I’ve encountered more than a few people who say they don’t. Who believe it’s only polite to see a book through, no matter how unenjoyable you find it or how dull it seems. I’ve seen a few such books all the way through myself, but I usually end up skimming sizeable parts of them. And even then it’s only so I can fairly go away and explain why I didn’t like the novel. But it’s bad practice, I think, to keep reading a novel you don’t like, for completion’s sake, for one simple reason: it cheats you of time you could be spending on a good book.
That principle is important for me as both a reader and a writer. As a reader I appreciate that it takes a lot of time to read, and that there are a lot of books I’ll never have the time to get through. There are always going to be amazing books out there that I haven’t read. So it’s a tragic turn of affairs when that time stolen by an inferior product. As a writer, I find it offensive to see weak books being published, let alone read.
Of course, I should be thankful for the ‘read to the end’ mentality, because I’d want a reader to see the whole story through before making a decision on my books. Anyone who gave up on Wixon’s Day after 30 pages, for instance, may forever think of it as a meandering bore, without realising it becomes a little frenetic and rather violent. (In some cases this might be for the best.) But if the writing isn’t engaging enough for someone to want to read more, I don’t want to waste their time promising some later change will make up for it. It probably won’t, and if my style is not for them I’d rather the reader move on.
This is relevant for me today as a reader, because I’m bitterly reeling from my inability to post a review of The Passage. I don’t want to finish it. Halfway through and there’s not a character I care about – but more importantly the writing just isn’t enjoyable for me. It feels tacky and half-baked. I don’t want to lug the book around or trudge through another few hundred pages of it just because.
It’s not about how long it is (though the size certainly doesn’t make the task easier). I’ve read longer books, in shorter amounts of time. The difference was I enjoyed them – Middlemarch fascinated me with its human insight, Shantaram was just too enjoyable to put down. The Passage is neither interesting nor enjoyable. I’ve spent too much time reading bad writing to waste more on it.
I can only think of one novel that I wasn’t enjoying that I powered through and ended up loving. That was Irvine Welsh’s Filth. It was truly horrible, and I couldn’t imagine how it would reach a satisfying conclusion – but it did. This was different to your average unenjoyable book though, because much as I disliked it it always kept me fascinated. I have dozens of novels I’ve never finished reading, on the other hand, because they simply didn’t hold my attention.
I encourage people to do the same. Put down your bad books and move on. You don’t owe the author your time, and if I found anyone was reading my books out of some misguided sense of duty, instead of because it was enjoyable, I’d tell them to stop myself.
Do you keep reading a book just because you’ve started it, or do you somewhere draw the line and say it’s time to move on? Let me know.