I’ve just decided to stop reading a novel. I think I’m about halfway through it, but that’s enough. So, that makes three novels that I’ve not been able to force myself to finish. Other people I’ve asked have continued to read a book that they loathe, because they feel some sort of obligation to get to the end (in my mind, if you feel that you must finish the book, then it must have hooked you on some level).

I go through a period of struggle whereby I refuse to let the book defeat me. I’ll keep reading until it either finally draws me in, or I sigh and toss it into the charity shop bag. I’ll stop reading a novel if:

1. I don’t care what happens to the characters

None of the characters in the last novel I stopped reading interested me. If the plot is slow burning, if there’s no action at all, you need to have empathetic characters, or an antagonist who you want to see defeated. If you present a set of paper thin, stereotypical characters, the reader can’t to them and the book suffers.

2. The plot is slow

The third novel spent hundreds of pages describing the characters daily lives and struggles before finally introducing another character (I liked this one) who finally did something to advance the plot. By that time, I’d started to regard the book as a kind of time and imagination drain – it was too late.

3. The author is a windbag

The second novel I stopped reading was about a poet (I think). I only read two chapters because the exposition was killing me. You don’t need to spend two pages describing a river to me when the job can be done in a sentence.

4. I don’t like the writing style

The first book I couldn’t force myself to finish was an international bestseller – and literary Marmite. I’m very much in the hate it camp and only lasted three chapters. The third is another bestseller. Yes, I don’t like these books, but lots of people do. (Of course, sales figures aren’t a true representation of what people think about a book, just an indication of the success of the marketing campaign.)

There are so many great books out there to be discovered, why should anyone spend time wading through a book they hate? I love reading; the last thing I want it to become is a chore. You could say that the books we cannot read can teach us a lot about the kind of writer we are, and what we should strive to avoid in our own work.

Even the books we dislike the most hold some value.

Featured image photo credit: Carlos Porto via photopin cc