guardian website, about how it’s OK not to finish a book you’re not enjoying, that I had to write a quick post and ask what YOU think?

I have to admit, that I probably give up on as many books as I actually read, these days. Life’s too short! And there are too many other books that I will enjoy (if I can just find them!) that I can’t bear to waste time on a book that’s boring or irritating or has characters that I just don’t care two hoots about.

Someone very clever once said that the definition of a good book (or a good short story, for that matter) is when you ‘forget you’re reading’. You’re so ‘into’ that fictional world that, like a dream, if feels real to you. Isn’t that a fabulous, amazing thing? (And makes reading one of the most relaxing things you can do). So why spend time on books that don’t make you feel like that? Books in which, as a writer, you can ‘see the joins’ or (even as a non-writer!) you can guess the ending or confuse the characters so much that you feel like throwing the blasted thing across the room….

I know some people can’t bear to give up on a book. (WHY?!!!). They feel guilty! (WHY???) or like a failure. But actually, if there’s a ‘failure’, then it’s the writer, who didn’t engage you sufficiently. Just say no! Put the book down… slowly.. on the ‘charity shop’ pile.. and pick up something else to read.

I thank you. And have a good weekend, whatever you’re reading!

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24 Responses to The ‘Crime’ – Or Joy – Of Not Finishing a Book!

  1. LadyCristobel says:

    oh yes, life’s too short to waste on something as long as an unenjoyable novel. (I abandoned one this week, actually)
    Even a short story can be abandoned by me if it’s way beyond even basic pleasure. I would feel more guilty wasting seven hours on a disliked novel than trudging through it unwillingly. Not everybody feels that way. I walked out of a film once and I’ve never been forgiven for that. (best thing I ever did…)
    However, on my deathbed if someone asks ‘what do you regret in your life?’ I certainly won’t say ‘I wish I’d finished that novel’ or ‘I wish I’d stayed all the way through that awful bloodthirsty, sick-making film’.

  2. It took me a LONG time to get to the point where I could put down a book without finishing it. I think I must have had a childhood of “shoulds” and “should nots,” and finishing a book was a definite “should.” I have learned that an author’s first book or a later, icky book doesn’t mean that I won’t enjoy another book from the same author. That knowledge has let me put aside guilt when I put aside a book.

    • Yes, perhaps it’s a bit like ‘finish all the food on your plate’! It was drilled into us as children that you didn’t give up on things. I agree, I often don’t like an author’s earlier, or later work either!

  3. I still feel a bit guilty about not finishing a book. But my To Be Read pile is so tall now, it’s in danger of toppling.

    • I don’t feel guilty (unless it’s a book that someone’s bought for me as a present and told me I’ll love!). In fact, it pleases me, in a strange way, because it means I can move onto another book straight away!

  4. Helen Lowry says:

    I’m with you, Helen, life is far too short to try and read books that just don’t do it for me! There’s plenty more I will enjoy.


    I’m guessing that many of the books you read are by authors that are new to you, whereas I mostly stick to the tried and tested. For that reason it’s rare for me not to finish a book and yes sadly I do feel a need to.

    • Margaret, that’s interesting – and made me think. But actually, it doesn’t always work that way. I love everything Kate Atkinson has ever written – starting with ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’, for example, but I just couldn’t get into ‘A God in Ruins’. I tried a couple of times and then gave up!

      • yellowjo says:

        I read God In Ruins all the way through, having loved everything else she’s written, but I didn’t enjoy it. I find it very difficult to abandon a book, I have to say. Currently reading Nora Webster by Colm Toibin and I didn’t like it much at first. I was bored. However, it started to grow on me and I’m quite enjoying it now, but can only read about three pages at a time, so it’s slow-going. I loved Brooklyn, however. As you say, Helen, the best books or stories are those you forget you’re actually reading.

      • Interesting that ‘A God in Ruins’ didn’t do it for you, either, Jo! (I have still got the book, though – can’t bear to give it away as I think I might try again one day). I read recently that there’s a new Jackson Brodie novel (also by Kate Atkinson, as you will know!) coming out next year! Yippeeee. I enjoyed Nora Webster but agree, it wasn’t as good as Brooklyn, which I adored! (there’s a third one in the series, isn’t there? Can’t remember what it’s called but I keep meaning to read it).

  6. juliathorley says:

    I’m more likely to give up on a short story than a novel. With a book, I tend to give it two or three chapters and then, if I’m not engaged, I pass it on. I did this with Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Northern Lights, which no doubt makes me a philistine.

    • I don’t think it makes you a philistine, Julia! We all like different things. I loved both of those books but I gave up on The Miniaturist and Kate Mosse’s The Labyrinth, which will, I know, have some people throwing their hands up in horror!

  7. Ninette90 says:

    I definitely give up if I cannot enjoy a book enough to continue, but yes, I often feel guilty. My husband gives it 100 pages (which I think is fair). I can’t even finish a book I’m writing, never mind one I’m reading. . .hahaha 🙂

  8. Alex Gazzola says:

    I agree. BUT … I wonder how many writers who also agree are writers who advise other writers to ‘never give up writing’ if they’re having doubts. We should *always* give ourselves and others permission to give something up and switch to something else, if things aren’t working out! 🙂

  9. Maria says:

    I feel guilty about not finishing a book, and consequently have lots of unfinished books lying around. It’s time I sorted myself and them out! Perhaps I’ll have another look, and this time if I can’t continue, I’ll donate them. That’s going to happen in 2019.

  10. If I’m not enjoying a book which I thought I would like, or even felt I should read for some reason, I leave it, read something else and come back to it. Sometimes I get on much better with it the second time, but if not then I give up without a hint of guilt.

    There are so many books – we can’t possibly read them all, or enjoy all we do try, so why should we feel guilty about it?

  11. Kate Hogan says:

    There are just so many books that fail to capture me – Kate Mosse’s The Labyrinth didn’t do it for me either! I made it to about chapter 3, i think. I want to be entertained, intrigued, or find my heart going out to characters I care about. Sticking to short stories these days. I’ve also walked out on lots of films – or wished I had if I didn’t! It’s so much easier now I’m older, to put down, turn off, or walk away from things that don’t please or inspire, whereas my much younger self would have persevered. Good wishes. Kate Hogan.

  12. Kathleen says:

    More discerning, I’m sure!!!

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