How long do you give a book?

Some months ago I took a book out of my book club. It had won a Booker and four friends raved about it, so I nabbed it.

48 pages in I found myself bored and restless. I persevered for another three pages and then I did something I very rarely do (particularly with a Booker), I gave up on it.

The following week I returned it to The Good Book Appreciation Society, defeated.

More recently I tried the first book in ‘The Trilogy’. You know the one. Please don’t make me mention it by name and admit to picking it up. Anyway I read the first sixty odd pages, but there were all these strange Swedish names and the story line was so all over the place that I just couldn’t do it.

Concerned I’d become the kind of person who can’t finish a book, I phoned a friend. She told me I needed to persevere and that it got really really good around page six hundred. I instantly gave up on principle. That trilogy will have to remain unread by me. Call me a quitter but I simply refuse to ‘persevere’ for five hundred and forty pages.

I totally get that sometimes a book doesn’t grab you at first, and I’m all for giving it a good go until you get into it. But at some point I think one has to call it quits and not feel too guilty about it. The question is – when is that point?

How long do you give a book?

I did a survey around some of the other writers at work. One said that he will generally give a book till half way. You see, for me that’s too far. Once I hit half way I reckon I’m over the hump, and then I’m committed for the long run.

Another said she never gives up. When she starts a book, she always finishes it. Show off!

Another writer I know never finishes a book. He’ll review the entire thing with a knowledgeable tone while scratching his beard thoughtfully, but when pressed we always discover he didn’t actually make it past page 56, the last page and the back cover blurb.

As an author I know that most readers will pick my book up in the shop, read the first page and then decide whether or not to take it. Based on that I guess a vast majority of readers will give up on a book after the first page. Sheesh, tough crowd.

I suppose it’s all a matter of time. We all have so little of it, and there’s so much to read, why should we ever have to ‘persevere’, even for just a page.

But still, every time I don’t finish a book there’s that little nagging voice, what if I’m missing something amazing that’s just lurking around the very next corner?

Another friend has a theory that specific books come into your life at a certain time, and for a certain reason. Like you can pick a book up on a dark Tuesday in September and can’t make it past page sixteen. But pick it up the following February on a Friday afternoon and it’s an entirely different story. The book speaks to you then. It’s the right book for that time and place.

So, not to be defeated, I took that Booker back out last week. I whipped past page fifty with ease and next thing I knew it was 2am and there was no way I was putting it down.

So now I’m thinking I might have to review how long I give a book.

(This piece first appeared on

9 responses to “How long do you give a book?”

  1. I’m also a readaholic, but not all books are worth finishing, they just don’t gel.
    plenty more to find 😉

  2. Ha! I know exactly what ‘Trilogy’ you are talking about, and I too would have given up on it if it weren’t for friends thelling me to persist! I’m not the fastest reader, but I got so into the first one it was ridiculous! Am onto no.2 and it’s a pretty crazy plot so far! Enjoy!
    Cheers, Madi
    PS. Try to read the Swedish names as if they are Afrikaans names, it helped somehow!

  3. When deciding whether to buy or borrow its the first page which needs to grab me. if I’ve already decided to read it (book club or borrowed or whatever) then I’ll give it a bit of time – first 2 chapters for instance. Imagine if I’d given up on the Shipping News… one of the best books ever… but slow to start.
    I could NOT get through A Suitable Boy though – maybe its coz its a zillion pages long and I wasn’t strong enough to hold it for long enough…

  4. Oh Peatree, i loved The Shipping news. So hard to tell when to give up tho. i couldn’t imagine missing out on shipping news that would be tragic. I also think that the heaviness factor is important in a book, makes it harder to lug around everywhere with you.

    Madi, that’s one of the main reasons i was intent on trying ‘The Trilogy’ so many people say the same thing as you, that once you get into it it’s unputdownable, i just couldn’t get there.

    Abrax – peace dude. you rock. 🙂

  5. Mark, I find there’s a funny thing about books that sit on your bedside table for too long. It’s almost like they get stale, and you kind of lose the will to finish them. The fresh new books are always slightly more magnetic.

  6. I once started reading this really heavy book with more characters in it than the Titanic passenger list. At first it was really really boring and I was tempted to hide it back in the hotels bedside drawer.
    2 pages later and I was into the bit about the baby being put in the basket and sent downriver all by his lonesome self, and I was hooked. I think the kid became a King or something… I’m not too sure.
    I cant remember the ending though.

    A few years back I read “The Broken Wings” by Kahlil Gibran.
    Very intense and heavy at first, but I’m so glad I read that masterpiece. I still regard it as one of the best books I’ve ever read.

    I totally agree on the Trilogy bit.

  7. Kaloo. Bwahahaha and then bwahahahaha again. You crack me up. Multiple times.

    I’ve never read The Broken Wings, so you recommend it? *She asks as her list of books to read just grows and grows and grows*.

  8. I don’t usually recommend books, for fear that I may be judged on my taste in writing.
    I once recommended a book to a very dear friend of mine, an intricate book about youth and nature and animals in the wild. A book about a little girl on a journey to visit her gran in a forest, who gets attacked by a wolf.
    Amazing story.
    I think there was even cookies involved somewhere in the engrossing storyline.

    Anyways, my friend never spoke to me again.
    She became an animal activist.
    She now works at the zoo as a monkey-trainer.
    True story.

    But in this case i’m willing to make an exception.
    Broken Wings is more of a short-story.
    But it’s an amazing read.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *