Do you finish books you hate?

When I read, I want a story to open up a space in my chest for someone to dance in. I want intensity. I want to feel, to believe. Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing and Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns both did the job.

But sometimes a book doesn’t slice my loaf – there are seven of those piled up beside my bed with an empty mug perched on top like an amateur art installation. ‘I’ll come back to you,’ I think. (I lie.)

It’s not like any of those books are rubbish, they’re just not doing it for me.

A couple of weeks ago, an editor asked me: ‘Do you read as reader or as a writer?’

And something has switched over the past year because I now read as a writer. I take notes, and analyse clues and complicated plots.

That’s turned me into even more of a quitter of books I don’t really like. I want to be inspired after all. Reading has become study. Rather than watching a magician do tricks, I’m leaning over to the side, having a good old nosey at where she’s stuffed her ace of clubs.

But I could learn something from my bedside pile. Just what is it that’s not working for me? Is the main character too much of a snooty toff to identify with? Or is it that the plot is too slow, the characters too passive?

Pressing on with a book that makes you groan for all the wrong reasons can pay dividends. I gave up with We Need to Talk About Kevin 100 pages in, but I returned to it a year later, and what a punch-to-the-gut read it was. Similarly, I toiled over the opening chapters of The Narrow Road to the Deep North, but stuck with Dorrigo Evans to the bitter, beautiful end.

I had to exercise patience with both books, and boy was it worth it. I felt, I believed. Someone salsa-ed inside my ribcage.

So – oh go on then – I’m going back to my bedside pile.

What kind of reader are you – a quitter or a plough-on-until-the-ender?

11 thoughts on “Do you finish books you hate?

  1. I’ve had authors send me some rather experimental books in which a sentence might not even make sense. If I read the sentence aloud to my husband and ask, “Can you tell me what that might mean?” and he says, “No,” I’m not going to finish it.

    Pretty much every other book an author has sent to me I have finished. I DO read like a writer, though, and have an MFA, so my reviews tend to really pick things apart. I always write honest reviews, whether the author likes them or not.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m a quitter too. If the book doesn’t grab me after 50-100 pages then I’m not going to stick at it. I have made exceptions for book club choices, but sometimes end up resenting the books for wasting my precious reading time.
    There are a few books that are slow starters that I have ended up loving. Maybe I should show a bit more patience, but since learning the craft of writing I find it much harder to keep reading something that doesn’t fully engage me.

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  3. I’m a quitter, UNLESS the characters niggle at me afterwards. I dumped A Little Life halfway through, because it was so unrelentingly grim, then went back four months later to see what happened to them. And would you believe they all became stand-up comedians and LOLed all the way to the last page?! 😉

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    • So you’re not really a quitter since you went back to it!!!! I so agree with you about that book – it was too much, especially that Doctor Traylor bit. I did, however, love the first 200 pages or so. I can see the merits in not ‘looking away’ e.g. 12 Years a Slave, but I don’t think that worked in A Little Life.


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