How to Abandon Books

When do you give up?

Fifty pages? A hundred? Halfway through..?

When can you decide that a book just isn’t for you?

Remember – you’re not in school or college now. You’re not writing essays or putting together a thesis. You’re not even reviewing for a paper or magazine. This is just you, reading what you want. Questions of whether a book is ‘good’ or ‘important’ or whatever shouldn’t come into it.

Are you loving it? Are you enjoying it? What are you getting out of it? These are the questions that you should think about. (Not all the time, of course. You have to give yourself up to the book, whatever it is. And, after a decent interval – then you can consider – is this one doing the trick for me?)

This is the Beach House project, and it’s about me working my way systematically through a household filled with books. Odds are that I’m going to have to make some choices every now and then and to learn to chuck things aside with impunity: it stands to reason that not everything I’ve saved for a rainy day is going to be a smash-hit with me.

But I’ll give them… what? Fifty pages? …before I put them aside.

After a few weeks of moving from one enjoyable book to another, with barely a bum note, this weekend I found myself abandoning ‘My Brilliant Career’ by Miles Franklin halfway through. It started so promisingly – like a profane, antipodean answer to ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ But the lead character’s inverted narcissism started to get on my nerves. Halfway through I was losing the thread of it all.

My test for giving up on a book used to be – do I want to chuck it across the room or against the wall? Naturally, this had to change when e-books came in. Now the test is simply – do I want to pick it up again the next day? It’s surprising how many books actually make you want to pick up something else instead.

So… in my Beach House blogging I’ll mention the things I give up on, occasionally. Then, if there’s anyone following my blog who’s a particular fan of, say, Miles Franklin, then they can shout up and tell me: ‘No! Don’t give up! The second half is absolutely brilliant and you’ll be missing it all!’

Also, I gave up on a Gladys Mitchell novel fifty pages in, yesterday afternoon. ‘The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop.’ It was just a mite too arch for my mood yesterday, and there were too many characters with names I found confusing on a drowsy Sunday afternoon. I know she has her fans amongst folk I know… So what do you think? Ought I go back to her?

Last night I was starting a Judith Krantz. ‘Scruples.’ I thought it might be amusing in a kind of trashy, 1980s soap-opera kind of way. Almost immediately apparent was the fact that the writing is horrible. Sentences choked with designer names and useless guff like polluted rivers chugging dirtily through the first few pages. I’m going to have to make a decision about this one soon, I think.

I wonder if I’m finally losing my epic tolerance for out and out trash.


  1. Interesting thought. I've just finished Torchwood: Exodus Code by the Barrowmans. It was one of the worst books I've read in a long time, both in story and in writing.

    I truly wanted to love this and hoped that John had insight to his character that he could apply to the story but it was awkward, confusing, and rang false. However I stuck it through to the end due to the love of the character and respect to the actor (note: actor, not author). It wasn't worth it.

    So your comment is true in that if I have no enthusiasm to continue reading every day then it can be ditched as there's plenty more books in the world demanding my attention.

  2. I've now decided that life's too short for reading books you hate. I do sometimes persevere with a book in the hope that something better will happen, and usually it does. But if it's not working after a couple of chapters I'll give up. I'll never have enough life to read what I want to read, so why waste it on what doesn't work for you?

    Nothing against trash novels. Everyone needs a trash novel at some point, but if every critic in the world says it's brilliant, but it's not doing it for me, leave it and move on to something else.

    Having said which there's surprisingly little fiction that I don't make it all the way to the end. Last one I gave up on was Julian Fellowes' Past Imperfect which I loathed so much, never mind throw it across the room, I would happily have thrown it out of the window....but it was a library I didn't.

  3. I had the same problem with Gladys Mitchell some years ago; still have it in mind that "someday" I might try again with another one. Except that I continue to discover new (or old) writers that I also want to give a chance....sometimes it is a matter of mood, and at others a particular style/sensibility that just isn't going to work for me, no matter how many other people love it. It gets easier to give up on books the older I get!


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