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>Giving Up

>I’m quite enjoying The Rights of the Reader, the new Candlewick edition of Daniel Pennac’s Comme un Roman, first published here as Better than Life, and I have been pondering Right No. 3, “The Right Not to Finish a Book.” Here as elsewhere, Pennac’s aphoristic style puts the ooh-la-la in Gallic shrug:

So the book falls from your hands?
Well, let it fall.

Some people can’t stand to not finish a book, which has never been my problem. But I notice I am now more likely to . . . drift away from a book that’s giving me problems, pretending I’ll get back to it someday. Sometimes I find that even my best intentions are defied by the sudden impenetrability of a book I had been thoroughly enjoying but for one reason or another put down. Too much time has passed, peut-être. What was a fun summer read seems vapid in the cool light of hiver. But there is always the problem of giving up too soon: one hundred pages of slogging through the opening days of the Spanish Civil War (which is always hard to keep straight in the first place) put me off C. J. Sansom’s Winter in Madrid but Richard just emailed to tell me that the next four hundred pages totally redeem the slow start (he retrieved the book from my I’ll-get-back-to-it stack, where it was placed right under The Likeness, which defeated me two-thirds of the way through).

I’m curious to know what rules other people out there might have for Giving Up. (And Fessing Up: how much of a book do you have to have read in order to say that you read it?)

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Anonymous says:

    >When I hit one too many bumps, either because Life interrupts, or the book tosses me out, I start to skim. Then I have “technically” read, say, Paper Towns, in the sense that I can reasonably be sued for copyright violation when I write a screenplay about a guy whose objet d’amour goes missing and how he tracks her down. On the other hand, I cannot claim that what I did with the last half of Paper Towns was reading it.

    Skimming for plot points so that you can eyeball the resolution without actually participating in the story, that’s not reading. But that’s what I do instead of not finishing a book. Better maybe, I should let it fall.

  2. Jen Robinson says:

    >I usually read before I go to sleep. If I find that three or four nights have gone by, and I’ve only been able to read a few pages each night before falling asleep, I’ll usually move on to something else. I figure that the book isn’t capturing my attention. I’ll also sometimes drop a book after one too many instance of bad writing. I don’t use a formal page limit for deciding to stop.

  3. >Technically, I aim for fifty pages before “officially” giving up, but if a book isn’t grabbing me, I set it aside with the idealistic belief that I’ll come back to it later and try again.

  4. Roger Sutton says:

    >I recommend Orhan Pamuk’s Snow like crazy despite leaving the last fifty pages unread.

  5. Teacherninja says:

    >Doug Johnson just had a similar post. Great minds and all that. 100 pages sounds ok, but I think if you’re reading it for fun the rules are your own to make. I don’t care what anyone says, I’m never finishing The Bone People.

  6. >I’m the same with Famished Road by Ben Okri. Exquisite writing but the novel didn’t hang together for me. Perhaps I was too young and I need to read it again. Though I did discover his short stores with relief, now I can love Ben Okri in achievable portions. I struggled with Starbook too, and that is also languishing unfinished in my pile of good intentions.

    I hate that annoying point where you leave off a book and then enough time passes that you feel you can’t pick up from where you left off but it’s too soon to start reading again from the beginning.

  7. Anamaria (bookstogether) says:

    >Have you read How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard? I skimmed it (I know!) but it does deal with similar questions. Also French.

  8. Anonymous says:

    >I don’t claim to have read a book unless I have gone through the whole thing. However, as someone said, sometimes what I was doing was not quite reading. For example, I’ve gone through Finnegans’Wake; but did I really read it? Has anyone?

  9. Kimberly @ lectitans says:

    >I usually give a book 50 pages, and don’t say I’ve finished fiction unless I’ve read the whole narrative. But I’m never sure when I have or haven’t “finished” a non-fiction book if it has appendices or instructions or the like.

  10. Melinda says:

    >I agree with Kimberly about nonfiction. One of my most dearly-beloved books on the horticulture shelf is The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants and Shrubs by Michael Dirr, but reading it all the way through? There’s no way. But I will say that I’ve read it, and that I worship its author. With fiction, however, I will have to read (or skim) it all the way through.

    I really don’t have any rules in reading. Generally I pick up books at the library like candy, but if I don’t finish them, oh well, I’ll probably check them out some other day. Or not.

  11. >I stop reading books all the time. If I’m reading something for work, I’ll make myself continue even if I’m not feeling it (taking any shortcuts I reasonably can). But if I’m reading on my time and can’t get into it fairly early on, I have no trouble walking away. And I can’t think of a book I’ve put down in that way and ever picked up again.

    If I’m offering an opinion about a book, I’ll clarify whether I’ve finished it to put my thoughts in context.

  12. Gretchen says:

    >I tend to “drift away” from a book also. Typically give it a few chapters to grab me and then skim a few more to see if the title can be redeemed, if not, I walk away.

    If I am reading a YA book to review for the library, will often read the first half, skim the next part and read the last few pages. And yes, I will have claimed to have read the book. . . I usually ‘fess up at some point that I technically “skimmed” the book, but details like that don’t seem to bother teenagers.

  13. Chris Barton says:

    >I have no qualms about walking away from a book — and in fact, I probably don’t walk away as quickly as I should. After slogging all or part of the way through one title, I’ll get absorbed by a book I really love and be reminded, “Ah — this is how it’s supposed to feel!”

  14. janeyolen says:

    >If I find myself re-reading a sentence or paragraph over and over and JUST. . .NOT. . .GETTING. . .IT. . .that’s my ultimate signal. I had that problem with “Shipping News” and a lot of Joyce Carol Oates. And don’t get me started on anything by Margaret Atwood.

    I used to give a book 100 pages. I am down to 50 and falling fast because there are too many books out there I haven’t read yet to worry about quitting too soon. You know–you can always go back.


  15. Kimberly says:

    >Oh, dear. With a couple of exceptions, I give up if the reader doesn’t grab me on the first page. I am a slow reader and there are a lot of great books to read. First pages are important.

    The exceptions: If someone I know well has suggested the title. Or if I am a fan of the writer’s other books. But even then, I wouldn’t go past twenty or so pages.

  16. Sarah Miller says:

    >I’ve got no qualms about ditching a book early on, but once I cross the halfway point, giving up feels like a waste. If I’ve made it that far, I insist on getting some kind of return on the time I’ve already invested in the story and plow forward out of sheer stubbornness. (One of my dopier habits.)

  17. >I think you have to make allowances for books written in an earlier time. If I’d given up on Middlemarch before it got really good (roughly page 200), I’d have missed one of the best books of my life.

    Admittedly it helps if lots and lots of people keep telling you it’s one of the greatest novels ever written. I can’t give every book I dip into 200 pages. Sometimes 20 are enough to say “not for me right now.”

  18. Jennifer Schultz says:

    >If I’m having trouble getting into a book that I’m not required to read, I’ll usually give it 100 pages before I decide to give up completely. However, if it’s a children’s/YA book considered noteworthy for some reason (recently won an award/was on a list, popular with local children/teens…I’ve had a Newbery medal and honor book reading project for a few years, and I’ve had to make myself finish some of the earlier winners), I’ll keep reading it.

    I’m not nearly as forgiving with adult fiction and nonfiction. If I’m really not liking it, I’ll stop long before the 50-100 pages.

  19. >I don’t have a hard-and-fast rule. If it’s something I’m reading for professional reasons, I’m inclined to stick with it longer than I otherwise would.

    When I do give up, it’s often an unconscious giving up. I am a two-timing reader, often simultaneously reading two or three (or more) books. So, I continue to read whatever else I’m reading at the time, and I may or may not get back to the offending book.

    I refuse to feel guilty about it. There are too many books I haven’t read for me to waste time on a book I don’t like.

  20. GraceAnne LadyHawk says:

    >Fifty pages. Then I discover I have often thrown it across the room. I am too old now to waste hours of my life on drivel and trash, unless of course I am enjoying it.

    I only read 25 pages of The Da Vinci Code and the end, only because we were going to Paris and TheInfomancer had actually finished it. It gave me actual, physical pain – not Paris, that damn book.

  21. >Hurrah! Somebody else who couldn’t finished The Shipping News.

  22. Lisa Chellman says:

    >I’ve abandoned books when I’ve already read 90%; I’ve abandoned books on page 3. But if I feel I need to say I tried, I do as many others do and shoot for 50. If I’ve spent those 30-60 minutes with the characters and feel so little for them that I don’t care what happens to them (or am so annoyed with them that I wish they’d all get hit by a truck), it’s time to stop and look for a book that speaks to me.

  23. >Lisa hit it on the nose. The book has to speak to me, if not, I chuck it (unless, of course, I need to read it for work. Sigh…many a children’s/young adult book has been slogged through.)

  24. laurasalas says:

    >Life is short. If a book doesn’t grab me by a couple of chapters in, I usually drop it. The harder part is what you mentioned about liking a book and then having it wilt right there in your hands for some reason.

    To say I’ve read a book, I have to have finished it. Otherwise, it goes on my “I tried to read it, but…” list.

    I recently slogged through a novel for book club that I really didn’t like. Nothing is more painful than wasting precious reading time on a book you don’t want to read!

  25. Anonymous says:

    >I like to give the author fifty pages, but I think it’s also important to play fair; to read those fifty pages when I’m not exhausted, in a reasonably quiet place. Sometimes my schoolchildren take a book, glance at the first page, spend the next ten minutes giggling, chortling, and poking their friends, and then come back to me with the words, “I couldn’t get into it. It’s kind of boring.” I try to do a little better than that.

  26. Kimberly says:

    >I thought of a two more exceptions when I’ll give a book a longer read.

    Like mb mentioned earlier, I will make allowances for an older classic and I always finish books or manuscripts that I’m asked to read for contests. However, it’s interesting to note that the way I felt about the first page is usually the way I end up feeling about the book. First impressions are lasting.


    P.S. I loved The Shipping News. It was a difficult read for me, but the characters were unforgetable. I’m so glad to have read it.

  27. >I gave up on Tenants of Time 100 pages shy of the end. At that point suspense wasn’t building, boredom was.

    I have no rules. I read for enjoyment. If I’m not enjoying a book I stop reading it. If I haven’t read an entire book I don’t say that I have.

  28. kathleen duey says:

    >Ditto what most said. I, too, sometimes can’t/don’t/won’t finish a book because it is more work than pleasure.

    But it is often because my own work swallows me whole and I set books aside. Sometimes it is that I have stacks of research to absorb. Other times I am lost in writing.

    But I only rarely go back because of the hynotic buzz of new books, the growing piles of friends’ new works, etc,.
    I feel terrible about it. My office is littered with good, half-read books I am almost sure I will never finish. Once a year, I give them to local schools.

  29. Anonymous says:

    >depends on what else you are reading at the time (or have read recently) I am now trying to read THE WAPSHOT CHRONICLE and can only think of WICKFORD POINT. Either one might have amused me but too close together they cancel each other out does anyone else have this problem? when reading for pleasure, of course – it’s different when you are doing a group review of books on subject x.

  30. Danielle says:

    >I cannot imagine not finishing a book. I have always felt the need to finish every book that I have started. I have found that although some books start off very slow, they pick up speed very quickly towards the middle and the end. If you stop reading a book because you don’t like the beginning, how will you know how it ends?

  31. Anonymous says:

    >To me, you have to have read the whole book in order to say that you have read it. Otherwise, you have just started it and never finished. That said, I have tortured myself through many a book when the very fact that the reading of it was not enjoyable meant that I should have given up long, long ago.

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