If you're not enjoying a book, at what point is it OK to ditch it?

According to a Guardian article, author Mark Billingham suggests “throwing a book across the room angrily” after twenty pages if you are not enjoying it, whereas a Goodreads survey suggests that almost 40% of people will keep reading right to the end.

Where do you fall on this spectrum?
  • If a book doesn’t grab me immediately, I drop it instantly. My time is precious, and my patience thin.
  • I’ll keep going for 20 pages, but then stop.
  • You need to read at least half of a book before you can judge it fairly, so I’ll read until I’m halfway through.
  • I will battle on with any book until the bitter end.

0 voters

in what context are we talking about reading here? Did anyone actually enjoy all the textbook reading in school? I don’t think any professor would accept a “the first 20 pages were site so I tossed it… try again” from any student :slight_smile:

That said, I tend to be a person that reads for only 3 reasons:

  1. I am researching … bitter end because the book is supposed to the answer to all questions.
  2. Someone suggested it … 1/2 way because someone thought I would enjoy it so maybe the part is further in.
  3. Bodedom … you get about 30 seconds before I have to replace a window, patch the wall, apologize to the dog, or I’ve given the dolphins something to complain about.

It’s fine for anyone to pick their own threshold for setting a book aside/returning it to the library (mostly) unread. But my dearly departed mother would never allow book throwing, or book abuse in any form, which in her mind was tantamount to book burning, and only very bad people (as in Nazis and religious fundamentalists) burn books.

Therefore, I pass on books I don’t like, or let them collect virtual dust in my virtual archives, unread and unloved. But I never throw them.

Personally, I will push through a book I’m not enthused by for a book club so that I can discuss it with the group. If I’m reading for pleasure, I stop reading if the experience isn’t “pleasurable”, where “pleasure” can mean joy, laughter, anxiety, terror, morbid fascination, or other emotions that keep me turning pages even as my eyes start burning with fatigue.

Obviously, the same doesn’t apply for books that contain instructions or other information that I want or need, even if it’s dry and boring.


Good point, @Jaysen - I expect that the Guardian piece was considering recreational reading, rather than meaty educational tomes.

@Rdale - My mother was exactly the same when I was young. She would be horrified at the way I wilfully break the spines of books if they are proving difficult to hold open. That said, I almost always read on a Kindle these days, so my book abuse is largely a thing of the past. I can’t say that I share any “pleasure” in anxiety and terror, though! :grinning:

I used to always read to the bitter end, no matter what. Then one day, I suddenly wondered why. Nobody much cares whether I finish any particular book. In fact, most likely, nobody even knows what I am reading. Although I have got a bit more devil-may-care about the whole thing, I still wouldn’t like to abandon a book before the halfway mark, in case it is just taking a while for the author to get into their stride.

And I would never throw an abandoned book across the room (or the metaphorical equivalent on the Kindle) because I always tell myself that I will come back and finish it later. Which I never do, of course. There are far too many other books sitting unread and waiting.

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I keep telling myself that time is precious and there is nothing wrong with setting aside a book that isn’t capturing my attention. But I rarely do.

As a child, books were my refuge. I was reluctant to try new authors, but I re-read many of my favorite series on a regular rotation. I can still remember some passages verbatim, lo, these many years later.

As a young adult, I felt guilty for setting aside a book after someone spent all that time to craft the story. I aspired to join the ranks of the published, and I felt it was my duty as an “aspiring author” to treat other writers the way I hoped readers would treat me. In my mind, that meant reading until the end, even if I wasn’t enjoying the book.

Fast forward a decade or so, and I volunteered to be a judge for a small literary group. Through that experience, I was subjected to a wide range of half-baked books that weren’t worth my time.

That experience made me more likely to set aside books that aren’t interesting to me. And, I think I’m actually more selective about the books I read now, which reduces the chances I’ll need to set something aside.


Very much context dependent. I’ll read darn near anything on an airplane, which tells you just how bad the book I once abandoned at the Atlanta airport while changing to a Seattle-bound flight had to be. (For people outside the US, Atlanta to Seattle is more than a five hour flight.)

But in less constrained circumstances, life is too short to read bad books. Once I decide that it’s bad – which could be five pages or could be several chapters, depending on the kind of badness – it’s gone.

Boredom is sort of a different issue. There are lots of books – especially non-fiction – that are perfectly readable but just not what I’m interested in at a given moment. Those get to stick around, unread or partially read, until either they catch my interest again or I decide I need the space for something else.

Rejected books are not hurled, they are given away to someone who might appreciate them more. Unless it’s so bad that I consider it actively hazardous to the reader. (That book I abandoned in Atlanta was in this category.)


I’m very similar! When I was younger, I spent so much time reading that it was pretty rare for me to set aside a book that I had picked up of my own volition (assigned reading was an entirely different story), even if I wasn’t enjoying it. As I’ve gotten older, my commitments have increased and my reading time has significantly lessened, so I’m much more likely to set aside a book I’m not loving. I feel like just about anytime a book ends up on my nightstand “so that I’ll see it and be more likely to read it” that means, in fact, I will never crack that book open again.


I like Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50 (Nancy Pearl's Rule of 50 for dropping a bad book - The Globe and Mail)

Up to the age of 50 you have to read at least 50 pages of a book before giving up. If you get to the end of page 50 and you’re not enjoying it, or getting anything out of it, then drop it. If you’re only reading on past 50 pages to find out whodunnit, then turn to the last page straight away and stop wasting time.

From your 51st birthday onwards, you can drop one page off the minimum per year: at 51 you can give up after 49 pages, at 52, after 48 and so on.

And Nancy says that by the time you get to be 100, you’re allowed to judge a book by its cover…


There are so many books out there, I can find something else that I will like. I think a lot of my mindset comes from the required reading I had back in school. Most of it was so dreadfully boring, and it never got more interesting no matter how far into the book I read. If I don’t like it, then I drop it right then and there, and find something else that is more suited to my tastes.

One book I read got me all attached to this POV woman, and then killed her at the end of chapter 1, and I dropped the book because I thought I was getting attached the protagonist, but nope. I’m not a fan of killing off characters in general, but I especially won’t go for killing off a POV character I really liked.

Another book I dropped early on had this really cool character that again I thought was the protag, and it turns out they were the villain and the real protag was super boring. And I was like nope because it was also too cliche for me. I thought the author was having fun and going against norms, but turns out they were playing everything by formula, which I don’t like.

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For fiction, the work needs to grab my attention, and curiosity within the first few pages. I will persist if I have experience with the author and have enjoyed their work in the past or if I know I am off kilter and realize I should experience the book another day. But, if I am in my right mind and the work does not capture my interest in the beginning, I put the book away.


I will happily abandon books, whether physical or eBook if they’re not holding my attention. Two books had slightly different outcomes.

The first was a history of Chinese philosophy that I was supposed to read in my first year at university. For weeks I tried to read it every day, but it was so turgid that I fell asleep before I got to the bottom of page 1. I never did get to page two. so avoided any question on philosophy in the exam.

The other was a major blockbuster which everyone told me was right up my street. But I found the style so irritating that I abandoned it halfway down the first page!

I would never throw a book across a room, though.




Nor would I, particularly one on my Kindle. :sunglasses:


On the original question – if a book doesn’t grab me instantly I don’t buy it.

But if I can ask a follow up… How late is too late to abandon a book even if you’re really not enjoying it?

Could, for example, an author write something so bad that you’d stop reading with just 100 pages to go?

How about 20?


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If I’m more than halfway, I’ll usually tough it out. But there are definitely library books that have gone un-renewed, and personal books that have been allowed to gather dust on the table even when close to done.

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When I lived in Italy I heard a story about a group of condemned criminals who at sentencing were given the choice of either reading Guicciardini’s History of Italy, or going to row in the slave galleys. They chose to read the History of Italy, but after a while they asked if they could change their minds and row in the slave galleys instead. The story doesn’t tell how far they had got with the book.


There is no too late. If you’re not enjoying it and/or getting something out of it…why waste any more time? The Sunk Cost Fallacy is real.


I like the Rule of 50, that you describe, @brookter. The only problem with that is that I generally dislike modern book covers, so by the time I reach 100, I may never read anything at all! I don’t know why the author’s name has to loom so large in modern design, as though it’s some sort of roadside banner.

Perversely, @mbbntu, you make me want to read Guicciardini’s History of Italy, to find out what is so bad about it. :grinning:

Good question, @pigfender. I recently gave up on a hugely fat book just a few dozen pages before the end, because there was a scene of such grossness and exploitativeness (if that’s a word) that I felt the author must be truly nasty-minded to have come up with it and to apparently revel in describing it. It put earlier dubious scenes into a different light, as part of a larger picture, and I couldn’t bear to read any further material that came from that pit. I regretted reading as far as I had done.

There is actually a book that I really enjoy but have never (yet) finished. Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain always makes me want to write, for some reason I have never been able to identify. And at the point when I decide that it’s writing time, I put the book aside for later, and read something else instead. When “later” comes, I start the book again at the beginning, and so it continues.

Other than that, if I like a book well enough to read past the half-way mark, then the only reason I would abandon it before the end would be if it were a “holiday reading” book, and the holiday came to an end. There are a few cosy murder mysteries where I never found out whodunnit. But perhaps my willingness to abandon the book might have been because I had already guessed the culprit anyway.

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Maybe 30 years as an acquisitions editor has ruined me, but I read books the same way I read manuscripts: If the story, the writing, the thinking, the pacing isn’t there within the first 30 pages, it’ll never be there. So I flip ahead to the middle–has it improved? Then I have a look at the last five pages. Still nothing? Then Nyet.

There’s simply more books than there is time to read them. If the latest TrendFollower from Random Penguins is self-absorbed tripe, then I’ve bookshelves and an iPad full of writers who’ll bear re-reading.

The beauty of getting old is that you can re-read Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope or the Three Weird Sisters of Haworth and find them as entertaining as ever.


I have abandoned an author between books. Despite being a fan of the books of his that I had previously read, I stopped reading all Robert Harris after I learned of his association with Roman Polanski.


I think it’s “okay” to drop a book as early or late as you want. To the extent that there’s any moral weight associated with reading at all, it has to do with the authors you choose to support and what you do with the information you gain.