What makes you stop reading?

An interesting post from GoodReads:
What Makes You Put Down A Book?

For me the list would be:

  • Characters I’d never want to spend time with in real life.  A protagonist who is whiny, self-pitying, arrogant, or just plain dull tends to lose me in the first chapter, unless there’s strong indication they’re going to be forced to change. This isn’t to say that I require all characters to be likable or good. Just interesting. Three-dimensional, engaging, with believable motives.
  • Moronic plots with gaping holes. Nothing gets me to throw a book across the room faster than an “Oh, give me a break!” plot implausibility early in the novel. Plots that hinge on repeated coincidences fall into this category for me. So do plots that depend upon supposedly intelligent people leaping to conclusions and never checking their facts or comparing notes with one another.
  • Lousy writing. Stilted/artificial dialogue probably tops the list for me in this category, with clunky or juvenile prose a close second. If the writing style makes me wince, or if it’s so painfully experimental in style that the story gets lost under the artifice of the structure, onto the Return/Recycle pile it goes.
  • Glacial plots. Even in a character-driven literary novel, I prefer a plot that moves faster than your average snail. Even a comedy of manners or a formulaic romance needs conflict, rising tension, and a satisfying resolution. If I get a chapter or two into it and it’s still just people sitting around yapping, with no evidence of a plotline emerging, I’m outta there.
  • Offensiveness. This one is tough to define because it’s so individual. I’m not that easy to offend, but I’ve got my hot buttons like everybody else. I might read a novel that features child abuse or torture, but if the writer seems to linger too long & lovingly on the details–fetishizing it–I’m likely to opt out. A supposed good-guy hero who ignores issues of sexual consent is another dealbreaker for me.

What has YOU closing a book and leaving it unfinished?


What makes you stop reading? — 4 Comments

  1. It’s pretty rare for me to not finish something. I think that’s largely because I don’t have enough time to pick up things at random, when I have a growing list of recommended titles from people I respect. I don’t like them all as well as the person who recommended them did, but they’re generally good enough to finish.

    The exception is slush reading, where the whole point is to get through it quickly and skip (or skip to the end of) anything that’s obviously not working.

    Believable and sympathetic characters are certainly at the top of the list for me. Stories whose plots depend on the characters being consistently obtuse are likely to be left unfinished. In science fiction, I have a special hatred for stories set in a future which isn’t even as up to date as the present. Often one thing has changed and everything else is familiar. Five hundred years and we have cars and houses and light switches and computers just like today — or, more often, just like fifteen years ago.

    I don’t much mind if the plot is slow, so long as the journey is entertaining. Steve Brust’s Five Hundred Years After is an example. The Thomas Covenant books have a slow plot and a thoroughly unlikeable protagonist who shows no real promise of improvement, but they still are pretty captivating.

  2. I never used to abandon books, no matter how much I disliked them, but I’ve realized lately that life is too short to read crap. I hope to someday get where Tyler is, and not pick up the crap to begin with.

    Sometimes there are specific triggers. An arrogant, bigoted jerk of a *character* I can handle; when I sense that tone from the *author*, I’ll stop (I see this more in nonfiction than fiction). If pseudoscience is passed off as real science, or if scientific exploration is denigrated, I’m outta there (I’m Pagan, and I see this *a lot* in Pagan nonfiction).

    Sometimes, it’s a lot harder to put my finger on, but if I put a book down for several days and make excuses to start reading something else, or not read at all, I probably won’t come back to it,* though I won’t always be able to pinpoint the reason. That was the case with Milorad Pavic’s _Landscape Painted with Tea_; my Goodreads review actually says, “This one just isn’t going to happen for me. Not sure why.”

    * The exception is Richard Powers’ _Gold Bug Variations_, which I’ve been reading off and on since February, because it’s just that dense, and I need frequent breaks.

    • Hmm, yes, it’s that quality I describe as “put-downable”. Sometimes I can’t put my finger on a reason either, but the general symptom is that it failed to hold my interest. The I-don’t-care-enough factor.

      I had that happen with Joe Hill’s latest horror novel, NOS4A2. It started with a bang, but midway I found my attention just…drifting. Maybe it was the cartoonishly evil villain; my patience for capering supernatural fiends with a single character attribute–Evil–is thin, these days. And I liked but never loved the main characters. I set it down midway and have yet to return to it.

  3. I can agree with the points already made. Jaye’s list is pretty comprehensive. I would say that point where a novel that started promising becomes too uninteresting to read is a pacing issue and one of the most common problems in novels, along with unsatisfying endings. Sagging middles occur when the info dumps start to pile up and the tension takes a back seat while the author attempts to pull plot threads together. I have sympathy for the writer because I know how hard middles are, but as a reader, I’ve wound up closing many books because of them.

    Sometimes I will read a book that I hate from beginning to end because I am interested in trying to figure out why it is wildly popular. On rare occasions, I will finish a really awful book because I am curious to see how badly it will end. But most of the time, I also feel life is too short and there are plenty of good books that I haven’t read yet, that I won’t waste my precious reading moments on something that doesn’t hold me interest. Doesn’t have to captivate me completely, but at least not become a chore to read.