In an article about whether to finish a book you hate reading, an image of a woman clutching a book

Why You Should Stop Reading That Novel You Hate

There's no shame in dropping a book that you have no desire to read.
July 21, 2020
7 mins read

I love reading, but I’ll be the first to say that I “quit” novels sometimes. I rarely find myself finishing a book that I deeply dislike, instead opting to put it down and seek out something else in hopes of a more positive experience. I’ve noticed not a lot of people do this; when talking to other regular readers, they’ll mention how they will finish a book even if they really don’t enjoy it.

While I understand the desire to finish a book, I also know that for me, forcing myself to get all the way through something I truly don’t like will not only feel like a waste of time, but the negative experience may dampen my enthusiasm for reading in the future as well. 

There are a million reasons that could make you want to stop reading a novel. For me, there are specific things that almost always guarantee I’ll DNF a book. Here are the main reasons I decide to not finish a story, and why you should actively seek out positive reading experiences: 

1. You don’t actually like the characters

The biggest deal breaker for me is often unlikable characters. It seems obvious, but characters are the most important part of any novel, film or show. Whether they’re annoying, stereotypical or irredeemable, poorly constructed characters are a big reason to give up on finishing a book. The stories I enjoy most are character-driven ones, so I have a hard time getting through a book with underdeveloped or static main characters.

I’ve put down more than a few books because of two-dimensional female characters or boring love interests. If the main cast of characters aren’t like people you enjoy spending time with, why should you spend time with them? If you don’t care what happens to them on their journey, why get to the end of it? This aspect is also the most noticeable red flag and is a huge factor in my decision to not finish reading.

2. … or the plot

Again, it seems obvious, but if you don’t like the direction the story is taking, it’s okay to close the book and not open it again. Maybe it’s a genre you don’t normally read but wanted to try, and it turns out that it is just not for you. Perhaps some of the actions in the story make you uncomfortable. I find that the simplest things can make me realize I won’t be finishing a book: If I can’t follow the plot, I put it down.

There’s a big difference between a book that makes you think and work a little and a book that has no clear direction or clarity. I truly enjoy the former — I believe it helps me be more involved in the reading experience — but the latter is evidence of poor writing and construction. Normally, an unclear plot is a clear clue that a book isn’t going to be good.

After you realize the weakness of a plot, you might also begin to notice the low quality of the character building, dialogue and composition. If reading a book makes you cringe because of the writing and not because of an embarrassing character action, consider putting it down and finding something that’s enjoyable. 

3. You want to read, but not that book

Studies have shown that while the average time people spend reading has gone up slightly, the percentage of people who actually read regularly is decreasing, with less than 20% of Americans reading in 2016. People are moving away from reading books to watching television, playing video games and enjoying other types of entertainment.

But reading has many benefits; aside from being enjoyable, it’s good for your brain. Mental stimulation such as reading can slow cognitive decline and memory loss in old age, studies have shown

So if you want to read, you probably want to learn something new or escape to another world — ultimately, you probably want to enjoy it. If you can’t find the right novel, consider rereading something you loved before, finding a new story from a favorite author, or taking a recommendation from someone with the same interests as you. With so much out there, you’re bound to find something you truly want to get lost in and will make you want to read more after it’s over.

4. It feels like a waste of time

Finishing a book when you don’t have a lot of free time is hard enough, but slogging through one you don’t enjoy can take longer and often feels like a waste of your free time. Even though the average American has much more free time than many believe — about four hours a day for people who work full-time — most of that is spent watching television, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015.

According to the results of the survey, Americans spent between 0.26 and 0.38 hours reading per day, depending on gender and day of the week. So, even though free time is not as rare as we thought it was, reading time definitely is. If you don’t feel like you have a lot of time to read, why would you want to waste it on a book that you don’t enjoy reading? A negative experience could also discourage you from reading more in the future if it’s not part of your regular routine or life. 

There is a range of emotion you experience when finishing a good book. Whether it be joy, satisfaction, shock or impatience for the next installment of the series, it shouldn’t be disappointment or indifference.

Not every book will be a 5-star read, and that’s okay. But some reading experiences can be so negative that they affect your mood, mindset and desire to read in the future. Removing the pressure to enjoy and finish every novel you pick up is the first step toward reading for genuine enjoyment.

The next time you’re reading a novel you don’t want to finish, consider just putting it down instead of forcing yourself to finish it. There are some things that you absolutely have to do in life. Reading a book you don’t enjoy is not one of them.

Julia Greene, Columbia College Chicago

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Julia Greene

Columbia College Chicago
Multimedia Journalism, Magazine Concentration

Julia Greene is a magazine journalist from New England. When she’s not working, you can find her spending time in nature, making playlists or reading.

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