My top 3 reasons to put a book down

Plenty of writers’ websites and blogs have a wealth of information about writing craft. This isn’t one of them. Although I’m comfortable with my own writing process, I don’t have a reason to post about it. However, I’m prompted to reflect on what I look for when reading books. Or, more accurately, what puts me off books.

Since I enjoy reading (and writing!), it’s not usually difficult to meet my soft target of reviewing a book a week. That’s despite finishing only around 20% of the books I try. The small proportion is partly because I borrow widely when I have Kindle Unlimited membership, and I go in expecting to DNF (do not finish) quite a few. Still, each borrow helps a little with the book’s ranking, even if I don’t get very far.

If I don’t finish a book, I don’t review it. I don’t believe it’s at all wrong to review a book you DNF, since your reasons for not finishing may help other potential readers. Personally, if I’m not enjoying a book enough to continue, I don’t want to spend even more energy stating why in a public space such as Goodreads or LibraryThing. I do make notes for myself as to where I stopped and why. It’s often just a matter of taste: eg too gory, too young, too much romance. It might be my mood at the time that makes me bored or irritated at the characters. Or it might be something more technical.

On looking at my “why I stopped” notes, my reasons for DNFing have some common factors. These probably say more about me than about the books.

#1 is errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation. The odd typo is understandable—it’s a rare book where I don’t notice any (and I don’t even deliberately look for them)—but writing mistakes put me off straight away. For me, they’re far worse than a hackneyed or unbelievable plot, cardboard characters or rambling info-dump. If we use the analogy of a book as a meal, dirty plates and cutlery are going to put me off, no matter how delicious the food: and I’ll be reminded of them with every mouthful.

#2 Authorial intrusion. My take on the term is writing where the author seems to be addressing the reader directly rather than allowing the writing to evoke comprehension in the reader. I lump a lot of niggles under authorial intrusion. For example, excessive repetition, as if the author believes the reader might be forgetful. Over-explaining, as if the author is teaching the reader. Head-hopping, in my opinion, often falls into the category of over-explaining. I think a common factor with these issues is that the author either doesn’t trust the reader to “get it,” or they don’t trust themselves to convey their meaning without (metaphorically) tapping the reader on the shoulder and saying, “You see, what I wanted you to pick up was… You get it? Huh? Huh?”

#3. A particular peeve of mine is writing that reads as if the author is transcribing a movie on to the written page. If a book starts with a list of elements in the environment (the room was xx large, and it had two chairs beside the small stone fireplace and a table at the other corner and… and…), goes on to introduce a character, pause to describe them and then gives a point-by-point listing of all that character’s actions and facial expressions, I’m out.

There are my big reasons for bailing on books, and I’m sure plenty of people aren’t bothered by the same things. I’d love to know what what puts you off books—please share your top 3 (or 1, 2, or 5…) reasons in the comments!

8 thoughts on “My top 3 reasons to put a book down

  1. For better or worse, I always finish every book I start. Though I also read the sample pages, first, and there are many potential issues that will stop me from picking one up.

    1. SPaG, as you said. For me, it’s less the errors themselves that bother me, but I take it as a sign there’s been a lack of care and attention in editing — which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the book.

    2. Trying too hard to make the protagonist seem “cool” (admittedly, a vague judgement call on my part). This is often accompanied by an excessive amount of swearing, which can come across as juvenile. My opinion is, let the characters act naturally, and give readers space to form their own opinions of them.

    3. Beginning the book with this sequence: fake-out dream -> wake up -> immediately look at themselves in the mirror, describing their appearance in detail. I try to be open-minded, but I have to draw the line at that cliche. 😛

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  2. Like you, I see no point in wasting my time reading something that doesn’t appeal to me. I’m pretty much blind to typos – and if I do see one, well, it would be the pot calling the kettle black.

    I will call it a day when I come across a scene, or a character’s actions, that are, in my opinion, too stupid to overlook. I once started reading a book with a space ship junk yard in a cave. How did those get junked space ships get into a cave, and why a cave? For a “scary” scene, I suppose. Or another story where the heroine goes to rent a flying car only to get turned down at the rental agency because she “looks” to young to drive one and has to rent a surface car instead. Maybe kids can drive surface cars in the future.

    I’ve also quit books after experiencing a sense of deja vu early in story, and realizing that I’m reading the thinly disguised fan fiction of a popular TV show or movie.

    However, in most cases, it is all my own fault for giving up on a book. I have a regrettably narrow taste in stories these days. After 55+ years of reading, I simply know what I like, and what I don’t. I’ve put down perfectly good, well written, well edited books because either the story, or the writing style, doesn’t fit my narrow taste. And, indeed both examples cited above are highly rated books on Amazon. So what do I know – beyond what I know I like?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand. For speculative fiction, I expect some oddities in the world, but I give up if they’re unnecessarily daft.
      I suspect my own tastes are quite narrow too. I keep *trying* to read more widely, and then end up picking books in my regular comfort zone. Like always ordering the same dish at a restaurant 🙂

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  3. 1. Fearful banality of language would make me lay a book down, though the chances are that I’d probably never have picked something like that up in the first place. 2. Conversely, the literary virus – making something out of nothing, being verbally expansive in pursuit of the mere appearance of profundity – is also a turnoff. 3. The shameless stuffing of a lot of doorstoppers (getting out those 500 pages by whatever means) has inhibited me from investigating a lot of genre works.

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    1. A lot of it *is* personal judgement as to where the acceptable range lies. I admit, it takes a very strong blurb/recommendation/review for me to even consider a 500 page book.

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