Nick Leshi

Nick Leshi
Bronx, New York, United States of America
December 13
Writer, actor, media professional, fan of entertainment, pop culture, and speculative fiction. Contact for more info.


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FEBRUARY 16, 2011 10:54PM

When Is It Okay to Quit a Book?

Rate: 14 Flag
I love reading.  There are so many books in the world that I want to read, but I know I will never have the chance to get to them all.  Here is my dilemma -- I am currently chugging through a book that is taking me a really long time to finish.  (I will not name it, because I might eventually review it, if I ever manage to complete it.)  I've managed to get through more than half of it, so I feel almost obligated to see it through to the end.  The book isn't garbage, there are plenty of great moments in it that make me wonder if I'll be missing out on something great if I give up now, but there are reasons that it's taking so long for me to wrap it up.  When is it okay to call it quits on a book that I've invested so much time reading?  When do I decide that the negatives outweigh the positives?  When do I close the book and never open it again?

The problem is it keeps calling to me.  I'm drawn back to it again and again to give it another chance, to see if a new chapter takes the story to the next level of greatness that the earlier sections hinted at but have yet to realize.  Or shall I surrender to my fears that there will in fact never be any payoff, that the sluggish parts of the book are the dominant traits of a tale with promise but when all is said and done is just another mediocre work of fiction?

What's worse -- abandoning a book that might prove to be brilliant (making me forget all its negatives) or sticking with a challenging book only to finish it and have my worst fears confirmed that it was in fact not worth the bother?

The book calls me again.  Will I answer it one more time?  What would you do?

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I often toss a book aside if it's not holding my attention consistently. Or if I'm giving it my full attention and it's not registering. If it gets a little slow and I put it down, then it calls me or I find myself thinking about the book, I know I'm involved and it may be worth the trouble. If you're bored beyond salvation, toss the book aside and get a new one.
This is a great question, Nick. I've found that as I have gotten older, I've become more impatient with books that aren't holding my attention. I figure I have limited time left on Earth and I don't want to spend much of it reading out of obligation, because I have dozens of other books I am anxious to tackle. My dividing line is usually around page 50. If my interest isn't strong by then, I toss it aside and start another book. If I get past the halfway point, I always feel obligated to finish.
Ditto what Cranky said. tho I go to page 100. That said, I read what later became my favorite John Irving book "Until I Find You..." after page 100 it was still not doing it for me, then something clicked and the book was impossible to put down...and thus became completely rewarding.
It's like religion...but really try another one, until you find a fit.
I say give yourself permission to stop. Even if it's fiction. You say there are a ton of books you want to read. It sounds like you mostly finish them. So, be kind to yourself, go find something else.

Books are the original "on-demand." If you change your mind later, you can always come back, and you won't have missed a word.
The frustrating thing is that there are so many great moments and characters in this book, but the author has so many bad habits and kills the momentum by switching gears just when things get good...So now I'm pondering, do I stick it out since I've come this far or do I toss it aside before I waste more time on what might be a let-down.
It took me about 20 years to finally get thru Gravity's Rainbow. I kept starting it and then ditching it when it hit the first really crazy part - a talking Komodo dragon or some such. I finally vowed to read the damned thing all the way thru. It took me about six months, and I'm glad I did. A work of impure genius. Pynchon is in a world apart.

Nonfiction is another story. If I'm not getting anything from it, that's it. Poof.
I guess I'll never know unless I finish the darn thing. :)
I have the same problem, and rarely do I put a book down to never finish it. I feel a weird sort of obligation to see it through. I am currently reading "Dreadnought" and since I got it from the library, I must read it straight through. That was a big mistake on my part, as it is 908 pages of pure history. I like to read a lot of books, and I don't feel the right to criticize one that proved to be a waste of time unless I spent the time reading the whole thing.

Incidentally, I closed "Ulysses" at page 73 about seven years ago. I will read the whole thing eventually.
Purple Pedant, I also never got through the first paragraph of INFINITE JEST but have vowed to try again someday. In this case it's different because I've actually gotten through more than half the book, so the finish line looks in site, but it feels like I'm running a marathon and I'm on my last legs. I fear I may regret making it to the end if it's not completely satisfying.
I quit a book if
1. I loathe the characters and just don't want to spend my time with them, regardless of the writing. Atonement, I'm looking at you.
2. Repetitive or unable to pass any time. If I feel like I'm slogging through, and go look towards the end and we're still on the same topic - or the same day - I'm out.
3. Talk to my trusted reader friends. There are books that take a long time - too long - to get going but then are magic. If I am told "its tough but you'll be so glad you hung in there," I'll stick with it.

Life is too short for bad books, bad food or bad booze.

So...what's the book?
I think if it keeps calling to you - then you gotta keep reading it. I'm very similiar in my relationship with books. I'll give almost all of them 100 pages, but if it's just pure torture...I'll skip ahead and see how it ends. This rarely happens, as I've too much respect for authors...but I recently was reading a dreadfully written novel by an author I used to think was great (did she change, or me?) and though the writing was so amatuerish, I wanted to know what happened to these stupid people - for some unknowable I dutifully finished it. Sometimes, it's a bit boring or difficult, but something calls...and I always heed the call.
KH3333, I didn't want to name the book just yet. If I finish it, I'll write about it. Needless to say it has some wonderful moments, but some serious flaws.
Actually it was a giant adenoid. Not sure whether it spoke or not, but it was on the loose. (i.e. Gravity's Rainbow)
Right now I'm reading a book I started 30 years ago and abandoned. A fabulous tome, really -- well-writtten, very fun. The problem? It is so friggin' dense so when I have little focus I cannot read it. When I do it's maybe 10 pages at a sitting leaving me in the same quandry.This is a 700+page book. John Barth's "Giles Goat Boy" which he wrote and later was refused tenure at Penn State where I initially went for my BA. I abandoned that
Nick, this is really strange. I was having a conversation with a worker at a food kiosk last night about books. He said that he has been struggling with getting through "Infinite Jest", so of course I had to share the topic of this blog with him. Funny, I never heard of this book until yesterday, then two unrelated people brought it to my attention in the span of several hours.
I would say a third of the novels I've picked up went unfinished. But I've still probabl read almost 100. And these days, there are so many other things competing for my time I rarely pick one up. Confederacy of Dunces was probably the last I read, other than Frank Baum's 15 books in 1 which is more a collection of oz stories.

COD was never hard to get thruogh because it's about 800 pages of brilliance. I guess the fact is, some writers are brilliant, but not that good at pacing, so its difficult but usually worth it to get through them. Dostoevsky could get to the point. Tolstoy couldn't.
I don't often put a book down but there have been times when I have and I don't look back when I make that decision. Like you said, there are so many books I want to read :)
I think I'm an optimist. That's why I'm always thinking that it has to get better. I've been rewarded a couple of times, but really, not that often. For example, years and years ago, I picked up Stephen King's "The Stand". I'd read a few of his things and liked them very much. I got through about 50 pages, but then set it down. Too boring. I picked it up again a few months later, and got through 100 pages before setting it down. The third time, I got to 150 pages and I was HOOKED, and I devoured it. It's now one of my favorite novels, period. On the other hand, I wish I'd never wasted all that time on Franzen's "Freedom". So not worth it. So I'd say if you're past the half-way point and still not hooked, chuck it. It's unlikely to get better if you're that far along.
Given what you said about the author switching gears when things start getting good - Try reading it one chapter at a time, with breaks in between. Give the good stuff time to settle in, so that reading it becomes more of an experience in and of itself.
It doesn't sound like the book is bad, only that you are bored with it. if it keeps calling at you, as you mention, then obviously, the sooner you are done with it, the better.

Best part is, though, if the book turns out to be a stinker in the end, then you will have a great "book from hell" story to tell at dinner parties.

N'est ce pas?
I feel your pain. ;) With me, if I cannot get 'into' the book within the first 30+ pages, I put it down and cannot pick it back up. Such was not the case when I read Stephenie Meyer's "The Host". It was long-winded, boring and didn't really capture my attention but I pushed through it all and ended up really enjoying it. Why was her book the first one I didn't put down? I can't answer that but as I get older, I seem to be more accepting of authors I don't usually read simply because, like you, I adore reading.
I know what you mean about taking forever to finish a book. I read Ursula Le Guin's Lathe of Heaven. It's only about 89 pages, but it took me about two weeks to read it. If you haven't read it, it's about someone who can change the world with his dreams. Every time I started to read it I got really sleepy. How embarrasing!
Enjoyed your blog,
Best Wishes,
I almost missed Christmas Eve some years back, made the mistake of starting Salems Lot by SK, in the bathtub. More hot water, more hot water.....Santa almost came and went! Talk about hot water, I was in some!
Life's too short to slog through pages that don't excite. Don't we want to be thrilled, embraced and enlightened page after page? Yesterday, I actually touched a Kindle, and wondered if I could read THAT way. Considering the piles of books I've paid good money for and then didn't get past fifty, it's a serious consideration, but I just love paper.
About a year ago I read the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. One thing that stuck with me is that if he goes to a movie and he does not absolutely love it in the first fifteen minutes he leaves and goes and does something else. His philosophy is that life is too short to do things out of obligation when you could be doing something that you actually love instead. I think the same applies to finishing a book that feels more like a should than a have to.