Life is too short to read bad books.

Tuesday, Goodreads posted an infographic “The Psychology of Abandonment,” detailing what books are most commonly shelved as Abandoned, Not Finished or Unfinished, as well as the reasons why. I suppose you should take the infographic with a grain of salt, especially the percentages at the bottom, since there is no explanation of their methodology or a given sample size. Were 1000 people surveyed? Ten? Twenty? Did they email the survey (I never received one) or was it stuck on a page somewhere in their somewhat un-user friendly website that could only be found by a determined search or a lucky stumble?

Those questions aside, the results are interesting and somewhat telling. The most common reason books are abandoned is “Slow, Boring” coming in at 46%. The next nearest reason is “Weak Writing” at 18.8%. That’s a pretty big disparity and helps to explain why so many poorly written, but fast paced books top the best seller lists year in and year out (I’m looking at you, James Patterson). It also explains that while literary fiction will get the critical praise, it won’t ever get the popular acclaim, it being more thought provoking and methodical as a general rule.

I wonder if all of those series obsessed publisher’s hearts dropped at seeing only 2.5% of readers are compelled to finish from a dedication to the series? A whopping 36.6% sound obsessive compulsive, “As a rule, I like to finish things” and 25% are insatiably curious, “I have to know what happens.”

Nearly 40% of readers finish a book regardless. That is astounding. I decided long ago life was too short to read a book I didn’t enjoy. If a book hasn’t caught my interest by the first turning point (which is usually at the 1/4 mark) then it’s not going to happen. Those are the well-written books. If a book is poorly written (bad dialogue, canned characters, stupid plot) I’ll dump it earlier. It’s extremely rare I read a whole book I thoroughly dislike, though it has happened.

I’m not surprised Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the top five abandoned, nor am I surprised about The Casual Vacancy.  I haven’t read the latter, mainly because the story doesn’t interest me that much, but am not surprised the shallow reason “it’s not Harry Potter” was so often cited. That was rather the point of the book, wasn’t it? And, as I said a month ago, I tried with Fifty Shades.

My top two reasons for dropping a book is 1) bad writing and 2) boring. What makes you abandon a book? Or, are you one of the many who must finish no matter what?

5 thoughts on “Life is too short to read bad books.

  1. I still think I’m going to get through Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which I decided to read when I intended to read Bringing Up the Bodies, as well. Hah! What was I thinking????

    If I had bought it hard copy (I bought the e-book), I would have left it on a park bench somewhere and wandered off, hoping no one would notice and shout, “Hey! You left a book here!” Unfortunately, it’s still sitting on my Kindle, making me feel guilty for not finishing it.


    • “Wolf Hall.” Now there is a well-written book I couldn’t finish. Why? I didn’t enjoy the writing style, I’m not interested in Cromwell or Henry VIII and his wives. I’m selling it to the used book store this week.


  2. I tend to finish things, just as a general rule, but maybe I just haven’t found a book bad enough to quit yet. Ah, I lied. If it hadn’t been required reading for school, I’d have dropped William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying after the second page.


  3. I can empathize with the 40% who never drop a book. Perhaps it would be different if I only approached books from the perspective of a reader, but I also am a writer. “Bad” books can be just as illuminating as “good” books (two terms that are rather personal and nebulous anyway) as far as educational purposes go. It is hard to find a book without some redeeming quality.


    • I agree that a writer can learn something from even the worst book. I just prefer to read up to the competition. Reading poorly written books might show me what not to do, but it isn’t going to teach me what to do like a great book will. Of course, as you said, “good” and “bad” are nebulous terms. I agree, insomuch as you are talking about personal preference. But, a poorly written sentence is a poorly written sentence and reading a book full of them isn’t going to make me strive to improve, it’s going to give me a false sense of my own talent.

      Plus, I haven’t totally given over to reading just to become a better writer. Enjoyment continues to be the driving force behind what books I finish and abandon. More often than not, I don’t enjoy poorly written books, though there are exceptions.


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