Finishing Books After I’ve Decided I Dislike Them

If you take a look at my Goodreads page, you’ll notice that I’ve had a book on my “currently reading” list that I started in December. It’s not a particularly long book, so it really shouldn’t have taken me this long to finish it. Except that it’s not very good and I’m not really enjoying myself. I’ll save the particular reasons for my review; that’s a thing I’ve started doing since several people informed me that they were actually interested in what I thought about particular books, instead of just the star rating. Imagine that! To be honest, I’m still trying to get used to the idea that people pay attention to the things I do here. I know I’m posting in a public space, but for the most part, I still tend to assume that I’m talking to myself.

Anyway, back to the books.

I try not to abandon a book once I’ve started reading it, even if it’s bad. Of course, I don’t always hold myself to this ideal and there are several books that I’ve abandoned over the years. But they are decidedly in the minority and even if a book isn’t very good or even just overwhelmingly mediocre, once I start, I feel compelled to finish. I’m not sure why this is. Is it due to some sort of feeling of professional responsibility to other authors? “You wrote this thing, so the least I can do is give you the courtesy of reading it all the way through before I render my judgement?”

Maybe it’s just stubbornness? Or some sort of weird OCD compulsion that only manifests in reading tendencies? I’m certainly not OCD in any other aspect of my life. The current state of my apartment can attest to that.

Regardless, I’ve books on my reading stack that I really want to get to, but I feel compelled to finish the ones that I began first. Even if I put them off for several months in the process, it seems. I wonder if anybody else does this?

9 thoughts on “Finishing Books After I’ve Decided I Dislike Them”

  1. I totally do this. In fact, I’ve finished entire multi-book series after coming to the conclusion that the plot was horrible in the middle of the second book. For me, I like to have conversations about books, and I feel like I can’t have a fully informed opinion on something I haven’t finished yet. For example, if I think a particular character is trite and uninteresting, who’s to say that they don’t get fully developed later? If I think that the story is littered with plot holes and red herrings, how can I know that an outstanding ending doesn’t come out of left field to tie up all the loose ends?

    But I think that’s only part of the story. I think, because I like to analyze, I always find something to enjoy about a story, even if that something is reveling in my distaste for it. I read through all of the “Sword Art Online” novels, even though I realized very early on that the author wasn’t capitalizing on the quality of their original premise and (more importantly) they couldn’t write a believable female character to save their life. But I still like thinking about it because the initial premise really hooked my imagination, and I like to place myself in the shoes of the author to say “How would I have made this better?” I also like to dissect what, precisely, put me off about the book in the first place. [For Sword Art Online, the main character is a total Marty Stu, and the story setup promises the trope of “Anyone Can Die” but never delivers.]

    Not to mention, even the worst stories have momentum. You just want to know how a story ends.

    1. Have you ever had a book that managed to tie up loose ends and supposed plot holes without it feeling like an ass pull?

      I do think reading a book to articulate why it fails is a good way to learn how to avoid those same mistakes. I think we learn better from failure than success, whether it’s our failure or someone else’s.

      1. “Have you ever had a book that managed to tie up loose ends and supposed plot holes without it feeling like an ass pull?” I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I feel like it’s totally possible to misinterpret the signs of a twist ending as bad writing if being too critical.

        “I think we learn better from failure than success, whether it’s our failure or someone else’s.” I think it takes both. You often need a success to emulate, but failures can help you identify aspects of that success that are not obvious.

        Here’s an example. Compare the “Mona Lisa” to the very poor knockoff “Mana Lisa” from the Museum of Bad Art. Comparing the two highlights a lot of interesting pitfalls in painting.

        For example, compare the location of the eyes with respect to the top and bottom of the head. For the Mona, the eyes sit at just about center, but for Mana they are positioned at around 3/4 of the way up. This is a common mistake of amateur artists, because we normally think of the eyes as sitting near the “top of the face,” but fail to realize just how low the face normally sits.

        The difference in color is also clear. Normally we think of Mona wearing green, but upon comparison to Mana we see just how muted the colors really are. This also highlights a pitfall of painting, where we often think of objects as having a specific color (trees are green!), but fail to recognize how lighting makes colors of objects much more similar.

  2. I can only read two books at one time. Normally one fiction and one non-fiction book. I wont start another book until 1of2 are completed. If I hate a book, I have no problem giving it away before its done but I can only remember doing this a few times. Most bikes I like.

    1. I try not to let myself have more than four books going simultaneously. Usually, it’s one fiction, one non-fiction, an audiobook, and then the fourth tends to be whatever book I’m unenthusiastically slogging through. On occasion, the fourth book is one that I was reading and enjoying, but then something new and shiny (like a new Dresden Files novel) came out and demanded my attention.

  3. I think the longest I’ve taken to finish a book after starting it is a year and a half. Since then, I’ve made a rule that if I actively dislike a book 50 pages in, I can stop reading it. If I’m lukewarm, I’ll try to finish it. (I also always try to stay for the credits after a movie. I know there’s no way I’ll be able to see each and every name, but at least I’ll see some of the people who usually don’t get recognized for their efforts.)

    1. I’ve tried to implement a 50 page rule or even a 100 page rule . . . but I’m tormented by the fact that I didn’t like Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Name of the Wind” until close to the 200 page mark but once I passed that mark, I went from “why the hell do people think this is good” to “omfg this book is amazing!”

      Regarding movie credits: I usually try to find out who the Best Boy Grip is for each movie, if only because that’s probably the silliest job title ever. I know a grip has something to do with camera mounting, but . . . best boy grip? Really?

      I also like the credits that allow for jokes, like how Jurassic Park had a “dinosaur supervisor.” (“You had one job, Phil!”)

  4. I have been a happier reader since I started reading only what I want to read; I’m reading happier books and I’m letting go of books that aren’t working for me. Being a year or two older than you ;), I’m moving to the next book if the current one isn’t working.

    1. That’s a really good point. That time one has for reading is so valuable . . . is it worth spending on a book that I’ve decided I dislike? Especially when that reading time gets more and more precious as my schedule seems to get busier and busier? You’ve given me something to ponder.

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