By Alex Segura
I have a hard time giving up on things. Books especially. Letting go isn’t my strong suit.
This isn’t a bad thing, per se, but it can be particularly difficult for two of my most-read genres: crime and comic books. Both often require a multi-book commitment, because they're written in series form.
So, this leads me to my question: when do you give up on a book or series? What’s your breaking point? What are the exceptions to the rule? OK, that was a few questions - but humor me here.
I sometimes want to be like the cool kids and toss a book across the room whenever it stops grabbing me. Life’s too short, I’ve got better things to read and so on. It sounds easy, right? It’s not for me. I know too much about how the sausage is made - I know how much effort goes into writing even a mediocre book. I try to give each one I read as fair a shake as I can. On the other hand, my time (like yours) is precious - so why waste it on a bad book?
I’m all over the place when it comes to this. I’ve powered through a 10-book detective series even though the last three books were mediocre, at best. I've stuck with books in the hopes that they'd get better only to toss them aside when they fell flat in the end. It varies.
I experienced this feeling of book ennui recently. I was reading an acclaimed, bestselling novel outside my usual genre and it just wasn't resonating with me. I was well into the book and found myself wondering, “What is the point of this book? Do I even care about these characters?”
Turns out, I did. I kept reading and really enjoyed how the book ended. The third act - which was not The Best Thing Ever, but good enough to almost make up for the sluggish start - propelled me toward more books by the author, which I subsequently enjoyed.
So, my answer is simple: there isn’t an answer. There are a ton of factors that go into whether I finish a book. Most of the time I do. I usually pick books I end up liking. However, if something doesn’t grab me and there isn’t enough to keep me interested (even in the earlier example, I at least liked some of the characters and world-building), then I chuck it and start something else. Hell, even my mood can affect whether I stick with a book. If I’ve started a crime novel after dozens of similar books, I might feel burnt out and want to read something completely different. I’ve stopped reading mid-series only to come back years later, in a different mindset, and finish. It’s hard to predict, but I’ve learned to just listen to my gut.
Life is too short to read bad books. But sometimes you don’t realize it as quickly as you should.
What are your warning signs that it might be time to bail on the book you’re reading? How much time do you give a book to right itself before you move on?
I used to make it a point of honor to finish everything I started reading. No more. Life's too short.
I don't have a hard and fast rule. With a series, I'll find I'm enjoying the books less as time goes on and will get to the end of one and think, 'Why am I still reading these? There are books out there I enjoy more." This is what happened with me and Robert B. Parker. The book was WIDOW'S WALK.
For individual books, it's a feeling that grows on me, where I look forward to picking the book back up less every time I do so. There will come a time when I say "one last chance." Then, usually, I'll pick the book up, open it, and just decide I don't want to do this anymore.
It's rare, though. I still finishd 85 - 90% of the books I start.
Usually when I start to complain to my wife and kids about the unrealistic, impossible and unnatural things that occur in these questionable books, I know I'm in trouble. Like Dana, I used to power through no matter what. But bad books will keep me up at night, like they have the power to take over my semi-conscious mind as I compose what could be entire books devoted to why a particular book sucks ass.
I could still go off, in detail, on a book I read twenty years ago by a guy that somehow still has a career today. He's probably a sweetheart of a guy, but I think I may harbor a barely suppressed desire to do him harm.
So the answer as to when I consider dropping a book coincides with the consideration of committing a capital crime. All that, and alliteration, too....
I'm not sure I have a hard and fast rule either, but, like Dana, life's too short to read bad books. But I also don't devour an entire series in a row. I space the books out unless I really enjoy the series. Binge reading/watching just isn't my thing. I'm in a SF book club and we read a book a month. Or, in my case, I start a book a month. If I'm not liking it, I just don't finish. I used to be the only one. Then, back in January, 3 out of 4 of us didn't finish the book. Just too bad.
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