Cut Your Losses?

How much time should you invest in a book that you really, really don’t like? In The Guardian recently, novelist Mark Billingham is quoted as saying, “twenty pages.” Every time this issue comes up in social media (or Amazon reviews) a few extraordinarily patient people say, “I can’t not finish a book. I have to read to the end, no matter what.” If so, you’re in company with almost forty percent of readers, while only about 16 percent give up as early as Billingham.

I used to always read to the end, but now . . . life is short. Every year, I read and review (or start to read) 60-plus mysteries and thrillers. I try to give new and unfamiliar authors a chance, if the premise sounds good. Alas, one or two books a year simply are not ready for prime time. If the book came by way of the author and not a publicist, I thank them and say I won’t be able to write a review after all.

If the story is good, even if the execution isn’t quite up to par, I will keep reading. But if a book is boring, I stop. I figure if it can’t hold my interest when I am excited by the premise and predisposed to read and like it, that’s a fail.

If I encounter numerous typographical and grammar errors in the first few pages, I stop. Because such slip-ups distract readers, authors should care about them. A lot. As people who purportedly care about words, they should know the difference between diffuse and defuse, between pique, peak, and peek. And on and on.

These days, an occasional typo crops up even in books from big publishing houses, and I speculate that some homonym errors are due to spellcheck’s “help.” But if it looks as if the author couldn’t be bothered, I can’t help but wonder what else wasn’t attended to. Research? Historical references? Geography? The way guns work? The million little details that distinguish an immersive reading experience from a first draft.

I reached the “throwing the book across the room” stage of frustration recently with an audiobook. (No, I did not throw my iPod.) That was a first. Usually, having somebody read to me is pure pleasure. But this book, by a popular author, just didn’t grab me. I didn’t like the whiny main character. I didn’t like the bratty children she was nanny for. And, a teenage daughter was about to enter the story, and I just knew she’d be insufferable.

So I did something I’ve never done before: I went to the Amazon one-star reviews to see if I was the problem, or did other readers suffer too? Oh, boy. Got an eyeful, including a lot of complaints about the ending. So I did something else I’ve never done before; I found a website where the ending was discussed in detail. If, as they say, “getting there is half the fun,” not only did I not want the journey, but I didn’t want to arrive at that particular ending. Saved myself another ten hours of listening time. What about you? When you don’t like a book, do you stick with it or cut your losses?

7 thoughts on “Cut Your Losses?

  1. I stop reading much more quickly now than I used to, and I don’t know whether that’s because my attention span is shorter or because I’ve got less patience. In either case, I rarely feel guilty about ditching a book before reaching the end. There are so many good books waiting to be read!

  2. You’ve also touched upon something near and dear to my heart: typos and overall sloppiness.

  3. I’d have to agree with you, Vicki. If a book isn’t holding my interest, I simply stop reading it. I remember in college how I felt obligated to read each book all the way through and suffered needlessly. Looking back, I think a lot of the professors were either literary sadists or trying to teach us the ability of learning how to skim. As far as how many pages I’ll give a new prospect, I usually just read the first line. If it grabs me, I’ll pick up the book and continue. A friend of mine used to turn to page 69 and read that. If she liked what she read, she’d buy the book. If not, she’d put it aside. With me, that first line has to be a grabber.

    • You might enjoy the facebook page “First Line Mondays.” I’ve learned a lot about what does and doesn’t appeal to me by reading that regularly. Then I try to emulate the best!

  4. A book has to grab me in the first few pages or at least the first ten or so.Then I know I am on to a good read. I have been letting myself stop more often now…so many books little time

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