Now I Stop Reading a Book If I Don’t Enjoy It. Do You?

One of the most important elements of my identity is my identity as a reader. I love to read–really, if I’m honest with myself, it’s practically the only activity that I truly love to do.

As part of that identity, I’d developed the habit of finishing every book I read. Once I started, I felt committed. A “real” reader like me finishes books and also gives authors the benefit of the doubt (“maybe this book will get better after the first 50 pages”). Right?

But I realized that I was spending a fair amount of my precious reading time reading books that didn’t really interest me. I’d finish these just because I felt as though I “should” and for the bragging rights of being able to say that I’d read them.

I decided to set myself a new habit: Stop reading a book if I don’t enjoy it. (I consider getting valuable information from a book as a form of “enjoyment,” even if I don’t particularly enjoy the experience of reading it.)

I’ve put down several books over the last few weeks–and it is such a relief. More time for reading good books! Less time reading books out of a sense of obligation.

Do you feel as though once you start a book, you must finish? Or do you put down books half-read? I’ve heard speculation that using an e-reader makes people more likely to stop reading a book. Do you find that to be true?

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • I stop reading when I’ve lost engagement with the story. I, too, used to continue on with an author, even when the story failed to hold my interest. (i am almost exclusively a reader of fiction). Now I’m free to enjoy even more undiscovered authors, and I love it. Why I didn’t do this sooner is beyond me! Thanks for writing about this! Don’t forget about World Book Night, it’s coming up on April 23rd. A few of my favorite authors are: Barbara Hambly, Joshilyn Jackson, Walter Mosely, Robert Goolrick, Tracy Chevalier The Last Runaway) and Joe Landsdale.

  • Julie

    I live by the adage “life is too short to drink bad wine” and this applies to books as well. I will give it a fair shot, but if it is not grabbing me and I am not learning anything from it I will stop. But I did spend years believing I had to finish every book I started.

  • Amber C

    I will usually give a book about 100 pages. If I’m not hooked by then I move on. I do make one exception though….if I keep thinking about the book later I will go back to it. But that rarely happens.

  • Doug Johnson

    My general rule is that I’ll give a book 100 pages. A few are so bad that I’ve bailed before then, but particularly with new authors, I’ll give them time to engage me. Sometimes that has yielded the benefit of getting my head into a new space, which is one of the reasons I read. Sometimes it doesn’t.
    But if you don’t have me by 100 pages, you’re not going to get me.
    This rule, by the way, is for novels. I’ll slog through stuff I have to learn because….I have to learn it.

  • I’m glad to see this question because I have the worst time giving up on books. I can stop reading a book I don’t like if it’s from the library, because I didn’t buy it and I can just give it back for someone else who might enjoy it. But if I’ve bought the book, I feel an obligation. I feel a bigger obligation if I’ve borrowed – or, worse, have thrust upon me – a book from a friend. I feel like I’m ignoring their opinion that the book is wonderful/interesting/well done/whatever if I don’t finish it.
    But the better thing to do is own up to the fact that I don’t like everything my friends like. I don’t like everything that reviewers like. I don’t like all the old-fashioned flowery verse poetry editors are “supposed” to like. Might at as “be Kathleen”!

  • Tina Rose

    Your timing couldn’t be better. My sister and I recently had the same discussion. She definitely is of the stop reading my time is to valuable for a non-interesting book. I’m a recent convert and I do notice that I’ve been increasingly doing so since getting the Nook. As Doug below mentioned to be fair, I do give the author appx 100 pages to catch my interest.

  • Denise

    Yes! I used to keep track of the number of books I read, now I try to track the number of great books I read. I do still struggle with when, exactly, do I give up on a book. 50 pages, 100? Sometimes I end up giving up on several books in a row and that gets depressing too and definitely doesn’t make me feel fulfilled. Still, there is no feeling as great as connecting with a really amazing book, and I’ll continue to
    chase that high!

  • Lynne

    Definitely, there are way too many good books out there waiting to be read and not enough time to read. The older you get the phrase “life’s too short” really is true. I feel way more selfish with the way I spend my time than to waste it reading something I am not enjoying.

  • Allison

    My willingness to stop reading a book I don’t thoroughly enjoy depends on what else I have in my to-be-read pile. If there’s nothing else I’m excited about, I’ll stick it out. Any book is better than no book.

  • Cristina Dias

    I used to be like that, but 2 or 3 years ago, no more: if a book don’t make me fall in love with it in the first quarter – next.
    The world is full of things to learn. Can’t waist any time.

  • Lynnel

    I have lately given myself permission to stop reading a book if the first 2 pages annoy me. I would rather reread a favorite than waste my time in order to ‘finish’ (even though I love completion). Pretty sure writers are supposed to engage in the first 2 sentences!

  • Tam

    Guilt and failure. That’s how I used to feel. But who cares? It’s not a competition or if it is it’s a competition against yourself. There are so many amazing books out there, some are a match made in heaven, others aren’t. That’s why life is so wonderful. Because we are all different. I’ve stopped beating myself up when I give up on a book and spend much longer choosing what to read next. Life is short and so why not be sure to fill it with the stuff you love? Books should leave something with you. Great post. I’m glad others feel the same.

  • Bailey Olfert

    I am with you, Gretchen! There are too many wonderful books out there to be reading something that isn’t great.

    Of course, there some books that I need to read (for self-improvement, etc.) which aren’t necessarily pleasurable, but I still can be discerning about whether they are the best choice of what is available.

  • Meg

    I’ve never had an issue with putting down a book i didn’t like – well, except for school assigned books but that was difficult. Many of my friends and family can’t believe i don’t finish books – but if I don’t like it, why waste my time. The most surprising I didn’t finish was the DaVinci code – it went on and on in the chase at the end that it lost my interest.

  • I absolutely stop a book if I don’t enjoy it. That’s one of the things I love about reading on an eReader. The sample allows you to test a book without investment. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy. I wrote more about my thoughts on this issue on my blog,

  • Diana Lane

    A trick I’ve used if I can’t get into a book at the beginning is to start again somewhere in the middle. On occasion that has worked so well, that after finishing the book, I went back and read the beginning.

    One book that I found that to be true for was “Anya,” by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer.
    It’s a amazingl book, and I was so glad that I hung there.

  • I have dropped books that get too repetitious or I just couldn’t get lost in.
    What is the point? Torturing myself is not for me.

  • mrsstilletto

    I really understand what you are saying. I too have the urge to read the book! Even though I actually don’t like it. For instance: I have started reading the autobiography of Françoise Hardy but I can’t finish it. So, I take other books to read but still have that stupid voice which says: you still have to finish that book about Françoise! … Ugh. Maybe you’re right and it’s better to give up than to give in, because if you don’t enjoy it… than what’s the point?

  • Susan H

    A book has to be pretty bad for me to stop reading in the middle, but I have done it. It’s always disappointing to have spent that time on something with no payoff.

  • Deb

    I am a huge Harry Potter fan, so I had to read JK Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy.” I hated that book, but forced myself to read it, because I just couldn’t believe it could be that bad. I couldn’t wait for it to end!

    • LG

      Did you realise it was an adult crime novel before you read it? I also loved Harry Potter but enjoy crime fiction so I loved The Casual Vacancy. Better you read YA or fantasy books if you loved Harry Potter. I can recommend Ben Aaronovitch and also Jim Butcher if you’re after similar.

      • SH

        I also read The Casual Vacancy because I enjoyed Harry Potter and knew full well what it was before I read it. I still hated it. I enjoyed Harry Potter not for the YA or fantasy aspects (two things I generally dislike) but because I liked JK Rowling’s writing, which drew me in and made me care deeply about the characters. I cared about no one in The Casual Vacancy, and I didn’t care at all what happened to them. It wasn’t a very good book. As for me, I disliked it because it was poorly written and pointless, not because it wasn’t Harry Potter.

    • Anne

      Me too! This was the book I disliked. I was very disappointed, poorly written, couldn’t believe it.

  • Carol S.

    I’m with you, Gretchen. I have more valuable things to do with my time than read poorly written, not-useful to me, or just plain boring books. 90 per cent of the current bestseller fiction list falls into that category for me. I can’t stand to read novels about people who are suffering interminably, often due to their own choices and poor judgement…. in fact, I don’t know how these books get published. I read non-fiction more often than fiction these days, because it’s an enjoyable way to get information.
    As for e-readers, mine actually has more fiction on it (most are classics, all FREE so far!) than non-fiction. Having said that, I recently plowed my way through over 3500 – yes, three thousand five hundred – e-book pages of a Mark Twain nonfiction book from about 1895, called Following the Equator, and it took me 18 hours. Every minute I spent with that book was marvellous. Twain also wrote one called The Innocents Abroad, in about 1867. Don’t waste your time. He was a complete racist back then, and did nothing but complain about everything and everyone where he visited. He had learned a lot by the time he went on his travels again in Following the Equator, and wrote a much better book as a result. My favourite thing about my e-reader is the previews. (Yes I got one for The Happiness Project, and then bought it in hard copy!) You can sometimes get a good sense of a book’s content and point of view before you shell out any money for it.

    • Veronique

      I agree with you on your assessment of current best sellers books. If it says best seller on it, I put it back on the shelf. I find so many written following some kind of formula. It really annoys me. And too much recent nonfiction really skims the surface of what they are researching or are so bias it drives me crazy.

  • Tess

    My reading friends and I all agree, “life is too short to read a bad book”.

    • Catseye

      Word. ;o)

  • jon

    There is something to be said for the relief I feel after I finish a difficult, unpleasant book. However, this strikes me as roughly the same thing as holding in your pee so when you finally go to the bathroom, it feels really good.

  • Stephanie

    I just started doing this recently as well, and it is SO liberating! I felt this strange sense of obligation to finish what I had started, as though I owed it to someone. Now I don’t feel quite so guilty about it.

    • gretchenrubin

      “sense of obligation”—yes! Exactly how I feel. But WHY? Now I discipline myself to put it down!

      • Jeannie

        How about thinking of it as a “sense of obligation” to value your time?

        • Sadye

          Or an obligation to read all the other good books out there that you haven’t read yet?

  • nathan

    i have this problem too

    thanks alot for the advice

  • I’ve heard the advice that you’re supposed to subtract your age from 100 and commit to reading at least that many pages before you decide if you’re going to abandon a book. The reason being that as you grow older, you’re a better judge of what you’ll like. Plus, when you’re 95 you don’t have time to waste on pages you don’t enjoy!

  • Dawn

    It wasn’t until I started having concentration and brain fog moments (due to various reasons) that I have started abondoning books that didn’t hold my interest enough and I would forget or miss most of the plot. At first, I felt bad about doing this considering the author put so much into the book and I did not give it my full effort. Then I heard my son’s elementary teacher tell him it was ok to abandon a book if it wasn’t for him, finding that particular genre to create a love for reading was all that the teacher was looking for. Interesting how I somehow needed some validation by a teacher to do this myself!

  • Upbeat Mom

    In general, I agree. Life is too short to read books that aren’t absorbing. But, I’ve also started reading classic books as a bit of a challenge to myself. Honestly, some of them start out kind of boring. But I remind myself that it’s a classic for a reason. In most cases, I’m glad I stuck with it.

  • Grandma Honey

    Ever since i took this advice (from your book Gretchen) I enjoy reading so much more! I no longer feel trapped by a book. I now feel like I can more readily take a chance and try something new…even a subject I may not normally lean towards. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some. Others I’ve kissed goodbye and not looked back. Your rule of not having to finish a book has empowered me. So thank you!

  • Blake

    I discovered I could do this not too long ago and felt so refreshed. In the past I would either slog through a book I didn’t care for or let it sit around lording it’s unread pages over me.

    I’ll usually give a book or movie about 20%. That’s a good round number (That’s easy to calculate for books) and by that time I have a good idea if I want to finish this book. Usually though, if I have to check how far I’m into it, it’s a pretty good indicator that I don’t really care for it.

  • Karen Burgess

    Yes, but I share your hesitancy! I always feel I should have picked better to start with!

    Here’s my reasons for giving up on Joe Hill’s Horns:

  • Amy Whitford

    I used to feel like I had to finish every book. But I, too, have let it go. I must admit that it’s much easier with an e-reader. Out of sight, out of mind!

  • Rainbow

    Oh yes, how truely freeing it is. Like tiny little revolutions against what we’ve been taught as children. I’ll go further and add that not only do I stop reading if the book or in my case the audiobook, doesn’t “click”, but I’ve put down books by famous writers and titles everyone else has read and is going crazy about. I’ll just go to my own collection and give my brain a dopamine surge.

  • ajoyrenewed

    I have no commitment to a book if it doesn’t engage my intelligence, my curiousity, my interest or fill my soul. I’m glad you gave yourself some positive attention to taking care of yourself instead of the “shoulds” of life.

  • Susan

    I have implemented a “60-page rule”. Generally, I will give a book 60 pages (since sometimes it takes a while to get into a story) but if it hasn’t grabbed me by then I put it down – unless of course it’s for book club then I try to soldier on.

  • Trudy Van Buskirk

    I’m a reader BUT I’ve always allowed myself to stop reading a book especially if it’s fiction and in my “gut” I feel that’s it’s not “right” for me. If it’s a non fiction business book (I read a lot of these for my biz) I read them cover to cover BUT I always research them beforehand and make sure they’re relevant so if they’re not I don’t buy them 🙂

  • michael guidera

    I use to give a book 100 pages which meant I still read too many bad books. So I’ve learnt to just skip ahead to confirm a judgment that this is a bad book for me read and let it go. If skipping ahead doesn’t confirm my judgment I just pick it up from where it gets better. I’ll go back and read what was skipped if its warranted.
    There is just so much reading to do why suffer through something that brings nothing to my table or leaves me worse off.

  • Nicky D

    I have a really shameful secret to share. If a book is really not doing it for me, I flick to the ending and read the last few pages. If and only if, these are great I may persevere, otherwise I am onto the next one without a backwards glance. Even for my book club I cannot make myself finish a book I think is terrible.

    • jm

      I have done this for years. If I find the ending satisfying, I go back , and skim the sections I skipped to fill in blanks. Even if I abandon a book, I read the final chapter, and it usually validates my choice to move on!

  • Stephanie

    I just attended a talk given by a librarian with the premise being that there is not enough time to read bad books. She said that her rule of thumb is that if she doesn’t enjoy a book after reading 50 pages, she can stop reading it. And then for anyone over 50 years old, you can subtract one page (so if you’re 55, you only have to read 45 pages before you decide). I do agree that I’m much more likely not to finish a book if I’ve been reading it on my Kindle. It must be something about physically seeing an unfinished book that guilts me into reading more if I don’t like it.

  • discoveredjoys

    I started abandoning books early several years ago. There are lots of other books available which may be better.

    I’ll stop reading if the book is poorly written. I’ll stop reading if I loose a sense of connection with the characters or subject. But most importantly I’ll stop reading if the book is unpleasant, downbeat, or about evil characters. Why spend time allowing optional unhappiness in through your eyes?

  • I agree with that “sense of obligation” and also a sense of “maybe it’s just me”. One Christmas my partner gifted me the Booker Prize Shortlist of books. I was really excited to read them all over the holidays and see if I could pick out the winner. I could only finish four of them and I really struggled to give myself permission to stop reading. I kept telling myself these must be good books to be on this list, so there must be something wrong with my judgement. Eventually, I remembered your words and gave myself permission to let go of the guilt and just move on.

  • JustB

    These days I finally learned to stop reading a book that wasn’t “doing it for me”. I think the saying that wisdom comes with age may be at least partially true. Now that I’m older and know there is less time, why waste it on a book that I don’t like?

  • Elizabeth

    I stop reading after the first page if I don’t like the book! I used to give myself 50 pages or so, but now I figure what the heck, it’s poorly written or uninteresting or convoluted or just plain awful and I don’t want/have to read it. BTW, this newly found ability led me to leave my book club — we were a group of 12 women, each selecting one book per year for the group to read. I found I was with a group of women who preferred books that had nature or environmental themes — I didn’t want to read 11 books I was uninterested in and 1 (my choice) that I was. So, I left. It was freeing to not have to force myself to read other people’s choices.

  • Peakaye

    Since I think of reading as recreation and entertainment, I ask myself if this story was on tv would I change the channel now.

  • Ahmed

    Very well question, that depends on what do I need from the book, what made me attracted to it from the beginning, why did I purchased it firstly?, But if I did buy it and after 3 pages i found it likely boring, I start get from the middle and try to find an encouraging TITLE or a notable content just trying to find out the idea that passed to my mind when I first saw it in the beginning. If I failed to find anything that can communicate with some idea in my mind, Then I will consider reading this book is a duty I must do and will but it aside until I have a new Idea about how to enjoy reading it!

  • A bad book is a time thief. I wholeheartedly embrace your new stance.

  • skarmio

    I remember reading a quote (wish I wrote it down) the gist is that you reached midlife, or truly recognize your mortality, when you realize you will never read Remembrance of Things Past. I still feel obligated (not sure that’s the right word) to read the great classics – Ulysses, Remembrance, War and Peace even though I have begun them many times and failed. It’s harder to get lost in difficult fiction but know it would be rewarding to struggle through it.

  • PS

    I don’t read books anymore that don’t interest me. This was not a conscious decision, it was an evolution over time! I would read something for the sake of having something to read! I thought I was just picking crummy books-but it had more to do with as I have “matured”, my taste in what I read has evolved. Give me a good autobiography any day over any complex drama mystery. And I occasionally will read a juicy romance, mainly because they are quick reads and and are a good distraction. I prefer my kindle, it bothers me to have books lying around that I have purchased and never read!

  • Angela

    Up until right now I have always felt obligated to finish a book – even the bad ones – as I thought that putting a book down made me a quitter. But your post and the comments below are making me ask why. What’s more important: respecting my precious time or fearing certain actions classify me? I know I am not a quitter on the important stuff. So thanks for the permission to put down a book that doesn’t smoke my wheels.

  • Gretchen , Just because someone says “you must read this book”… you don’t,,, read what makes you feel good…and is not 900 pgs long…..

  • Christy

    I love, love, love reading. And finished every book I started until I was about 35. Now…I finish only books I am enjoying or from which I am learning something of value to me. There are too many unpleasant things in life that can’t be avoided…at least I can read things that make me feel happy.

  • Libby Salter

    I used to be a School Librarian and I VERY STRONGLY AGREE with this. I used to tell my students that they should feel no compulsion to finish a book they’re not enjoying. There are simply too many books to choose from! I said every book comes with a ‘money back’ guarantee .

  • My problem is worse with movies. I waste too much time watching movies I don’t enjoy. e.g. I find Avatar absolutely dreadful. At the scene where Jake was learning flying, I wanted to stop but I kept thinking it would pick up later. Why else would everyone love it? I ended up wasting 2 additional hours! I’d say I throw away good 50-100 hours a year like this.

  • Julie

    Daniel Pennac, a French writer, wrote the “Reader’s 10 inalienable rights” in his book “Comme un roman” and one of them is the right to not finish a book…since I’ve read his essay, I don’t feel guilty when I decide to do so! 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Love these! I’ll post the whole list on my blog this week.

  • But anyway you don’t have a sense of completion and what more you start to procrastinate. You may miss a ‘tipping point’ which would otherwise change your life?

  • I can’t stand putting down a book that’s only half read, I feel that I owe it to myself to read it all the way through. Luckily, however, I haven’t come across any books that I really, really disliked. If there’s only 1 good idea that I get from the entire book – it’s a good book, just as long as the idea added some positive value to my life!

  • I’ve always quit reading books I didn’t like.
    I HATED J.K. Rowlings adult novel and stopped about 70 pages into it. I asked my Facebook friends if it got any better…because I really hoped it would. None of them said it would.

    How about a blog column dealing with sadness and disillusionment after a beloved author of 7 amazing novels (that had an equally awesome narrator on the audio version) writes a horrible book that felt gross and unreal by page 10?

  • Éderson

    I agree with you, we should make the maximum to know things that are of interest to us and we can not waste time reading something that does not please us!

  • Sarah

    I have to really dislike a book to abandon it. Am very much of the mindset, if I start it, I want to see where it goes. Same with movies. But I can see the point that if it’s not enjoyable or is not something I care about enough, I could and should learn to stop reading. Reading is also my self-identity, and I consider myself a pretty discriminating reader. I try to pick up something I think I will truly love, but am also “omnivorous.” If it’s printed, it’s tempting, and since I work in libraries, I am tempted often. Invariably, something is going to be picked up not worth the time and attention that could go to other wonderful books or reading material out there.

  • Kirsten Simonsen

    I have this curse because I was an English major. Drives me nuts. I even force myself to finish books on the Kindle where it IS easier to give up. I tend to feel bad if I paid money for the book and I don’t finish it.

  • The Vanilla Bean

    I recently got a Kindle for my birthday because my parents thought it might curb my habit of buying ‘real’ books (we live in Mumbai in teeny apartments and space can be a real constraint) but obviously that’s not true. I like reading on my Kindle because there aren’t too many international titles available here. If I do, I have to order it online which takes days. So my e-reader is for convenience, really.

    I agree with the identity as a reader. So important because I love reading. I used to read all the classics as part of a school curriculum but since graduating, I haven’t done that much. It always used to nag me. Recently, I started one of the highly recommended classics and I just couldn’t get through it! I always feel guilty because I can’t figure out how everyone loves it so much! But I like this new resolution! With you on this one!

  • Elke

    For me, it depends on the reason why I’m not enjoying the book.
    Sometimes a book is just ‘difficult’, but I sense the experience will be worthwhile in the end (e.g. D.H. Lawrence or Virginia Woolf). In that case I persevere.
    Sometimes I feel that I’m reading a book I would normally enjoy, but I’m not enjoying it at that particular time. Then I put it aside and pick it up again when I’m more ‘in the mood’ for it.
    Sometimes a book is just badly written, or doesn’t appeal to me in any way. I have no problem discarding a book like that.

  • mrwlb

    Two comments – first, I have the 50 page rule. I give a book at least 50 pages and if I can not get into it, I stop.

    Second, some of it for me is age related. At 66, I feel time constrained and I did not when I was a lot younger. If fact, a few years ago I looked at all the books in my library and realized that I would never get to read many of them. I proceeded to go through book by book to determine which ones I really might get to and then gave the rest to a library. I really felt a lot better.

  • Sadye

    I’ve found that I split books I don’t enjoy into two categories — boring, which I give up on; and bad but compelling, which I continue reading. Someone earlier in the comments already pointed out that if it’s boring you, you tend not to retain anything, so it’s really a waste of time.

  • Dawn M

    I agree that we should give ourselves the freedom to stop reading something that doesn’t really hold our interest. Like you, I’ve struggled with the “shoulds” of finishing books and felt guilty for “giving up”. I struggled to stay with “Life of Pi”, but a friend said, “stay with it, you’ll be rewarded in the end.” That was a great piece of advice, and I’ve passed it along to others when I recommend they read the book.

  • Megan Gordon

    Fifty pages and I’m out. If you can’t engage me by then it ain’t gonna happen. This is the reason I love the library so – I can try out things that seem interesting without commitment.

  • Veronique

    Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. It depends why I am not enjoying it. If it because of the writing style, I persist if I can, to find out what it is about the style I don’t like. I ask myself is it too wordy, self-indulgent, poorly phrased etc. In that way it helps me in my own writing to target what I may or may not want to cut out doing. If it is the subject matter I ask myself again what it is I don’t like. If it is making me uncomfortable I ask myself why because I think it is good to push yourself out of your comfort zone a bit. If the way the subject is being treated does not grab me I will often toss it. Recently I picked up a book about the history of China and found it too thick with names and really unimportant details about major battles. I was getting dizzy looking back and forth from my notebook to the book to keep track so I donated it to the library but found one that was much more comprehensive for me.

  • C Prisk

    Yes! I started doing this a couple of years ago. Life is too short to waste it reading boring,uninteresting, or offensive books!

  • Peninith1

    Poor writing style? I quit after a paragraph or a page. I know immediately where this is going and I don’t want to go there? I put it down as soon as that becomes apparent. ‘Worthy’ but just not engaging? I’ll flip to the end to see how it goes. If that doesn’t intrigue me, I’m outta there. I expect to learn something but I’m bored? I’ll check the relevant information and then depart. Life is way too short to spend it reading bad books when there are so many truly entertaining ones to read and re-read, and so many great ones to read until they wear out.

  • I started doing this a few years ago, when I finally figured out that there were enough GOOD books out there that I should quit wasting time on the mediocre ones… or even just on the “good” ones that weren’t that great for me. I give a book 50 pages; if it’s not pulling me in by p50, I’m done.

  • I used to have the same problem. Also because when I spend 20 euro’s on a book I should read it.
    But I recently joined a liberary and i find it so much easier to put down books if they don’t interest me. Just because they (almost) didn’t cost me anything.

  • Vampire Elite

    I will stop after 50 pages and read the last chapter…the books I dislike the most are the ones with all of the foreign names and ranks, I cannot keep track of them and have to write down who the characters are and what they do….too much trouble. I like criminal series, and someone gave me Clan of the Cave Bear….don’t bother, I said, I don’t read books like that…..Begged me to give it a chance…so I did and couldn’t wait to read the rest of the books. I don’t like bloody, gorey, torture, sorft porn, so I just skip a couple of pages and continue reading.

  • Ginger

    I stopped feeling obligated the day I realized that if I read approximately 50 books per year (some years more, some less), and live to average age (currently 79), I’d only get to read about 2,500 books from this point. There are many more books than that out there I’d like to read.

    Plus, since I’m a “more than one book at a time” reader I always tell myself I haven’t really stopped, I’m just in the middle of it. And it’s actually happened to me before that I’ve been uninterested in a book at one point in my life, and then completely absorbed in it a few years later, just at different time in my life.

  • wypożyczalnia samochodów łódź

    Reading is an incredible bond that unites the reader with the author, it really says if a person thinks, I love it…

  • Yes! I learned this from Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution. Though I have read/am reading both happiness books.

  • Kay

    Dear Gretchen,

    I could not agree more! I am realizing that some books are never intended to be finished. That said, I am picking up Great Gatsby again. I so want to finish it before I watch the movie.


  • Margo

    I have loved books all my life and, yes, I feel that once I start a book I must finish it…but, as someone else has commented, life is short and we are running out of time, therefore, we must become more discriminating in what we choose to spend our very valuable time reading. As difficult as it is, I am just starting to be more selective of what I wish to continue reading and when it is time to call it quits on books that don’t spark an interest. For me, it has not been an easy thing to do.

  • I always felt so guilty about this, especially if the book is by an author I usually like. But I have come to the conclusion that life is too short to waste time on books I don’t really enjoy. I also consider reading the one activity I truly love, and I am learning to really live by my motto: “So many books, so little time!”

  • Helena

    I too used to feel like a serious reader (particularly one who is also an editor and therefore accustomed to not always liking what I read) “should” finish reading each book. Then I became a mom, and my reading time was reduced dramatically. Now I feel that life is too short to waste on books I don’t like. I give a book a chance, but if I’m not getting anything out of it–information, pleasure, something–then I close it and back it goes to the library. (I only buy books if I’ve read them and know I’ll read them again. It keeps down the clutter and keeps me from spending money on books I won’t like or ever look at a second time.)

  • jsaffa

    I always felt guilty, but now I think- I don’t watch certain tv shows because they don’t interest me, I don’t listen to certain music because it is not my style, so why are books any different? The first couple of pages of a book are like an episode of a tv show- you give it a try and decide whether you want to keep watching or not. I still like to give books a try, but I don’t beat myself up anymore if I choose not to continue with one. What I try to do is go back to it at a later date and see if my tastes have changed.

  • Kitty Hawkins

    I really struggle with this one. I feel like I’m abandoning a person by giving up on a book. I’ll struggle through stuff if I care about the characters. But now I take a moment and ask myself “Do I really give a damn about any of these people?” If the answer is ‘no’, I stop reading. There are WAY too many wonderful books to waste time on something I don’t enjoy.

    I also found that for most romance/erotic romance novels, reading a review on them is actually FAR better than reading the book. For example the ‘Straight Guy Reviews of Romance Novels’ blog had a summary of The Very Virile Viking that was side-splittingly hilarious AND saved me a ton of time!

  • Mrs. B

    I’ve spent too much time reading (which I love to do) books that are disappointing or downright irritating. So I’ve practiced this for years: a book has to “hook” me within the first four chapters or it’s toast. If the story line is good but the writing itself is clumsy and elementary, it’s toast. Even if it’s hooked me, if I suspect the story is going to end “wrong” (I don’t need a happy ending, but I do need a satisfying one!), I will check enough of the last chapter to determine if finishing the book is going to leave me irritated – and if that seems to be the case, I won’t finish! When I get to the end of a book, I want to feel glad I read it. This practice has increased my reading pleasure immensely!

  • Anne

    Oh I agree, there are some books that I have put down because I really don’t like reading that book. However, I am in a book club and we read 6 books a year and discuss them. This year there were two books that were a “challenge” but I persevered and finished both books. One I still dislike and gave away but the other turned out to be interesting, once you got past the first 1/3. Others in our group also had a challenge with both books, so it was good to share our frustration and to continue reading. I now buy books for my Kindle and don’t not feel as guilty when I stop reading a book that I do not enjoy. One book = 2 or 3 cups of cappaccino! Though Gretchen I DO enjoy reading your blogs – everyone is very polite!

    • Anne

      The book I disliked was “The Casual Vacancy”, the book that got better was “All that I am”. I found that having a notepad close by to write down the characters helped me to keep track of who was who in this book. One I really enjoyed but had to have in paper copy was Caleb’s Crossing – too many characters. Geraldine Brooks is a “fantastic” writer and her books are so interesting that you do not want to put them down – The Book Thief and the Red Tent.

  • kelleenb

    Absolutely, and I’m teaching my 7-yr.-old that it’s ok to not finish a book if you don’t find it interesting. We give each book a fair chance, but then abandon it without regret if it doesn’t strike our fancy. There are so many fabulous books that we know our next choice may be a better one.

  • It depends. I will often keep going if it is a big hit book a that I want to have an opinion on but don’t like all that much. I have to have a certain amount of curiosity to keep going. If it’s just a random book, I’m pretty judgmental within those first few chapters. I’ve run into some deal breaks where I just say “Done!” which usually involve something about the plot I don’t believe.

  • Joy

    Just a prerequisite: I really don’t like ereaders, but this year I’ve been studying abroad and it’s about (not to exaggerate, but) 1000% times easier for me to just read books on my ipad for now, plus it makes it easy for me to lug around my favorites (for some reason, since my senior year of high school I’ve wanted to reread, quite literally, everything I’ve ever read). Anyway, ereaders make it hard for me to finish books because I get distracted by all the other books, more so than I do when they’re physically in front of me; it becomes so easy for me to think about reading another book, access that book, buy that book, and then I have it sitting there on my virtual shelf… It’s just too tempting, and I have so much I want to read and so little time to do it (I’ve got to study at some point, and I’m studying abroad so it’s not like there’s a lack of things to run around and do/see). When I’m actually holding a book, it’s easier somehow because I can feel my progress. With an ereader, I can see the page numbers go by but it doesn’t feel REAL, you know? I guess the best way to explain it is reading on an ereader feels like running on a treadmill; you’re still doing the activity technically, and achieving everything you would be if you were running out in the world outside, but you can’t feel your progress like you can when you run around outside and it simply isn’t the same. Ereaders really frustrate me but they’re just so darn convenient.

  • Andrew

    When I used to buy all my books, I did feel an obligation to finish all of them – after all, I had paid for them, so I’d better finish them, right? Then, several years ago, I stopped buying books and started borrowing them from the library. Now, with no money invested, I feel absolutely no obligation to finish any book that isn’t working for me. There are so many books out there, I’m not going to waste my limited reading time.

    • gretchenrubin

      This is one of the many reasons that I LOVE libraries.

  • Janet

    Okay, I just did Ctrl-F in my browser and there were 14 instances of “guilty” or “guilt” on just the first 50+ comments! I’m pretty sure that any path to happiness does not include so much guilt!

  • Dotty

    I’ve heard the same advice about subtracting your age from 100, but what sticks in my mind more is a friend’s wise words “so many books, so little time”.

  • Kelly Belmonte

    So funny, I just came to the same conclusion myself within the past few weeks. Glad to hear I’m not alone in being free from the tyranny of finishing a bad book!

  • Abbie Valle

    I read according to my mood. Besides, “no” is not “never.” I might not like a certain book today, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like it days, weeks, months, or years from now.

  • Farah

    Great article.. i’m a reader too .. i buy and read a lot of books .. sometimes i can put down a book half read but i always feel the obligation to finish it .. i love your advice and i think i’ll start doing it.. life is too short to read bad books .. Thanks Gretchen 🙂

  • Farah Moujahid

    Great article.. i’m a reader too .. i buy and read a lot of books .. sometimes i can put down a book half read but i always feel the obligation to finish it .. i love your advice and i think i’ll start doing it.. life is too short to read bad books .. Thanks Gretchen 🙂

  • Kanchana

    I used to be the same, wanting to finish whatever book I started, But there were times when I really did not enjoy. And because I had the same ‘committed feeling’ I could not let myself put the book down. I used to fear guilt – the guilt of abandoning something that I initiated by myself.
    But now I give it up if it does not interest me. I don’t feel guilty anymore! I feel I owe myself more. If I do not like it, why make myself go through it? love myself a lot and I need to do things that I enjoy

  • Rachel

    I wish I could do this. I’ll stop reading if I can’t stand a book, and even that is progress, but I have a lot of difficulty stopping in the middle, even if I can tell it’s not going very well. I suppose in a way I do abandon some books I don’t like very much–since I’m often reading 20 or so books at a time, some of these just “stay on the list” for a very long time. Every once in a while I’ll get fed up with that book hanging around so long, and read it just to get it over with. Less often I’ll donate it or pass it along before I finish, but I’d like to be able to convince myself to get to that stage a lot sooner!

  • Bethany

    If I don’t enjoy reading a book or can’t get into it after a couple of chapters, I put it back onto my book case and I wait a year or so and read other books and come back to it. Some of my favourite books I really didn’t like when I first tried to read them and now I don’t know what is do without them. Although sometimes the reason I can’t get into a book is because my head is still in another world and I can’t get out of it.

  • LocketBling

    I FEEL like I should finish them but I don’t always anymore..

  • Kendra H.

    I used to force myself to finish books, but reached the same place you did–why not use my limited time to read books I loved? Even if it means forgoing a so-so new book to re-read an old friend. Not every book will appeal to me as a reader, and that’s what finally helped me realize I don’t have to be a “completionist.”

  • CK

    i understand all that its not my problem my problem is that when i read books that are intense i just cant stop thinking about it i cant constanstrate

    • Dumbfounded

      You actually read?

  • CR

    I used to read so much, almost like an obsession and for sure, an escapism. I loved it so much and read every genre. And once I began, I finished no matter what. Would never read more than one at a time and had to finish any series I began as a principle. Well, now I find myself, at 35, no longer reading unless I truly enjoy it. If a book begins with me not feeling it then off it goes. Hardcover, paperback, or kindle-doesn’t matter what format. I haven’t the patience to waste my time. I want to read to enjoy. Period.

  • Theadora

    I have collected books since I was young, I had this crazy ideal that I would have the “largest home library” so I have a loot of books. In addition to constantly buying books, I had to finish them as well. If I was to have this library, I HAD to read all the books, right? I’m not the fastest reader, so when I would force myself to read books I HATED, sometimes it took a long, long time. I also felt like I gained bragging rights when I finished a book I totally despised. A little while ago, I was on break at work and I was reading, my boss came up and started asking a few questions about the book and one was, “How are you enjoying it?” My response. Not at all. It was taking me a long time and I felt like the writing style dragged. He asked me why I was wasting my time on books like that. Why, especially during a hobby, would I spend my time being miserable? So, I stopped. Actually, through much mental debating, I decided to just start skimming the book. Now I am on a book I would really like to be over. Telling myself to finish every book feels so ingrained, it’s so hard to stop. This book battle will be a hard one! Thank you for sharing.

    • Kevin S

      I use to also force to finish everything. Instead what I do know is
      that if the book is horrible , or if I lose interest I will read a
      hundred pages of so. Then just start skimming looking for nuggets I can
      pull out. This way I still go through the entire book, but with a
      different intention than when I started.

  • Reminds me of your “street lit” debate.

  • gen

    Hi Gretchen, I really like this TAH tip, but I belong to a book group. We take turns picking the books, so in addition to my reader pride (I must finish this book!), I also feel I have an obligation to the group to read the whole book to have a thoughtful discussion, and be respectful to the chooser. We have 12 people in our group, so I only get to pick once a month. I tend to like the books, but struggle to finish them. I get about 2/3rds through frequently. Should I finish them? Or just read what I can/want to? Thoughts? Thanks, Jen

    • jen

      I meant once a year! So 11 months of other people’s selections. Thanks!

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