Have you ever read a book and had trouble slogging through it, having to put it down and pick it back up several times before finishing, if you even finish at all? I know I have. Ally Condie‘s Matched is one I still have yet to get more than half way through, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson took me three tries before I could get past the first 30 or so pages of set up. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings series was another one. I’ve gotten as far as halfway through The Two Towers before the tedium of Sam and Frodo’s trek finally wore me down. But these slow moving plots are just one of many reasons books can be hard to get through, so difficult they sometimes get abandoned entirely.
I came across this nifty infographic recently and thought I’d share it. It lays out the results of readers who were surveyed about their reasons for abandoning books, and some of the information presented is pretty interesting.
Starting right from the top, the Top Five Most Abandoned books are surprisingly all books that have been successful enough to be adapted into television (in the case of Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy) or movies, such as Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. However, they also appear to be books that fall into the “love it or leave it” category – they might be one of the best or worst things you’ve ever read, but who knows if a middle ground is possible?
There were 10 reasons listed as options for a reader abandoning a book, but I’ll only touch on a few. The top 3, in order, are:
1. Slow, Boring – It’s probably no surprise that the most common reason (46.4%) someone puts a book down is that it’s slow or boring. Books should be enjoyable, and a well-loved book is usually a page-turner and something you can always go back to when you’re in a rut. But when a book takes 50+ pages to really get going, it’s hard to look past anything but the slow build up. All you can think is, “Alright already, get to it!”
2. Weak Writing – 18.8% of readers say they’ll toss a book aside due to weak writing. This is where I often fall. As an English major, writing, editing, and rewriting has become a fact of life, a necessary evil even. I actually somewhat enjoy the editing process, though – the feeling of ironing out the wrinkles to get to something that isn’t a hot mess. Fixing mistakes, rewording, selling the idea – it’s time-consuming, but when you’ve got a nice, solid finished product, it’s very rewarding. So when a book is riddled with awkward phrasing, grammatical errors, or 2-dimensional characters, it’s really hard to get through to the good stuff, if there is any to be found.
3. Extremely Stupid – This one is my favorite. 8.8% of readers feel that an extremely stupid plot is reason enough to abandon a book. I suppose this could go either way. I’ve started and abandoned books or series that have had “extremely stupid” plots, but I’ve read books in the past that I also felt had “extremely stupid” plots, such as the Fifty Shades trilogy that I ended up finishing. Why? Because it was like a train wreck I couldn’t look away from. I had to see how it ended simply because it’s stupidity made it all the more compelling.
Some examples of past books I’ve either been horribly disappointed by or cast aside entirely for the aforementioned reasons are Imogen Rose’s Portal, Jessica Sorensen’s Fallen Star series, and Sara Shepherd’s Pretty Little Liars series. In each of these, some aspect of the writing – be it grammar, language, syntax, or some other aspect of the story – made me walk away. One of the more annoying things that made my brain twitch was the incessant brand-name dropping in Portal and Pretty Little Liars. Jeans weren’t jeans, they were True Religions. Cell phones weren’t cell phones, they were iPhones. You get the idea.
The most recent example of poor writing causing me to give up is an Advanced Reading Copy I received called The Keepers, written by J.L. Block. Seeing as I didn’t finish the book, I don’t feel I can give a fair or accurate description of the plot, so please read the overview here if you’re interested.
Because it was an ARC, I really did try my hardest to get through and help Ms. Block out with a decent review, but after spending 4 days reading and only making it to page 35, I gave up. It wasn’t that the plot left me hanging – I actually found the premise very interesting. But the weak writing made it feel as though I was sifting through quicksand to find plot points. There would be paragraphs, at some points pages worth of detailed explanations of everyday minutiae separating dialogue between characters. For example, the author spent several pages detailing the finds of the kitchen cupboard that Ava’s (the main character) father asked her to clean out. Once the point of the cupboard scene was revealed (she found a pair of binoculars), Ms. Block then spent several more pages detailing Ava’s plan for spying on her stalker, her description and personal opinions about him, and her step-by-step plan and reasoning for getting into her neighbor’s yard to get close to him to watch him sit on a bench. By the time 40 pages had passed, Ava hadn’t accomplished much of anything. There was no real lead up to the major plot shift that, because of the writing, wasn’t even all that major.
I felt bad that I couldn’t stick with this one long enough to finish, especially since this was a copy provided by the author. I try to read ARC (and self-published) books with as objective an eye as possible, trying pretty hard to find the good points so I can try to squeeze out a positive review. But unfortunately, for The Keepers that just wasn’t happening. This isn’t the first time I’ve been disappointed by an ARC or self-published book, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
I used to fall into the 38.1% of readers who always finish a book, no matter what. Even if I knew that I was not going to be pleasantly surprised by the ending or that there wasn’t going to be some epic twist that made it all worthwhile, I would finish. But after one too many disappointments, I finally became part of the 27.9% that make it roughly 50-100 pages through before giving up. Reading a book shouldn’t be a chore, so I no longer see the sense in struggling to make it to the end of a story that’s not likely to to do much more than make me annoyed that I wasted my time. To this day I still get irked that I spent so many days reading Imogen Rose’s Portal. I think it might have actually been worse than 50 Shades. But that’s a review for another day.