Putting Down a Book

January 7th, 2009 • Kate

Of the many books I listed before the holidays, some I didn’t get to, some I finished, but only one did I start and put down less than halfway through, unmotivated to continue by what I felt were cold characters and a narrative style that seemed unduly remote. I didn’t love making that decision. I’ll stop reading a manuscript halfway through with nary a second thought if I know I don’t love it, but that’s also about making a decision to represent a project. But a finished book? Well, some other agent already loved it and sold it to an editor, who got her whole team involved to publish the book. So who am I to say it’s bad?
Now, I know, intellectually, that my label of “bad” is a purely personal one. Easier to say, perhaps, that it just wasn’t for me, even if others have loved it, even if I liked the author’s previous title(s).
Still, I feel like I quit, and I hate that feeling. But my time’s too valuable to me, even on vacation, to keep reading something I’m not enjoying.
So help make me feel better — what books have you put down as not for you despite others’ acclaim for them?

Filed Under: Slushpile


21 Responses to “Putting Down a Book”

  1. Tami Says:

    The Swords books by Saberhagen
    My husband adores them, and I just couldn't, despite many earnest attempts to do so, finish a book.
    Incidentally, it was for the same reasons you stated – the characters felt stilted to me, like claymation puppets, and the narrative style was so cold and matter-of-fact.
    Then there was the Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan. VERY highly recommended by many of my friends, and I couldn't even get through the first book. I found myself skipping entire chapters so that I could read the bits concerning the one character I did connect with.
    Thankfully, I can look at them and realize that they do have an appeal to a certain reader – it's just not me. And I can move on to the many, many, many other books that I do enjoy, with worlds and characters that I wrap around myself and disappear into.

  2. Shannon Says:

    I had to put down Wally Lamb’s I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE. It was making me an angry person. I’ll still try to read it again, but not for a while.

  3. Joe Iriarte Says:

    I've almost never put a book down unfinished, due to my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Actually, it'd be good for me if I could train myself to do so. There are two books I can recall not finishing:
    Anna Karenina: Hurricane Andrew destroyed my copy of it and I was more or less homeless for a good month, by which point the last thing on my mind was Tolstoy, and then it just felt too overwhelming to buy a new copy and start all over again from the beginning, since it's a huge book. I had finished about two-thirds of it and, while I wasn't loving it, I was doing okay with it.
    Atlas Shrugged: This book cured my teenage flirtation with Objectivism. I had already read Anthem and The Fountainhead. Atlas Shrugged began with a story that was obviously a clone of The Fountainhead. And then the story continued, with what basically amounted to another clone of The Fountainhead. I couldn't believe Rand had the gall to tell me the same story over and over again. And then I got to this speech that went on . . . and on . . . and . . . I flipped ahead, and this speech went on for like eighty pages! What the hell! I at last shrugged and threw the book across the room–the only book I have deliberately not finished reading.

  4. liliwilkinson Says:

    I probably put down two or three books a week, because I read so much for review. I think it's important to be able to put a book down – if you feel like you're reading under obligation, then reading stops being fun.
    There's nothing sadder than a child who thinks they HAVE to finish every book they start…
    I never managed to get past the first chapter of CS Lewis' The Last Battle (and reading about it now I'm not surprised).

  5. jeanoram Says:

    'The Secret Life of Samuel Tyne' and 'Atonement'. I can't get past the first page of 'Atonement' for some reason. I'll try again though. Sometimes the timing isn't right, that's all. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. lotusloquax Says:

    The first one I really remember not finishing on purpose was MOBY DICK in the 10th grade. After 100 pages or so I was sick to death of it. The last one I have not been successful at forcing myself to read is INKDEATH and I loved the first 2. I'll finish it eventually, I think, but after 260 pages I'd have thought I'd be into it by now. I feel like I'm slogging through a muddy field in the rain.

  7. bella_stander Says:

    SWANN'S WAY by Marcel Proust. I bought a second translation after the first one bored me silly. I still didn't get beyond page 100.
    SEABISCUIT. I was given an ARC by the publicist, who thought it the greatest thing in years. Couldn't get more than halfway through; maybe I'll watch the movie someday.
    THE ENGLISH PATIENT. I'm with Jerry and Elaine on this one–not that I'd ever attempt the movie. Snore…
    GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, THE RECOGNITIONS, A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME. I guess I'm just not enough of an intellectual.

  8. Joe Iriarte Says:

    lotusloquax, I think that a lot of times we get books rammed down our throats before we're really ready to get the most out of them. There are so many books I suffered through in high school that I got nothing out of, really. But I returned to a lot of these books later and found them a lot more rewarding.
    I was in seventh grade when I read Lord of the Flies, and I thought it was okay, I guess, but I had to read it again as part of a senior class, and was really able to go into a lot more depth with it. I read The Scarlet Letter in tenth grade, and it was torture, but when I read it again in graduate school, I thought it was actually quite a good book. I read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man senior year, and then again in grad school . . . mmm, nope. I got nothing that time. I still didn't like it! But it wasn't as bad. When I was in high school, that book was infuriating in its incomprehensibility. In grad school it was easier to pick out nuggets of meaning. In fact, maybe the reason I still didn't like it was merely residual dislike from high school, since that was the single work of literature I hated the most. Maybe I wasn't ready to forgive it.
    I think I may be lucky I didn't read Moby Dick in high school–wait, that sounds more obvious than I mean it to be. A million high school kids just nodded in agreement and that wasn't my point at all. What I mean is, I think I'm lucky that I did read it–in grad school. I know so many adults who have such horrible memories of that book, and I didn't find it so bad. Yes, the cetology sections were boring. I'm certain that if a newbie writer were to write Moby Dick today, agents and editors would (rightly) lambaste him for using infodump-as-filler, for padding a novella into a novel with information that doesn't further the plot. But I found that if I skimmed those parts, the moments of actual story were quite compelling. It was a totally enjoyable novella with a science lecture thrown in.
    I wonder why we get force-fed those books so young. What aim is that supposed to accomplish? (Other than making people hate reading, of course.) I guess it's kind of like the idea that if you bring your kids up eating good foods, stuff that's healthy, or perhaps a sophisticated palate, then they won't become junk food addicts. But it's a poor analogy, because when it comes to reading, even "junk food" is good for you. An addiction to literary junk food is so much better than no addiction at all!

  9. Ann Says:

    I used to feel like I had to finish every book I started, but then I realised that life was too short to waste on books that weren't right for me.
    My husband really wants me to read George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. He's told me about the stories and the characters and they sound great, but I'm finding the writing really difficult to stomach. I'm not really into fantasy and I'm definitely not into medieval times and language. So I'm finding the combination of the two extremely difficult.
    I completely agree with Joe I. on Moby Dick. I never had to read it in school and decided to read it last year. It took me three months and I had to skip all of the tedious whaling bits in the middle, but I loved the stories and the characters so much. I was glad that several people told me to skip the boring bits, because that's probably something I wouldn't have given myself permission to do.

  10. mtdiener Says:

    No matter how much I've tried through the years, I have never managed to get through a single novel by Virginia Woolf. I want to, but by chapter 3 I just can't go on. And that goes for all three I've tried.
    As for contemporary novels, I feel absolutely nothing for setting a book aside if I don't like what I'm reading. My time is too precious.

  11. beth Says:

    School books are the worst. There's something in being forced to read a book that makes me hate it. Like Lotusloqax, I think MOBY DICK is about the worst book ever written and cannot stand to even think about it (but I am shocked that anyone didn't finish Lewis's Last Battle!! I couldn't put that one down!)
    Right now I am in the middle of Magyk by Angie Sage. I can look at it and think, good book, well written. It's a genre I love. But I just start getting distracted as I read. It doesn't grab me.

  12. Angie Says:

    I tried so hard to read A Game of Thrones over vacation, and after the first chapter just wasn't into it. I love fantasy, so I didn't have the same problem as Ann did, but for some reason it didn't grab me. I'm planning to try again, though. I've been wanting to read that series for years.

  13. Carrie Harris Says:

    Recently, it's been Running with Scissors. I still don't understand how people can say it's funny, although that may be due to my personal background and POV than anything else. I found it literally painful. (Get it? Literally. Har de har.)

  14. lotusloquax Says:

    Thanks Joe. It is so true that being forced to read books before we are ready for them taints them for us. It's a shame that so much of what is assigned in High School is unpleasant for high schooler to read. I knew I loved reading before I got assigned all those books that I didn't get at the time, otherwise I would have sworn that I hated to read. I think it was during one of those infodump whaling parts that Moby Dick lost me. There are those books from HS that I have gone back, re-read, and loved, but I don't seem to be able to bring myself to pick MD back up. Maybe when I've got nothing else to read. i.e. never likely to happen. You never know though.

  15. Jayden Says:

    I usually try to finish every book I've started. Mostly out of pure stubborness, but partly out of hope that the story lives up to whatever captured my curiosity of the book in the first place. And when I find out that, no, it won't, I'm usually so close to the end it doesn't matter.
    There are three books, though, I never managed to finish.
    FATHERLAND by Robert Harris. It came so well recommended. I know people who love it. I didn't get into it. It felt like I was tugging a stone on a chain behind me. I couldn't for my life finish this book.
    WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy… yeah, I know… I was warned. *chuckles* I tried anyways, and I lost. I got confused not even halfway through, and I hate it when I have to look back to re-capture a few strings of story. So I gave up.
    THE BOOK (Das Buch) by Wolfgang and Heike Hohlbein. Again, so many people really liked it. I didn't. It didn't even casually grab my interest. I gave up halfway through.
    I agree that we really don't need to finish every story we start to read. Time is precious. But, and that might be part of myself, I'm reading way too fast. So usually I run out of books before I run out of time to read, so I pick up those I haven't finished before and finish them.
    I might leave more unfinished if I had more around to dig into. Unfortunately, my wallet is earlier empty than my to-read list, so sometimes it's re-read or don't-read ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. Julia Says:

    I could not get through The DaVinci Code or Possession. Also, there are several books one of my daughters has tried to get me to read (books that were popular in the '70s & 80's and some 'beat' books,) I can't remember the titles, but I remember not being able to get into them.
    I do remember someone giving me The Hobbitt when I was 18, I couldn't get past the first chapter. However, when I was 26 I picked it up again and loved it and TLOTR trilogy, too. So, I know my tastes change and sometimes I'm willing to try something I've passed over previously. That said, sometimes I'll pick something up that I used to love, and find it leaves me cold. Hmmm… tastes do change.

  17. Fie Eoin Says:

    I tried the Hobbit when I was younger too, Julia, and I fell asleep during the dragon scene. Which is supposedly the most exciting part of the book (according to my boyfriend at the time). And since the LOTR movies bored me, I'm not even going to try reading the books.
    I stumbled through The Stand. It took me years to get to the end of that one, and I read books that thick all the time. It just dragged on and I only liked two or three of the dozens of main characters.
    I also couldn't finish Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. And I had a really hard time making it through Pillars of the Earth – Jack was the only reason I made it to the end.
    I always feel bad putting down a book or movie, and always try to plow through because sometimes they can be worth it (Pillars, in the end, was worth it for Jack), but sometimes you just can't imagine wasting precious moments of your life when you know there is something better out there.

  18. laini taylor Says:

    Wellll. . . there's this one YA that's been getting a lot of attention this year. A lot of people rillyrilly love it, and a lot of people can't finish it. I did finish it, reluctantly, and am endlessly baffled by the love-it camp. Why? How? Crazy how subjective it all is!

  19. Kathleen Peacock Says:

    The Da Vinci Code. Couldn't make it more than thirty pages in.

  20. Jen Says:

    American Gods.
    Neil Gaiman is awesome, but this book just made me impatient. Bo-ring.
    I will finish it, though. One day. When I'm really bored. Or suffering from insomnia.

  21. kgirl42 Says:

    The only book I remember giving up on was "Heart of Darkness," when I was a junior in high school. I'm really not sure why I hated it so much— it's a classic and some people say it changed their lives, but honestly I did not enjoy it at all.
    I usually have a really hard time giving up on a book. Sometimes it really pays off to stick with something, because I've read plenty of books with slow beginnings that get to be fantastic towards the middle/end. So if I gave up, I'd always wonder whether or not I'd missed out on something…