When is it okay to stop reading a book?

It’s always okay to stop reading a book. For some reason, we often feel obliged to carry on, even when we’re not enjoying it, but there really is no obligation. I’ve abandoned three books already this year and I’m about to do so again. Here’s when I think it’s okay to jump ship.

The book is a bit rubbish

Pretty much a good reason to stop doing anything. Give a book a chance, of course. But don’t mess about if it’s not doing anything for you.

I know with limited time (see below) and so many unread books on my shelves, I want to love almost every book that I read.

That’s unrealistic, but for crying out loud, don’t be reading something that’s either not very good or not tinkling your ivories.

You haven’t got time

This is a big reason for me abandoning books.

With nine-month old twins in the house, a full-time job, and a second novel of my own to write, reading is currently not – sadly – on my list of things I absolutely must do every day.

Changing nappies and tackling Scrivener is. Reading isn’t.

So when I do read, I want to cherish the moment. I want to spend that time with an extraordinary book, and if that means abandoning one that’s not so hot, then so be it.

You’ve got what you wanted

This may seem a bit harsh, but sometimes I’ll read a book just to see what the fuss is all about. I remember doing this a few years ago with Me, Cheeta by James Lever.

It wasn’t a bad book but half way through I had the urge to move on. I’d got what I needed from it and could understand why some people loved it, but it wasn’t my cup of tea particularly. So I stopped reading.

I don’t do that often, I should add. But once you’ve got the drift of a book, if it’s not tickling your fancy, I say feel free to try something different.

You made the wrong choice

Sometimes, when you’re faced with many reading options, it’s easy to choose the wrong one. I know I’ve started reading books before and spent the entire time wishing I was reading something else.

While I guess there’s something to be said for the anticipation and excitement of waiting to read what you really wanted to read, why torture yourself?

Don’t mess about. Your current choice will be there for you when you’re done and you’ll be able to give it your full attention.

Unless it’s rubbish, of course. Then move on again. But be sensitive about it. Poor twice-abandoned thing.

It’s really hard work

I’m generally not one for working hard with my reading.

That’s not to say I’m not literary. Truth is I read literary fiction almost exclusively, and I love reading writers who are brilliant stylists.

But I don’t like reading books that make me work hard for the sake of it. That’s not fun.

I like reading books that get to the point. There is beauty in economy and great writing is about so, so much more than fancy language and showing off.

If I’m reading sentences over and over to work out what they mean or what’s going on, I’m probably going to abandon that book.

What about you?

Do you happily abandon books or are you the sort that struggles on to the end no matter what? Let me know in the comments below.

And if you want to know what I’m reading right now, you can find me on Goodreads (though I don’t mark which books I’ve abandoned!).


daiana_luc@yahoo.com.ar 11 July 2013 Reply

Hi! Very interesting. A few times I started reading a book, got bored, gave it a second change a couple of years later and had to admit that it was a wonderful story. *nods*
By the way, I read another article that was also very good about this kind of topic, I don’t know if you’ve seen it already.


Thanks for always sharing your thoughts, Iain!

iain@writeforyourlife.net 11 July 2013 Reply

Thanks Daiana. Yes, that’s a good point actually. I too have gone back to books that I’ve abandoned and really enjoy them. Haven’t seen that piece, but will take a look!

donnawhite01@gmail.com 12 July 2013 Reply

Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, Sophie’s World, The Lacuna, The Little Friend.. I’m either stubborn or feel such overwhelming guilt towards the author and all the slaving away they did, that these are the only books I’ve ever abandoned! Some have been hard going though! I need to be better at saying “I’ve made a mistake. This is not for me” or “This is not for right now”. It just feels wrong somehow!

iain@writeforyourlife.net 12 July 2013 Reply

It does feel wrong and I’ve certainly read on before out of some notion of duty to the author, but it’s silly really. There is no duty, unless you’re their pal or confidante.

dan@stuffe.net 12 July 2013 Reply

I have s bit of a multiple-reads-on-the-go habit, and occasionally one gets accidentally abandoned via misplacement when I can’t recall what’s what when I eventually find it (doesn’t help that I don’t use bookmarks or turn page corners..). The only time I have ever done it by choice was the only time the book was a staff choice at Waterstones. Coincidence?

iain@writeforyourlife.net 12 July 2013 Reply

First of all, you need to start using a bookmark, that much seems clear.

I too read more than one book at once (again, see my Goodreads profile), although rarely two novels, if ever. I find it stops me from simply not reading at all if I’m not into a book. I can just go to another book and come back when I’m ready.

I shall make no comment on Waterstones and their inability to satisfactorily stock my novel. That’s what we’re talking about, right? Right?

cathyholst@gmail.com 12 July 2013 Reply

I have zero problem setting down a book that I’m not enjoying. My sister-in-law, however, is the opposite. She refuses to throw in the towel on any book she starts. Ever. I liken it to turning on the TV and forcing yourself watch a program, or movie, in its entirety that you don’t like. Why wouldn’t you change the channel to find something better? She’s steadfast in her conviction. To each their own, I suppose. 🙂

iain@writeforyourlife.net 12 July 2013 Reply

It’s exactly like that, only books are longer and more painful to keep going at!

Anonymous 14 July 2013 Reply

[…] When is it okay to stop reading a book? | Iain Broome […]

brianappa@gmail.com 12 October 2013 Reply

I have actually abandoned Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland 35 pages before the end because i don’t see it going anyway. I think Lahiri’s metier is short stories and she should perhaps stick to that. She may even get Nobel a la Munro later on in her life

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