Unfinished Books

Life of a Doctor’s Wife asked me yesterday if I ever had books I couldn’t finish.

I’ll admit that generally I will slog through a book if it is not just unbearable unbearable torture because I hate to leave a book unread and also, if I’m far enough into it, it’s generally worth it to me and my false sense of accomplishment to chalk another book up on the completed list.

But sometimes, if a book is just completely clogging up my reading (meaning, I feel like I’m choosing not to read anything because I feel bad about not reading this particular book) or if it’s just too foul or I just can’t stand it, I’ll give it up.

Most of the time, when I start reading a book, I list it on Goodreads in my “currently-reading” category (which shows up on the right sidebar of my blog), and then, if I don’t finish it, it goes into my “Unfinished” category. It’s not a perfect system, because sometimes I give up on a book before I’ve added it and so I forget entirely that it’s a book I haven’t finished, but here’s the ones I do have on record as “unfinished” since the beginning of 2008:

  • Elegance
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves
  • Ever
  • One for the Money (Stephanie Plum #1)
  • Matrimony
  • Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do
  • Playing with Fire (Skulduggery Pleasant #2)
  • Feed
  • The Devil’s Breath
  • The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog
  • Fat Kid Rules the World
  • Heavenly
  • Hamlet: A Novel
  • From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges Between Young Adult Literature and the Classics
  • Gorgeous
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go
  • Horns and Wrinkles
  • Team of Rivals
  • The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary
  • I, Coriander
  • More than Enough
  • Bread and Roses, Too
  • Libyrinth

Some of these I feel genuinely bad about not finishing – they are insanely popular and people who I trust love them, but for some reason they just did not do it for me (The Knife of Never Letting Go – I tried so hard!!! I gave it at least 200 pages and it NEVER picked up for me).

Any books you just couldn’t get through?

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  • Reply Sherry June 10, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Middlemarch by George Elliott. I tried on audio, and then I wanted to die. I just couldn't care about anyone or anything in that book, and I listened to at least 10 hours of it. Gag.

    I'm sad that you do not love Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. It is so short and funny; I was sure you'd adore it. But I can totally see why you haven't gotten through The Elegance of the Hedgehog and Team of Rivals. I think if you got far enough into Team of Rivals you would adore it. It took me a long time to get to that point, though.

  • Reply Jess June 10, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Every now and then I start reading a book and stop for some reason (like a book I've been dying to read comes up at the library and isn't renewable because it's on hold so I start reading it right away), and then I just never get back into the book and give it up. But that's pretty rare. Usually I start what I finish, too.

  • Reply Mary June 10, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    I used to feel like I always had to finish any book that I started. But then when I realized how many books there are that I want to read and how little time there is, I changed my outlook. Now if a book is just not doing it for me (I always give it a fair amount of time)I just stop reading it and feel no guilt! Recently, I gave up on The Time Travelers Wife about 1/4 of the way through because I realized that the hefty use of the F word was just not going away. Vulgarity or profanity are the most common reasons for me to stop reading, but sometimes I just decide that certain books are not worth my time, for whatever reason.

  • Reply Jenn June 10, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    I couldn't finish 'Push' by Sapphire…in fact I barely got past page 5. Also didn't finish 'Enna Burning', the 2nd book in the Goose Girl series by Shannon Hale. Definitely guilty of skimming through 'The guernsey literary and potato peel pie society'…for some reason that never really grabbed me.

    I loved Eats, Shoots, and Leaves– but it does start to drag a bit by the end– punctuation overload!

  • Reply Chelsea June 10, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    I do have the occasional book that I don't finish. I enjoy reading so much, I just don't want to waste my time on a book that I'm not enjoying. I usually read the last couple of pages though, just to see how it ends. I'm horrible that way! My girlfriends and husband make fun of me all the time for doing that.

  • Reply Life of a Doctor's Wife June 10, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Yay! So glad you answered my question!

    I hate leaving books unfinished, too. There are definitely some books that I know I will finish, but I want to read another book more urgently… so I will put those aside until later. But a few books I just have to give up on entirely.

    Most recently, the one I gave up on was "Voluntary Madness" (as I mentioned in my email) because I hated the narrator.

    Before that, I remember giving up on "Catch 22" and "House of God" – which I think are similar stylistically, and which I hated with equal fervor.

  • Reply Lexilooo June 10, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    I tried so hard to read Atonement, since everyone raved about it, but I just couldn't get into it. I think I gave up after around 75 pages…

  • Reply Lisa June 10, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    I have no problems not finishing a book. In fact, since I tend to read 3 or 4 books (or more) at the same time, sometimes I quit reading a book without even realizing it. Other times it's an actual decision, like with my recent posting of The Screwed Up life of Charlie the Second.

  • Reply Elsha June 10, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    I quit reading Rising Sun by Michael Crichton because the language was just awful. And I've yet to make it all the way through Les Miserables. I've tried twice and something came up to keep me from finishing both times. It's still on my "to read" list though!

  • Reply NGS June 10, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    I just finished The Knife of Never Letting Go and it was…awesome. But lots of people recommended A Wizard of Earthsea to me and I just can't finish it. I'm so sad, but I just can't do it. Or anything Charles Dickens wrote.

  • Reply Carole June 10, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Don't you wonder sometimes how some books found a publisher??

  • Reply Kimberly F. June 10, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    Even though I LOVED Knife of Never Letting Go, I'm kind of glad to see it on your list. I just can't understand how people could NOT like that book, so it actually makes me feel better for not liking books that everyone else seems to like (like the Percy Jackson series, A Curse Dark as Gold, Sarah Plain and Tall, Where the Wild Things Are, I could go on…).

  • Reply Packrat June 10, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    If I don't like a book by the second or third chapter, I won't finish it. I figure my time is too valuable, and there are too many really good books to be read. I'm with Mary. I just could not read The Time Traveler's Wife.

  • Reply Stacy June 11, 2010 at 12:13 am

    A Game of Thrones – not only was the language terrible, it was also very sexual – and that's really saying something because I managed to finish The Time Traveler's Wife.

    It's the first book I've ever purposely stopped reading.

  • Reply Nicole June 11, 2010 at 2:45 am

    I have to say that I liked I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You and the Stephanie Plum books. Very cute/funny. But I also couldn't finish Elegance as well as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. (I know, popular book!) I also hated Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, even though I am a HUGE fan of the musical.

  • Reply Katie Rich June 11, 2010 at 4:44 am

    I had to give up on Beloved by Toni Morrison. I had heard so much praise of it, and since I somewhat specialize in 20th century African American Literature I thought I would give it a try. After the fourth mention of men literally having sex with cows, I gave up.

  • Reply Kay June 11, 2010 at 5:35 am

    Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving was the very first book I put down… It was just awful and I had loved The World According to Garp! I felt guilty forever then I realized it was ok! It's kinda like being 45 before I learned it was not illegal to stay in your jammies all day long! Growing up is kinda fun sometimes!

  • Reply emandtrev June 11, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    I had a *really* hard time finishing Elegance of the Hedgehog. I think the only reason I did was because I had it on my iPod and had already paid for it–so I was going to finish it, by golly! Ha!

    One that comes to mind immediately is The Lovely Bones. Maybe I should give it another try, but I could not get into it the first time around (and it made me SO sad).

  • Reply Amy Sorensen June 11, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    I couldn't finish Elegance of the Hedgehog either. I still feel like a failure.

    Knife of Never Letting Go…holy cow, I loved that book! I think it is interesting, though, what people respond to. It is good we have such a wide variety of things to read!

    Usually when i don't finish a book it's simply because I ran out of time and feel guilty for renewing it. That is one of the downsides of being a librarian…I constantly feel like everyone is waiting for me to finish the book so THEY can read it.

  • Reply Miri June 11, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    I gave up on The Dead and the Gone–the whole male-dominated Puerto Rican culture, even as diluted as it is in that book, was really bugging me, and I decided I had too many other things waiting to keep reading something I wasn't enjoying.

    Sadly, I wasn't super impressed with City of Bones, either, so I decided not to read the rest of the series.

    It's only recently that I've adopted this attitude; it's always been really hard for me to give up on a book! If I did, it was always just "on hold" in my head. Now I've decided that it's okay to choose not to finish a book.

  • Reply Bean June 11, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    Love in the Time of Cholera. I tried and tried and tried…I made it about half way.

    Also, Wicked took me FOREVER but I did finally finish it.

  • Reply Kathleen June 11, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    I, Coriander? Really???? You should give that one another try….it's such a sweet little story. I haven't yet not finished a book; I just can't do it. But I would say Wicked is a book I wish I had never started, as I REALLY wanted to not finish that one.

  • Reply hollyhs June 11, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    i love this. i give a book about 100 pages and if i don't love it by then, i give it up. there are too many awesome books on the planet for me to waste time reading ones i hate. who says you have to finish every book you start?

  • Reply Yankee Girl June 11, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    I'm just about 40 pages into "Crossing to Safety" and the topic, characters, and writing just don't interest me–nothing bad just not gripping–so right now I'm trying to decide if I continue or not (40 pages really isn't that far into a book–but there are so many books to read that will probably catch me a lot sooner than 40 pages).

  • Reply pcb June 12, 2010 at 12:07 am

    Funny that you mention this today – I was just talking to my mom about this. I am trying to slog through "The Magicians" right now (touted as an edgier "Harry Potter") and I am valiently not giving up because I have made it past a certain point. It seems that if I get to a certain place I feel like I have to finish. I did not finish "Wicked", way too crass for my taste. Some books like "As I Lay Dying" and "The Time Traveler's Wife" – I wished upon completion that I had stopped early on.

  • Reply BrittWilk June 12, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    ahhhh… i didn't finish team of rivals either. wanted to love it like i expected i would. and i did… until i got to the 2nd half. 🙂 it makes me feel better that you didn't finish it either. same thing with 1776 thus far. loved the political history, but the war history caused my abandonment.

  • Reply megan June 14, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Well, I can't remember some though I know there are books left unfinished. The Tale of Hill Top Farm, by Susan Wittig Albert, took me a year to finish, but finally did. It was my slow book on purpose, to read myself to sleep when Roger was out of town. but by page 175-200 I finally kind of liked it, and by the end I thought it was charming. Weird how some can turn around and some cannot

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