Last Tuesday, Goodreads posted this infographic about “the psychology of abandonment” — specifically, why readers stop reading a book, and which ones they are most likely to quit reading. (You can see a full-sized version of the infographic by clicking on the image.)
The topic seemed particularly apt, since I’m currently trying to decide whether to abandon a book I had agreed to review. The prospect leaves me feeling horribly guilty: But I requested the book, implying I would read and review it! How can I turn around and say, ‘sorry, nope, not gonna finish it’? Yet the book in question is just not grabbing my attention, in part because the prose is overly flowery, yet also sometimes awkward. It’s also taking a while to get going, flitting from scene to scene with only one character to connect them, and that one hardly fleshed out.
This is the second time in as many months that I’ve run into the “do I quit or keep going” question about an ARC. The last one was a book that ultimately proved quite interesting, even if it did take almost 200 pages to really get going. The thing is, that book (call it Book A) was very well-written. The characters were interesting even before the plot had taken off. The world-building was intriguing. And the prose was never jarring. Since I’d read comments about the slow start in otherwise positive reviews, I knew that Book A would be worth it if I could just keep going — and persisting wasn’t too hard because of the aforementioned good writing.
This book? The one I’m reading — or trying to read — now? (Let’s call it Book B.) When I look at the reviews, I appear to be in the minority with my complaints. Yes, a few people say that Book B also takes a while to get going, that there’s a lot of setup, and that it picks up in the second half. Maybe I could deal with that better if I hadn’t recently finished Book A, with its own slow start. As it is, I don’t know if I’ve got the patience to wait Book B out. But most of the other reviewers are enthralled with the writing, the language, of Book B, and I’m simply not. I’ll admit that there are some beautiful passages, but there are others that are too over-the-top. And as I said earlier, there is the occasional awkward phrase. Over all, it doesn’t feel smooth, if that makes any sense; it lurches a bit.
I plan to give Book B another 20 to 30 pages to catch my interest; if the story and characters can’t overcome the flaws in the prose by then, I think I’m going to abandon it. It will be the first review copy which I’ve failed to finish. (Though there are one or two which, to my shame, I never started.)
But the whole thing has me thinking. Why does this feel so wrong — and why do I so seldom abandon a book partway through? I think in part the latter is because of the way I choose books to read. If I’m considering a novel I’m not sure about, I dip into it before deciding to read it. I read several pages from several points within the book, as well as from the beginning. If those pages catch my attention — if I find myself wanting to read more — I know it’s a book I’ll probably enjoy. If not. . . well, probably not.
I’ve also been known to read the ending ahead of time. I know — heresy, right? But the thing is, if I’m reading for my own enjoyment and nothing else, I want to be sure the story is going to come out all right. Obviously, there are plenty of books where I don’t have to “cheat” by checking out the ending. Romance novels are more or less guaranteed to end with an HEA. And reading the end of a mystery takes all the (you’ll pardon the repetition) mystery out of it, so I almost never look that far ahead in a mystery. But fantasy and SF and literary fiction and even women’s fiction can have unsatisfying endings, and that, my dears, is not what I’m usually after when I read.* So once in a while, I read the ending first.
In other words, the reason that I rarely give up on a book is that I weed out the ones I’m likely to abandon before I start them. At least, I used to. Since I started buying and reading ebooks, I find I’m quitting more books in the middle. It’s less convenient to dip into an ebook midway through than it is to flip open a print book in the middle, and ebooks are harder to jump around in, so I have less sense of where the book is headed and of the author’s style than I would have for a print book. That difficulty extends to digital ARCs, which make up most of my review copies. Hmm. I guess I can expect to mark more books as “DNF” in the future.
Given that, I need to set out some guidelines for myself. If I’m going to abandon a review copy, I owe it to the author and/or publisher and/or publicist to tell them why. And I need to decide whether I will just quietly let a DNF book drop, or discuss my reasons for not finishing on the blog. I’m leaning toward the former; I feel awkward and uncomfortable reviewing a book I haven’t actually completed. On the other hand, as a reader I’ve benefited from DNF reviews on other people’s blogs, when the reviewer is clear and specific about what bothered them.
What do you think? When and why do you give up on a book, and what do you do when you want to give up on a review book? Do you write up the books you DNF, or quietly tell the publisher/author you won’t be reviewing it?
* Note that “satisfying” doesn’t necessarily mean a happily-every-after ending, and that there are books I love whose endings I am nonetheless ambivalent about. The Lord of the Rings jumps to mind; it seems so unfair both that Frodo can’t stay in Middle-earth, and that Sam can’t go with him, even though I understand what Tolkien was trying to say (or think I do.) Yet I truly love those books.