December 3rd, 2010 / 1:30 am

Say When

What’s your reading cessation policy for any given book, if you have one? Is it “I’m going to give this until page 25/75/150 and if I still don’t like it…”? Does anyone “slog through” books anymore, or is “life too short”?

And, although I’m sure we’ve asked before, has the internet affected your readerly stamina? Expectations?

I associate the “endure-it posture,” let’s call it–I will finish this book because I started it and because it’s an ‘important’ book for such-and-such reasons or because so-and-so adores it–with a younger self, a self I sometimes miss because she was more disciplined in certain regards than I am now. It’s also the posture, often, of the student, an entity that I am no longer. I withstood a lot of D.H. Lawrence when I really wanted to be reading Beckett in the bathtub.

I’ll say now: I read until I stop caring. But that’s a loaded statement. Has my care threshold been eroded? I’m really still mostly interested in my original question, and I don’t want this little thing to ooze into issues of what we like/don’t in a work , etc…but I’m wondering, tangentially at least, about our stop-and-go signals, and how they might be peer- or culturally influenced.



  1. Trey

      I like to finish what I start. I think this might mostly be attributed to one or two books where I felt like the ending was really unexpectedly good. I never want to miss a good ending, so I try to finish everything, just in case.

  2. Hank

      When I read “Absalom, Absalom!” I don’t think I understood anything about it and there were times when I wasn’t sure why I was continuing with it.

      But then I made my way to the end. Wow-ee.

  3. Hank

      It depends on how long it is. If it’s mid-length to pretty-long, then I’ll go to the point where not only do I not care, but I’m actually frustrated at myself for continuing, you know, just in case. If it’s short, I’ll finish it, because why not.

      Sometimes you just need to give an author a while to pull various threads together. For example, I thought “Light in August” was rather ho-hum (not bad enough to put down, mind you, just ‘ho-hum’) until I got to about the middle. Then I thought, “I like this a lot.”

  4. Duchess Cadbury

      There have been few books I haven’t been able to finish. Some where total crap and I just threw them out. The others, The Idiot and Ovid (to name a few), where I think too much for me at the time. I plan on picking them up once I get some time to focus on them. But if it’s a short book, I’ll see it to the end because I spent money on it and I want my money’s worth.

  5. Jake Fournier

      I associate the slog-through method with youth/being a student/arrogance as well. Finishing a book was a victory. Before college, I had the added advantage of being one of ten people in my town to have read [Ulysses, Absalom, Absalom!, Paradise Lost, etc.]. At some point reading was no longer enough as an end in itself… but that seems as wrong as the elitist-look-at-me-reading-a-book-my-parents-would-never-read approach. But then I still feel jealous when I see a writer’s blog reading list and see that they are reading more (and more widely) than I am… I guess I still rarely give up on a book, but allow more space and time between getting tired of it and finishing. If I do give up, it’s “intuitive” and not at a set page number. I think I’ve been reading Ashbery’s Can You Hear, Bird for like 5 months. Where I used to read one book and read it straight through, getting “older” I now I read up to 4-5 at a time… Something tells me if your not reading at a fast enough pace (like 100 pages a day) you’re losing something… It does strike me that there’s something Onanistic about reading—look at how masturbatory these comments are (mine especially)—I guess the question for me is the same question as for any good Catholic schoolboy: is that wrong?

  6. AmyWhipple

      Depends on the length of the book, but generally if I’m not in it by page 50, it’s probably never going to happen. If it’s a book I really want to read (author I otherwise enjoy, etc.), I’ll give the book another chance at some other point, cause sometimes I’m not in it not because of the writing but because I’m distracted or tired or whatever.

  7. scobie

      I’ll opt out at any time if I’m not liking it. I mean, if I’m bored in the first ten pages I’ll give it to at least page twenty or so. But it also depends on the circumstances. Like, if it’s a book I found on the street I’ll treat it as a lark and if I don’t really know anything about the book or the author (like, it’s not some writer I’ve been hearing about for decades, someone that people keep telling me I HAVE to read), then I’ll stop reading. But if it’s a new hardback that I paid $30 for, and have been looking forward to reading, I’d give that more of a chance. But really, I’ll opt out at any point in the book (once I’ve given it a decent chance to please its case). The last book I did this for was Duluth by Gore Vidal; it started off pretty funny, but after about 40 pages it was so weird (and kind of offensive) that I thought “Life’s too short,” and I ditched it for something else.

  8. Jack M

      I use the formula of 100 minus your age to come up with the number of pages to read before giving up. However, I have started to read books that are so bad I quit before that (p. 47).

  9. CourtMerrigan

      I usually give up within a page or two of rolling my eyes for the first time.

  10. jh
  11. M Kitchell

      the only book i have given up on entirely in the last 3 years probably was Saramago’s The Double, and it was after like 200 pages. I got that far and was like “what the fuck am I doing I completely do not care about this on any level” and took it back to the library. I’m generally pretty good at picking what I read though, so I don’t end up with much that I dislike enough to abandon.

  12. Matt Cozart

      I never officially give up on a book. I started Gravity’s Rainbow on Jan. 1, 2005. I’m halfway finished, and I haven’t read from it in two or three years, but I’m still reading it.

  13. John Minichillo

      If it’s a slog on page one I need a compelling reason to soldier on. With fiction I should be drawn in. It’s not too much to ask from published works.




  15. Iggypopsabs

      If I’m not swooning after the first paragraph, fuck it, I’m out.

  16. Rob

      If a writer doesn’t know the importance of a strong opening paragraph or sentence, then it’s not meant to be. I also have a great disdain for opening sentences that name the year, place and character in such a boringly blunt manner. But that’s just me.

  17. Bill

      I just gave up on Manuel de Lope’s Wrong Blood. It became a slog after page 20 or so. I gave it till the end of the first major section.

      I had high hopes: Spanish Civil War backdrop, Basque country, kook-y characters. But it was just too longwinded. Every few pages I was going “blah blah blah”.


  18. Shane Leach

      I read 900+ pages of War and Peace then gave up. Seems like it doesn’t matter that far into it.



  20. Peter Jurmu

      No page limit, but when I start editing the book instead of just making notes in the margins, I sense I’ve worn out my welcome.

  21. Pizza

      I’m nearly 800 pages into The Recognitions by William Gaddis, and seriously considering bailing out. With a long novel I’ll usually read a couple of books in tandem — I’ve already read three shorter books since — and will tend to pair fiction with non-fiction in the process (for some reason I think it’s easier to deal with one ‘narrative’ at a time). Beyond a stretch of some brilliance and hilarity here or there, I’ve sunk into a desultory state. But a part of me wants to keep going.

  22. NLY

      I think when you’re young you should read what you respond to, because when you’re young you only really understand anything you respond to in that particular moment. You cannot always get everything out of a book in every period of your life. The tightrope comes in with whether or not you only respond to shit, and how much work you’re willing to do to explore the terrain.

      I only force myself to read a book when I see qualities in it which are clearly of great skill or artistry, but which I, for one reason or another, am failing to connect with. When I see that there is quality to the work, but fail to respond to it, I know it is something that I have to evolve to meet, rather than dismiss it because it’s something I don’t immediately enjoy.

  23. RyanPard

      I read through JC Oate’s Them and then stopped five pages from the ending and sold it to half. That wasn’t really “giving up” though. It just seemed right.

      I’m not really sure how to answer this. I don’t ever “endure” a book, but now that I think about it, I guess I don’t really give up on them? Reading is a thrill ride for me, and even if the book sucks, there’s still an aspect in which I’m still like, goddamn, I’M ALIVE!, and so I keep on reading and have quite a bit of fun. It’s like riding a horse (I’ve never ridden a horse). Even if the horse is clumsy and boring and a real chore to ride, you’re still riding a horse! Fuck yes! +1 for the universe.

  24. RyanPard

      I think part of it may be knowing how to let different texts settle into you. I read a lot of abstruse technical stuff that many find to be torture (e.g. medical journals, or the wealth of intensely detailed government reports that one can find online), but I’m not ever bored, or anything close to it. It’s like, if you just let your mind go wherever it needs to when you’re reading something, the text can almost never be boring. I don’t think I’m making sense anymore.

  25. Jonny Ross

      Tough crowd. (First sentence or bust?!) I agree with most. I think there should be a bit of a buffer every book. At least a few pages to become acclimated to the world of the book and what the writer’s doing/trying to do on a formal level of whatever. Though that can vary book to book, depending on length etc. But at a certain point, if it becomes clear I’m not getting anything from it, if it’s not exciting me on a sentence level or at least at the level of plot or character, then what’s the point? If I’m still slogging through with dim interest past page 100 or 200, I might as well be watching TV (if I had cable) or god forbid go outside and shovel the walk, or something. The last book I put down was the last Rudy Wurlitzer. It wasn’t bad, really, but just had a sort of paint-by-numbers feel.

      (I’m always amused by those people say that they “threw the book across the room” or “tossed it into the trash” to indicate the extent of their loathing and sense of tedium for a particular book. Is this true? Do books have the power to elicit such violent responses? People don’t usual throw the remote across the room or kick the TV in when then become bored with a program (that isn’t an equal comparison, books and TV — different formats, artistic/entertainment intentions, viewer expectation — but it’ll have to do).)