Sunday, February 12, 2017

To Finish or Not To Finish (the Book You're Reading)

INGRID THOFT

My mom and I have an ongoing debate, and I’m sure all of you fall clearly on side or the other.  If I start reading a book, and it doesn’t capture my attention, I stop reading.  My mom, on the other hand, feels obligated to finish.  This is generally true even if she’s reading the book for her own pleasure, not for her book group.  Perhaps it’s her Yankee stick-to-it-ness (which I thought I shared, but maybe not?) that compels her to finish what she started.  More likely, she’s always hopeful that the book will improve, and it will all pay off in the end.

I used to be more patient with my reading materials, but once I experienced the trials and tribulations of trying to get published, I became more demanding.  When I first submitted my work to agents, I was rejected many times.  Rejection is part of the deal if you want to get published, but rejection is often based on a query letter—just a few short paragraphs.  If I were lucky, an agent might request five pages or even a chapter, but I learned that the decision to accept or reject was swift and unequivocal.  Eventually, I landed an agent and a publishing contract and a new attitude when reading other writers’ books.  Hook me right away or I throw you back into the sea of words.

Does this seem harsh?  Impatient?  Perhaps, but I’ve decided that my time is too precious to spend it reading books that don’t delight me or engage me from page one.  My decision to stop reading isn’t necessarily an indictment of the book.  There are prize-winning, critically acclaimed books that didn’t strike my fancy, and I chalk that up to personal preference.  For example, I think I may be the only person on planet Earth who didn’t love “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

A couple of years ago, when I was visiting a book club, one of the members shared her formula for deciding when to keep reading and when to stop.  She suggested you subtract your age from 100, and the answer is the number of pages you should read a book before calling it quits.  This makes sense to me; the older we get, the less time we have to spend on books that are unsatisfying.





What do you think?  Do you feel obligated to keep reading?  Do you have a formula for determining how many pages you’ll read before putting down a book for good?  Does it depend on what type of book it is?

Karen B. you won Friday's giveaway from Chevy Stevens!  Leave your email address in the comments so we can get a book to you!


59 comments:

  1. Wow, this is a tough question, Ingrid. I think I admire those who are willing to toss a book aside without finishing it, but once I start a book, I feel obligated to finish it. I’ve actually tried putting a book aside and I feel so guilty about not finishing it that I go back to it and read to the end.
    Optimistically, I figure that if it’s good enough for a publisher to publish, then it must be good enough for me to read. But since I’ve read a few books that I simply couldn’t imagine what anyone saw in it, there must be a flaw somewhere in that theory . . . .

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  2. Until a couple of years ago I nearly always forced myself to finish every book I started reading. I finally decided that all the time I spent forcing myself to finish a book was time that I could have spent reading something enjoyable. I don't have any method for deciding whether or not to finish a book. I might give more time to something that was translated from another language. In those cases , most of the time I'm glad I continued to read the book.

    With some books, the reason I can't finish them is that there's something going on in my life that's distracting me. I've returned some books to the library unfinished, with the intention of getting back to them in a few months. (This is usually with an author who is new to me.) Some authors whose books I couldn't initially get into are now among my favorite authors, and I would read anything they write, including their grocery lists!

    I will permanently toss aside books containing graphic violence. No exceptions.

    Deb Romano

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  3. I used to finish every book, but not now. If the book is by an author I usually like I will give it 50 pages, otherwise about 25. I have a t-b-r list the size of the Alps and don't have time to waste. Both of those numbers are more than the formula above.

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  4. It depends on why I'm reading something. If I need to be better informed, I keep reading. If I'm looking for entertainment and not getting it, I move on. Life's short and the tbr stack is high.

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  5. Since I tend to take more books out of the library than I can possibly read I'm a big believer in casting those aside that don't do much for me. I also do it with audio books! There are too many treasures to be devoured to waste time on something that feels like a chore. šŸ˜œ

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  6. Ingrid, I admire your mother's persistence! A new version of the recent "persist" meme.

    I have stopped reading books in the middle, and towards the end, but I try to give them a chance. It would be a rare book that I stop reading after just a chapter or two.

    Right now, I'm about 3/4 of the way through Winter's Tale, on Hank's many recommendations, and I keep laying it aside. The sheer length of it wears me out (650 pages), along with trying to keep track of the enormous cast of characters, spanning over an epic length of time. The book is so long I keep forgetting who they are. Heck, one of the characters has forgotten who he is. I can relate. But the writing is amazing, and that has so far pulled me along.

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  7. As a matter of fact, I'm reading Duplicity from the library. There's a long waiting list, so, yes, I will finish it before the due date. Mom's code of conduct: overdue library fines are not permitted.

    Great read!

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  8. I love that formula, Ingrid - only according to it I should be 90. Because 10 pages in, if I'm not hooked I'm out. Let's just say I start many more books than I finish. Because life's too short.

    And a bad habit: I sometimes start a book and then, if it starts bogging down, skip ahead. And skip ahead. Sometimes all the way to near the end.

    Isn't it a pleasure when a book grabs and holds on, and you feel like you want to slow down and enjoy the ride? (Duplicity is beckoning from my bedside table!)

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  9. Me too on the TBR the size of the Alps Gram! and also a big no to graphic violence Deb. I don't feel obligated to finish a book I'm not enjoying, but I did love MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA! I wonder if I'd still enjoy it now...I also do the skipping thing Hallie, sometimes right to the end. And then it can be a relief to see I didn't waste my time.

    Obviously we all honor the effort of writers, but that doesn't mean to me, slogging through everything I start:)

    and ps, hooray to Ingrid for a fabulous first week at the helm of JRW!

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  10. Some very good points here, Ingrid.
    In fact I accidently picked up one of your books
    in the library one slow day and was only able to get
    through about 25 pages.

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  11. Ann in Rochester, persistantFebruary 12, 2017 at 9:38 AM

    (Sheeeee's back^^^^^)

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  12. I'm never desperate enough for reading matter to waste time on something that doesn't engage me. If I can guess the main characters' traits, the villain, and all the red herrings within the first few pages--like two-three--I'll toss the book. Sometimes, like Hallie and Lucy, I'll skip ahead to the ending and see if I was right. I know it's just a matter of personal taste--some people rave about authors whose work I just can't get a spark from.

    Other times, I'll read ahead in nonfiction, because there I'm looking for information and not everything in a book will resonate with me or pertain to the matter at hand. Time's short--there are other things I can do besides force myself to slog through something I find uninteresting.

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  13. The only books I've ever finished were in school and college, for e ams. If a book doesn't grab me right away I flick through, sampling random pages. I can usually tell quite quickly whether I'm going to like or not. Bad writing makes me out it down instantly. Wrong facts make me throw it across the room!
    However if the book is written by an author I admire or have enjoyed in the past I persevere. I know that my own books sometimes start slowly. I don't need action on page one but I need to get the feel of where we are going and if it's worth the trip

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  14. Ann in Rochester, persistantFebruary 12, 2017 at 9:58 AM

    I'm with those of you who don't suffer fools or books gladly. Some years ago I gave myself permission to put a book down if I wasn't being either entertained or educated, preferably both.

    It was a hard decision as books aren't cheap. But I have only so much reading left to do, and I loathe wasting even a few minutes when I could be having fun.

    Now I have a confession. Almost all my reading starts with a sample on Kindle. But if I do buy a book and find I am losing interest rapidly, I return it for a refund. I can't afford to own a book that doesn't satisfy me. And this is why there are menus in restaurants. I read 3-5 books a week, depending on length. I must be discerning.

    On the other hand, I do write glowing reviews of the ones I like, plus posting a favorite quote on Facebook and inviting my friends to read it too. What I never do is write a bad review. There are things best left unsaid, and I see no value in nonconstructive criticism. I suspect the people who do that should write their own damn books.

    See above.

    Ingrid, I haven't read you yet but you're on my TBR list. What a delightful addition you are to the Reds. Thank you for being here.

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  15. I give a book one chapter. This is why The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is still in my TBR pile. Hub assures me the first 100 pages are a slog but the reward is exponentially worth it so I keep the book and will likely bring it with me when I know I will be Internet free with hours to fill - next trip to the DMV? - and I will conquer that beast.

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  16. Typo--
    It was supposed to be TWO POINT FIVE pages.

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  17. There are two types of "I can't finish this" books for me. The first are well written, but don't grab me. I will stop, and try again at another time. More than once the second read is the ah ha moment. The second type is a book that isn't well written. Those I no longer force myself to finish. Life is way too short.

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  18. This anonymous person cracks me up. She actually deleted her comments off my Meanderings and Muses blog when she pretty much dared me to leave her uncomplimentary comments up. I simply told her she was pretty easy to delete but much more fun giving her the obviously much needed forum she needed. Bless her heart. It must be beyond sad to have to depend on anonymous blogs as your only place to be heard. Give the poor old soul a break.

    NOW - as to feeling that it's necessary to finish a book I'm not enjoying? Nope. No every book is written for everyone and if I'm not the audience for whom a book is written, I just put it down and probably pass it along to someone else.

    I do not have a set formula, but I can tell pretty much early on if an author's voice speaks to me and if the characters are going to resonate.

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  19. Oh, I have no problem tossing a book that doesn't grab me. And I'm sort of proud f that, in a way, because it gives me more time for the books that I turn out to love.

    I am a big practitioner of turning to the end--as I've confessed here many ties. If I know the end, and then go back to the beginning sometimes it makes the book better, since I can deconstruct what the author is doing. But that's just me.

    Jonathan STOLIDLY finishes every book he starts, which drives me nuts. Sometimes I'll just hide them from him. He'll say--where's that book? And I say--you hated it, so I disappeared it. Find something else. It all works.

    Ann in Rochester, hear hear. YAY for Ingrid and Jenn-- and Ingrid made it through her first week with blazingly FLYING COLORS! (And wait til you see what Jenn has coming up next week--fabulous.) Standing ovation to you both!

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  20. Mean-spirited people are deeply unhappy with themselves, and they feel the need to impose the same disappointment on everyone else.

    And that's all I have to say about that.

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  21. Yes, Rhys, "worth the trip" is my tipping point, too. I have one of those crazy jobs that demands a lot of focus and long hours, so leisure time is precious to me. I read purely for the pleasure of the Journey the author will take me on, but if I'm going to spend many of my free hours over several days traveling with these characters, they must be interesting people who are going someplace I want to go. I have a dear friend who is a wonderful writer. His characters are interesting and compelling, but they go to harrowing places that I don't want to go. So, despite the fact that he's an excellent writer, I have never finished one of his books. On the other hand, I've made it through books where the writing was not completely stellar, but I loved the quirkiness of the characters enough to hang in there. That's really all I ask of authors: Take me on an adventure to someplace fun and fascinating, with people who are worth the time I'll spend. Master your craft, but don't get so hung up on literary style that your words become more important than your people. Tell a compelling story, and I'll stick with you until the end. And no, Ingrid, you are definitely not the only person on planet Earth who didn't love Memoirs of a Geisha.

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  22. I agree with Kaye that not every book is for everyone. I can recognize a well-written book but know that it's just not for ME, and I can recommend it to someone that I know will enjoy it.

    Hank, in the last couple of years I've resumed checking the back of a book for the ending, something I hadn't done in decades. I tell myself that if so-and-so did not survive, then I need to prepare myself, or that life is short, and I want to know how the story ended, just in case! By the way, minutes ago I finished reading Say No More(no, I didn't check out the ending ahead of time!), but I did have to put it aside every now and then over the last three days to give my body a break from the heart-stopping suspense! Thanks for another good read! The award nominations are well-deserved,

    Deb Romano

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  23. Jenn, I agree with your hubby in that the first 100 pages or so of "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" were a bit of a slog, but then things really kicked into gear. Normally, I wouldn't have persisted, but I'd heard so many great things about the book that I felt more motivated than usual.

    I've been known to skip ahead if I really want to know who did it, but can't bear to read page by page. Those books can be the most vexing; they make me care, just barely enough!

    Thanks to the readers and the Reds for being so supportive and welcoming! What a delight to be a part of such a fantastic community!

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  24. A great question.
    Some I push through to the end, as you said, hoping that it will come together.
    Others I all but throw across the room in disgust.

    I do make a point of not reviewing books that I cannot give at least 3 stars to. I have to allow for my personality coloring my perception. It isn't fair to damn the book if it's just not "my cup of tea'.

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  25. For me, it depends on the author -- if it is an author I have previously enjoyed, I will try to stick with it -- for example I just spent a grueling 2 weeks reading a 637 page book by one of my favorite authors (about the same length as his earlier books that I loved), but I just could not get into it at all, but kept at it because I thought it had to get better (ever an optimist) -- but it didn't, but I finished.

    Then there was another author whose earlier books I had loved and enjoyed, but had to put this book down halfway through because the subject matter was too raw, somewhat offensive and depressing. I generally look at books to entertain, not to put me in a depressed funk.

    If I don't know the author, I don't have a problem giving up at all. I really like the "subtract your age from 100" formula -- going to put that to use.

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  26. First of all, congrats to Ingrid on a a terrific first week at the helm of JRW! AND I had the great pleasure of meeting her in Seattle and she is even more lovely in person.

    I used to feel obligated to finish books, but now I'm in the too many books/life's too short camp. If I have bought a book, I'll try to get through a couple of chapters, but if I'm not hooked by then I have to have a big incentive to keep going. I bought myself City of Fire a year ago as a Christmas present because it was heavily hyped and it was a beautiful book. (And long--700-ish pages if I remember.) I think I managed to slog through the first 100 or so pages. I didn't dislike it, I just couldn't get engaged enough to be willing to devote that much time to it.

    And I never attempted Memoirs of a Geisha. Now I don't feel so guilty:-)

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  27. It was terrific spending time with you in Seattle, Debs, and I'm always thrilled to dine with someone who likes to share dessert. We both claimed we were only going to have a couple of bites, which leaves a bit of a mystery since the plate was completely clean by the end of the meal. I think we should blame it on James Ziskin!

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  28. Ingrid, yes, it was Jim!!! I'll swear to it in court if you will:-)

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  29. I always feel that way no matter how long the book is. I first read the front cover then the back then i look to see how many pages then i start. I just read till i can't read anymore then i go to bed and start reading again till i am almost alsleep but i don't say so many pages and that is it or chapters . I read till i have to do something or sleep!

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  30. OH, gosh, I am so sad for people who use their precious time trying to make others unhappy. Sigh.



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  31. I give a book 100 pages before abandoning it. I've found that some books are slow starters and they turn into great books.

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  32. It's true about some books being slow starters. I'm reminded of The Girl with the Deagon Tattoo. I am very glad I persevered through those first 100 or so pages. That said, usually if I'm not hooked by the end of the first chapter, I toss the book aside and move on. Life is too short to spend it on mediocre writing.

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  33. I have DRAGON TATTOO on my bookshelf, but like Jenn, waiting for the right time to plow in. Not sure when that will be:)

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  34. For me it depends on why I'm reading the book in the first place. If I received it based on a promise to review it, then I finish it. Fortunately there have only been a few of these that were terrible slogs. If I am reading something based on a friend's recommendation, I'll give it a little longer than if I had just picked it up because it looked interesting. I've read enough books that became wonderful after a slow start that I don't discard them too quickly, but somewhere between 40 and 80 pages I'd better find something that interests me, whether it's an interesting character, an intriguing mystery, or beautiful writing. Any of those can carry me for a while, but after a bit, if I don't engage with one or more characters, I'll go on to the next book. As many have said, there are way too many exciting-sounding books out there to spend time on one that I don't relate to.

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  35. What really hurts is when a favorite author and series you been following "forever" writes the next one and it just doesn't measure up. I had 3 last year that I wanted to love and just couldn't get through them, although reviews were terrific. But I will be among the first to get their next book in the series.

    kpbarnett1941[at]aol.com

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  36. I'm afraid I'm a diehard finisher. I'm not always happy with the outcome, but I feel guilty if I don't finish a book I started. I don't know who I'm beholdin' to, but I feel defeated if I can't find something good in there!

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  37. Ingrid, Joan, Deborah Romano, Gram, Barbara A., sonia, Karen in Ohio, Margaret T., Hallie, Lucy, FChurch, Rhys, Ann in Rochester, Jenn, J.A., Kaye, Hank, Gigi, Libby, Celia, Deborah Crombie, ptclayton, Judy, Amanda L., JIm Collins, and Karen B.

    Great comments!

    For me, this is a tough question! Right now I am reading a new series that I love! I think perhaps it has something to do with my mindset or mood right now?

    Do I ever feel obligated to keep reading? Once in a while I push through to the end in hopes that it will come together. Or I will skip ahead to the end if I want to know who the killer is in the mystery novel that I am reading,

    If I received a book with a promise to review it, then I finish it, even if it can be difficult for me to read. There is a difference between challenging (new words to learn) and how the language flows.

    Do I have a formula? I noticed recently that if a book is more than 300 pages, I lose patience unless it is a book that I really enjoy reading.

    There are books that I would read even if it is not in my genre IF it is by one of my favorite authors, I could read anything they write!

    Does it depend on the type of the book? It is easier for me to read a paperback than a hardback because when I fall asleep reading, the book hits me in the face! I want to stay awake to finish the book but my body has other ideas!

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  38. There are too many good books out there to finish one that is either poorly written or is too disturbing for me. I am not a finisher. But I usually will read the final couple of chapters. If it is poor writing, I may not even do that.

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  39. I usually finish reading the book, but then I've been lucky in my picks so far. Favorite authors, books recommended by friends and/or blogs, so forth. I admit I found Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell a real slog. I kept persevering hoping I'd like it better. Persevered to the bitter end. Needless to say, if there's a sequel I won't be reading it. I haven't read any of the Scandinavian noir books. Not in the mood for dark right now. I don't skip to the end either. That's cheating! I have checked out books from the library in the past and for no particular reason decided I didn't want to read them at that time. I guess in my reading it's all or nothing.

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  40. I can think of a couple of times recently I haven't finished a book I was reading. But usually if I don't like a book, I plow through. Not knowing what was going to happen drives me crazy. I need that closure, ala Sheldon.

    However, if I don't like a book and it is the first from the author, I don't go on and read anything else they've done. You have one book to convince me I should read more of your books. If it is a bad book from an author I normally enjoy, I'll obviously give them another chance since I know everyone can have an off book.

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  41. Pat D, I finally gave away Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I tried, I really did, but I just couldn't get through it...

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  42. The tipping point for me was when my mother was dying and complaining about a book that she insisted on finishing. Now I will usually finish a book from a series that I like, even if that particular book was not as good as usual. For a new author or series, I will probably drop it after 50 or so pages if I don't like it. I also skim or skip to the back to see if anything is getting better. There are just so many good books to read. As others have said, everyone has their own tastes.

    Sally

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  43. One of the good things about book groups is that you end up reading (and finishing) books you might not otherwise choose. I know some of my friends have read heavy, non-fiction tomes that they never would have started if not for the group assignment. Ultimately, they were glad to be exposed to something completely different.

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  44. Interesting discussion. I don't really understand the "obligation" to read any book. Speaking as both writer and avid reader- the writer has the obligation to engage your interest. As a reader I feel none. I used to work in research and reading, for many years, was my job. On my own time? Pfft. I read what I like. And I like lots of different things, so I don't think I am boxing myself in. Sometimes I do recognize it is the wrong book for me at a given moment and I will go back to it later, especially if highly recommended. But the world is full of great books! If what I am (unhappily) reading is keeping me from what I might enjoy, I move on. Why not? Life is too short.

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  45. I'm kind of in Hank's camp on this one. If a genre book isn't moving or doesn't grab me within 50-ish pages, I skip to the climax and read to the end. I will sometimes do this with literary fiction too. I usually finish non-fiction.

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  46. Life is too short to finish books you don't like (unless there is some compelling reason to do so.

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  47. Years ago I had a conversation with a friend where we each insisted we were reading the worst book ever. Back and forth, "I am!"
    "No, I am!" Of course, we were reading the same book, Go To The Widow Maker, by James Jones. Whatever possessed us to read a book we disliked so intensely?
    Nowadays my eyes tire so easily that I can't read for long so I've taken to "reading" via audiobooks (over 600 in my library). I can get through my housework and a good book at the same time...hey, I'm multi-tasking! I might not have stuck with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by only reading a few pages at a time but I powered through the series, listening to Simon Vance, one of my favorite readers. I might not have read Anthony Trollope but he's a really good listen.

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  48. In my younger days I was such a sucker for how a story would end that I would plod through almost every book I started, often skimming until I reached the end. Now, if I'm not drawn in within about 25 pages, I put the book down with rare exceptions, because in all the thousands of books I've read, it's extremely unlikely that an author will get it together later in the story if they don't have a solid beginning. I will make an exception for an author whose works I previously enjoyed and for books that have been recommended to me by a number of people. I made it through 100 pages of Elegance of the Hedgehog and could not understand why it was so popular. And don't get me started on how much I despised Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, one of the last books I read to the end in spite of my distaste for the book. So many wonderful books, so little time to waste on ones that don't float my boat!!

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  49. Susan Nelson-HolmdahlFebruary 12, 2017 at 9:50 PM

    I always used to finish books that I started, but in the last few years I have become a more critical reader. I use the Kindle sample to test to see if I think I will like a book. Usually if I purchase it I find my initial impression was correct and I will finish it.

    A few times I have done as Ann above indicated, if a book bogs down or I just can't finish it I will return it.

    I just finished all of Ingrid's books! I read them in rapid succession while I run on the treadmill. I run eight miles, so I have some significant reading time. I enjoyed all the books, and find the Fina character very compelling. The family dynamics are an important element of the books too.

    I look forward to reading more!

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  50. Thanks for reading, Susan! I'm so glad the books helped you pass the time on the treadmill. I've got to ask, how do you not trip and suffer a serious head injury?!

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  51. I completely missed this yesterday.

    I used to be a "slog through to the end" girl. But Ingrid, like you, I've become less tolerant as I learn more about writing and check my email to find another half-dozen rejections (okay that's probably an exaggeration as to how many I get a day, but I'm sure you get the drift). Hook me or you're done.

    I'm reading one now where I've enjoyed the previous two, but this one is...being difficult. I'll stick with it because the author has a good track record. Another one I stopped after a single, very short, chapter. Just no. I've got a TBR pile a mile high.

    What's that saying? Life is too short for bad food and bad wine? Add "books I don't enjoy" to that list.

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  52. Ingrid and Deb, don't blame me for the cake that disappeared! That's on you two. I just watched in horror as I dodged the sparks flying from your forks.

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  53. I abandon books easily, perhaps because of the overwhelming number of excellent books waiting to be read. I went to book club last Friday and freely admitted I'd only read a little of the book because I didn't like it. That's allowed in our book club. In fact, we don't like discussions in which no one hates the book.
    Hank, I love your public service in "disappearing" books for Jonathan. Teaching colleagues used to save me from upsetting books; one sent a student to retrieve a book our assistant principal had loaned me.

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  54. Sadly, I used to be able to count the books I never finished on one hand, but as I've gotten order I've decided I can't waste the time. Now I'm more careful about what I want to read, but I have stopped reading by chapter three or four if the book is poorly written. I'm up to about a dozen or so books that I have not finished. They have to be really bad though.

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  55. I've found that I have to keep reading nowadays.

    When I was reading more fantasy novels than any other kind of book, it took me three tries to get into The Sword of Shannara, but once I did I loved the series of books that came after.

    I gave up on Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time saga in Book 7 after I'd read about 300 pages and absolutely nothing happened.

    Another fantasy author I tried to read but just couldn't was L.E. Modesitt and the book The Magic of Recluse.

    Now that I get some books sent to me to review, I have to finish those but there were a couple of them I struggled to finish because they were just so ghastly in my opinion. And worse yet was how I seemed to be the only one who didn't give them a stellar review. It leaves me wondering if we were reading the same book at all.

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  57. Nancy Pearl is a wise woman. I try to live by her "rule of 50". I tried a bit harder for that "Dragon Tattoo" book, because it seemed to be so popular, but I didn't love it, so I gave up. I also gave up on The "World According to Garp", and almost everything assigned in high school. (Moby Dick?) For some reason i made myself finish "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie". I don't know why, because I hated it all the way . No more of that. I have too much to read, and almost no time to do it. Nancy rules! http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/nancy-pearls-rule-of-50-for-dropping-a-bad-book/article56517

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