To Finish or Drop—That is the Question!

For years I finished every book I started reading. Sometimes, it made me miserable. I take that back. It often made me miserable. Spending hours and hours wanting to run away from the characters in a book is a ridiculous proposition. Unless you’re in mid-flight and have nothing else to read—there is always an option. Close the book and pick up another one OR click ‘remove from device’ and select another electronic book from your queue. It’s as easy at that, but…

For years I resisted that option. I forced myself to read until ‘The End’ because I felt I owed it to the author. Somewhere along the line, my feelings flipped the other direction. I read, read, read knowing that, as an audience member, I have the option of walking out at any time. I can take a break and read something else, only to return in a different frame of mind, or I can hit ‘remove from device’ and never see that title again.

Do I feel guilty?

Nope. Sometimes I feel mystified. This is particularly a problem when a friend has given me the book and raised expectations that are busy being dashed with each sentence or when a book begins with great promise and goes stale quickly.

Since I’m a slow reader (yes, it’s true) I have a few fluid rules about reading. If it’s absolutely dreadful—badly written and mind-numbing—I give up as soon as I reach that horrible conclusion. This does not happen often, but there have been a few fantasy, vampire, horror and mystery novels that have met that very low bar since the beginning of 2015. I will not name names here, but the list is a mix of books put out by both conventional publishers and indie authors. I’ve bailed by chapter three.

Most of the time, I read until I’m a third of the way through the book. By then the writer should have captured my attention and made me care enough to read until the end. If not, I’ve given the story enough of my time—no harm, no foul.

This goes for non-fiction, too. I’ve noticed that a fair number of non-fiction books have fantastic first chapters and crumble a few chapters into the manuscript. Knowing that non-fiction is often sold to publishers via book proposals that include a sample chapter and a detailed outline, I’m concluding that the first chapter gets a great deal more attention than the rest. Um… Maybe that’s how I’ve been hooked into so many non-fiction books that wind up on the disappointment list?

What about you—do you read all the way to ‘the end’ every time?

A few books on my Kindle right now...

A few books on my Kindle right now…


  1. Pat

    I love this topic. I too have felt that I should finish every book. Years ago, I changed. If I lose interest in the characters to the point where I don’t care what happens to them, I close the book and move on. I’m going to think about this some more.

    • Candy Korman

      Giving myself permission to opt out has been liberating! This is especially true for slow readers like me. Investing a week in a novel that’s boring is insane, right? By making some relatively soft rules, like the 30% rule, I’ve become a much happier “consumer” of fiction. For me, it was a way of saying, “Yes, you’re in charge. You’re the reader.” As a writer, that means I accept that from people reading my fiction, too.

  2. I too used to read every book from cover to cover because I’d be buying them with hard earned money, and because I came from a generation that expected to be challenged by the written word. The one exception was Moby Dick. I can’t remember why, but I simply could not finish that book.

    These days I’ve learned to be kinder to myself, and the Kindle and indie books are the reason. On the one hand I adore my Kindle and read virtually nothing but indie fiction. On the other hand, the promise of indie fiction is not always delivered. I’m prepared to give indie authors the benefit of the doubt – for a couple of chapters – but if the story is badly written and…boring, I close it and move on.

    Of course, my definition of boring includes formulaic writing of any kind so I may be a wee bit picky. Generally, though, I have to say that most of the indie writing I read is brilliant – well-written, innovative and courageous. In other words it’s everything I look for in my fiction. 🙂

    • Candy Korman

      I’ve found awful conventionally published books and fabulous indies. Of course, I’ve dropped a fair number of indie books after three chapters, too. Boring, badly written, formulaic… those are the three crimes. I’ll forgive some egregious typos, but if the characters are flat and the plot is predictable, there’s no forgiveness.

      As readers, we need to “protect” ourselves. As writers, I consider some of the less-than-stellar books I’ve read to be object lessons. Let’s aim high! Innovative, well-written, trail-blazing storytelling.

  3. I’ve started dropping more and more. Partly that’s due to the rise of free or cheap books — I feel less invested. And if I’m not enjoying the book, why torture myself?

    • Candy Korman

      I still torture myself a when I close an expensive book for good, but a boring expensive ebook is no less boring than a FREE or .99 read. It’s taken me a while to get to that point, but… My time as a reader should be valued. If by no one but me, it’s still valuable time.

  4. I used to feel like I had to finish ever book I started, but then realized I made myself feel so obligated that my reading speed slowed way down. I only wish I was reading more right now. I really need to make an effort to get back to a least a couple of books a month. Hopefully the book club I’ve joined will help with my motivation somewhat.

    • Candy Korman

      Book clubs can be great. I joined one where we each picked books for the group and another where all the authors had to be women. I read things outside my usual comfort zone and that’s always good. The other group chose books that were a wild mix. Of course there was the month we were to read Don Quixote and I thought I’d pass out trying. Talk about tilting at windmills!