Life is too short to read bad books

Recently, Goodreads polled its members, asking what books they walked away from and why.

Here is the fruit of that survey (comments below the infographic):


As a reader, I could start a discussion here about what books I’m surprised are in the top five (Wicked) and which ones I whole-heartedly expected (Fifty Shades of Grey).  But, as a writer, I’m more interested in WHY people didn’t finish the books they started.

46.4% of respondents said they stopped reading because the book was SLOW and BORING.

18.8% said they stopped because of WEAK WRITING.

The rest of the responses were scattered.  The two above seem to be the most impassioned.  For good reason.  If you don’t capture the reader in at the very beginning, then there’s no reason for them to stay.  If your writing does not draw them into the story, or if they cannot become emotionally attached to the characters, they won’t be invested. And if they aren’t invested, there are a lot of free or cheap alternatives out on the market for them to try instead.

It’s all about supply and demand, people.

2.7% said they stopped because of bad editing.

I find it interesting this statistic is so low. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I expect a well-edited manuscript.  Especially if I’m wavering on a story line.  If I’m feeling the writing is not engaging enough, and I come across a typo, especially in the first chapter, I’m guaranteed to roll my eyes and toss the book aside.  Because, in my mind, if the writer is not dedicated enough to ensure at LEAST the first chapter is typo free, then that is a good indication they will not focus on character arcs or story development either.

Now, here’s where the survey results take a weird turn:

When asked, “What keeps you turning the page?”

36.6% of members polled said “As a rule, I like to finish things.”

I don’t know what to make of that.  You continue to read it, even if it stinks? That’s some class-A OCD craziness happening there.

25.2% said, “I have to know what happens.”

Now that is a sentiment I can get behind.  Except, it’s not enough to keep me actually reading.

I was recently forced to scan through a book, reading only the dialogue and important tidbits, just to get to the end.  Because the writer set up a brilliant scenario, but the writing itself was not captivating enough to keep me going.  When I got to the end, I nearly threw the book across the room.  Because it ended on a cliffhanger, a cheap ploy intended to force me to read the next book in the series.  But, while I wanted closure, I didn’t want to waste any more time scanning for answers.  So, instead, I had brunch with a friend who had read the whole series.  And, in a matter of 30 minutes, over coffee and frittatas, she answered all my questions.

13.4% said they finished a book they didn’t like because, “It’s a compulsive habit.”

Again with the OCD.

So, on the flip side of that, when does a reader abandon a book?

38.1% of respondents said they always finish. NO MATTER WHAT.

Those poor people.  They need to know they don’t have to settle.  Don’t do it, friends, just don’t do it!  There is better literature for you out there.  And you deserve it.

27.9% jump ship at 50-100 pages.

This is the category I usually fall into (if I haven’t found a typo to make me quit sooner).

The best thing about reading is there are so many options out there. There are some books that will blow you away, make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside – books you add to your collection so you can look at them years later and feel those emotions all over again.  Books that are like old friends.

But just as some friends are not for everyone, not all books are beloved by all their readers.  Sometimes, those books are abandoned, in favor of literature that will better serve the individual reader.

And it’s okay to put down a book that isn’t working for you. Because life is short.  Too short to keep reading something you hate.

Here’s a link to the full list for your perusal.

Happy reading (or not).


Leave a comment


  1. steviepreater

     /  July 16, 2013

    I agree. Nothing wrong with giving up on a book you aren’t that into. There are too many good books out there to be wasting time on the bad ones!

  2. “And it’s okay to put down a book that isn’t working for you. Because life is short. Too short to keep reading something you hate.”

    Yes! I learned that recently after barreling through a series of “bad” books. I realized halfway through Atlas Shrugged (which I am amused to see on that list up there) that the book was making me angry and unhappy and I finally just shelved it.

    • Right on. It’s hard to let go sometimes. But I”m glad you were able to!

  3. YES! I have made no commitment to finish a book just because I started it. If the writing, dialogue, and/or plot is not enjoyable then it is a waste of my time to keep doing something I do not enjoy during a time set aside for enjoyment. Finishing what you start is a good rule for self-discipline, but if we applied it everything in our lives then we would spend a great deal of time doing things that brought no value to our lives.

    • You’ve nailed it, Adam. It is the value reading brings to our lives that matters. Well said.

  4. Great post, Kim. What I’ve found great with my new ipad, is that you can download previews of books – so no more forking out for something that you then feel guilty about giving up on. That was one thing that used to keep me reading – I’ve paid for this so I’m going to finish it. Now I read the first few chapters of the preview and if I don’t feel like buying the rest, I don’t.

  5. If it’s badly written I can’t keep reading and usually abandon it within the first chapter. I recently tried reading the first of a series by a hugely successful bestselling author who has had his work made into a recent blockbuster movie. Four pages and it hit the wall! It was so bad…

    • I like that you said “it hit the wall!” Due punishment, I think, for bad literature.

  6. I used to try to finish every book I started. Then I realized that time is too valuable and there are too many other books to read. I give every book a fair shake, but if I’m still not engaged after a few chapters, I move on.

  1. Life Is Too Short to Read Bad Books (Reblog) | [ adriejf writes. ]

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