February 1, 2015

The (Bitter) End: Pushing Ourselves to Finish Reading

Well, sir! Ms. Day will see *you* now.
Well, sir! Ms. Day will see *you* now.

By Alexa Day

A little over a year ago, I had a conversation with some fellow readers about a book I stopped reading after I encountered the word “Argh.” This book and its two sequels have been wildly successful, but I eventually found the first story unbearable for reasons too numerous to recount here. Because I’d stopped reading the first book, I saw no need to pursue the two that followed it.

I won’t be watching the movie version when it comes out in two weeks, either, but that’s another story for another day.

Anyway, about halfway through my shopworn diatribe against this book, one of my very patient reader friends nodded in agreement. She had also disliked that first book, she said, but something toward the middle of the third book reinforced my point more effectively.

I asked her why, if she’d disliked the first book so much, she’d read any more of the series.

“I have to finish things,” she said. “I couldn’t just stop reading.”

This phenomenon is mysterious to me. Life is short. I’m surrounded by books that tempt and entice me. I have a day job. There’s food to be eaten and beer to be drunk. I can’t invest nonrefundable time in books I don’t enjoy.

Still, every day, I see readers making the decision to continue reading books after making the decision that they dislike what they’re seeing. Some, like my friend, live by a code and must finish what they start. Others live with the hope that things will get better. Still others need to know just how bad things will get so that they can provide a well-informed critique.

I, personally, think “I didn’t finish it” is a complete and well-informed critique.

Still, I admire my friend’s persistence, even if I don’t understand it. She bought, paid for, and really hated all three books in the series I gave up on so early. She doesn’t hate the genre in general, and she hasn’t built any sweeping presumptions about kinky people or erotica writers on her experience. She just needed closure, and once she had it, she moved on with her reading life. And I have to admit that she made a more powerful argument about her issues with the book than I did about mine.

No doubt she’s just as confused by my refusal to finish. After about a third of the first book, a single word (again, it was “Argh”) sent me into a fury that lasts to this day. But had I lost something by throwing in the towel so soon?


Click to look past the lawyer stuff to the love.
Click to look past the lawyer stuff to the love.

I didn’t think I’d care for The Helpย after reading the word “alright” enough times to convince me that its presence was intentional. But I blew through most of it in one long sitting. Whatever my complaints about it might have been, The Help held my attention. I was pulled into its world quickly, and the characters were so real that I wanted to shake a couple of them. So I can’t say with a straight face that it’s not well written, right?

Similarly, J.J. Murray almost lost me when his lawyer hero committed a major privilege faux pas in Until I Saw Your Smile. That happened a pretty good way into the book, though, and I was willing to close my eyes to it because I’d gotten to know and care about the characters. A privilege faux pas of similar magnitude chased me away from Shonda Rhimes’s How to Get Away with Murder during its very first episode, though, and I haven’t been back since. I guess that set of characters wasn’t doing enough to overcome the privilege problem.

I’d like to think that I give new authors and genres a fair chance to earn my attention. I don’t take the decision to quit reading something lightly (especially if I paid for it), but I’m absolutely willing to make that decision if I have to. While part of me admires the reader who soldiers on through a series after being turned off by the first book, more of me just wants to hand that person a better book.

So do you believe in finishing at all costs? Do you have triggers that will stop you from reading another word? Tell all in the comments.

And follow Lady Smut. We never quit.

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  • Post authorChristine Blackthorn

    Actually, I admire those who can stop reading. I have read books I hated from first to last (and the one you mention above is among them) but I simply cannot stop. If I do, I always end up going back. It is like an itch in the back of my mind. It demands that I just check on one more page that I actually hate it as much. In many ways the true test of quality of a book for me is not if I finish it – but if I ever read it again. I think it might be a question of self-discipline. I do not have the self-discipline to put a book aside without wondering if I am correct in my hate or not.

    Reply to Christine Blackthorn
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      You know, I always say I’m going to read stuff over again, but I never do. The only ones I’ve ever really re-read were The Thorn Birds, once in a blue moon, and Dracula, which I re-read every year. It’s possible I’m just hoarding the rest of them. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Do you re-read from your shelves often?

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorLiz Everly

    The older I get, the easier it gets for me to set aside a book I just don’t like. I used to plow through no matter what.

    Reply to Liz Everly
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      It took a long time for me to start listening to the little voice telling me, “You know, you’re not being graded. You can just stop and never read any more of this.” I mean, there are a lot of little voices up there. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But it does feel good to stop now, right?

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    I’m thankful for fellow readers like DH — who pretty much plows through everything he starts, or Liz Everly who says “No, it was really *good* once you get into it.” They are the ones who get me to go back and pick up books that I was too impatient with.

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Thank God for good advice, right? I’ve had a couple of people save me from myself like that, usually by telling me to skip the first however many pages.

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorSheila

    I used to finish every book I read but not any more. Life is too short to read bad books. If I cannot get into the book within 50-100 pages (depending on the size of the book), I’ll quit. There was a statement on Book Riot that the book isn’t bad but it is not yet the time for you to read it. That may be true. I remember all the books in high school I hard to struggle to finish. Now as an adult I love them.

    Reply to Sheila
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      I think it’s definitely true — I couldn’t get into Bleak House when it was assigned to me in college, but I tried again when the miniseries came out and loved it. (TV might have helped a little.) I bet I have quite a few books back here waiting for the right time!

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorC. Margery Kempe

    Life is too short indeed. I’m looking for reasons *not* to abandon a book.

    Reply to C. Margery Kempe
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      I love that! Our attention should be earned, shouldn’t it?

      Reply to Alexa Day
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  • Post authorKel

    I only force myself to finish books I have committed to reading for someone else; school, to review for my bookclub, betareading… but anything I read for me, I have the right not to read.

    The others are kind of a job.

    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Yes! I believe in the right to stop reading! (Unless it’s ‘for work.’) ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorCara Bristol

    My DNF file is growing all the time–and unfortunately, some of the books in it are books written by my fellow authors who have been complimentary in their reviews of my books. So I feel guilt. But I don’t keep reading, for two reasons:
    1. I read for entertainment, for fun. A 1 star or 2 star book is not fun to read. It’s chore. When you’re doing something for fun, and it’s not, why do it?
    2. I do try to pay it forward and read and review other authors’ books. And there are so many, many, many books out there. To try to read as many as I can, I don’t read the ones I don’t like.

    At the point that I say, ARGH, I consign the book to the DNF file. Sometimes I’ve gotten 75% through a book when realized, I don’t care what happens. DNF.

    Reply to Cara Bristol
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      You know, I gave up on That Book when I realized that (a) I was starting to dread picking it up and (b) I would have been pleased if all the characters had burst into flame, but I would not have slowed down to read that part. Argh indeed!

      Having said that, I wonder sometimes if the reason that I have so few reviews is that people are DNF’ing my stuff. Hmm.

      Reply to Alexa Day
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