I threw it on the ground — why people stop reading books

Like you, dear reader, I devour books. I eat them for breakfast, munch on them for lunch and blast through an endless buffet of books in bed, waiting for the Sandman — because books, they are THE BEST.

However: there are books, even famous best-sellers and literary masterpieces that eager graduate students dissect for their dissertations, that are simply unreadable. You start them, you want to be blown away by them and instead, you toss them through the air to test their aerodynamics.

Goodreads asked their peoples about books they started, and wanted to love, but simply couldn’t finish.

Some books at the top of their Couldn’t Finish List include:

  • FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, which is complete trash, and not in a good way. Here’s my take on the first page of that stinker: The Red Pen of Doom impales FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
  • THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, written by a fellow Swede, and I wanted to love this book, I really did, but couldn’t get past page 30-whatever. 
  • ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand, who couldn’t write her way out of a wet paper bag if you handed her a sharpened pencil. I took a red pen to the first page of her most famous book here: The Red Pen of Doom murders THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand
  • CATCH-22, which I’ve read a zillion times and love. Maybe I’m crazy.
  • THE LORD OF THE RINGS, an immense and dense tome that I started to read and despite being (a) on a beach in Maui and (b) chock full of mai tai’s, I couldn’t (c) get past the 60-page introduction to the prologue or whatever because it was massive amounts of academic text lecturing me about the sociology of hobbits and elves, with no story whatsoever, and it put the B in Boring.

So I agree with Goodreads about throwing most of these books on the ground.

Here’s the story with all kinds of comments.

20 thoughts on “I threw it on the ground — why people stop reading books

  1. I have to weigh in here with Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight,” which I attempted to read because every woman I knew was delirious over it. I couldn’t get past page 50 and resented every minute of reading time I wasted on it. To this day, I still don’t get why these women stayed up ’til 3 a.m. reading it.

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  2. Friendship’s truest test is a book thrust upon you with trembling hands and the words “Read this. It will change your life.” I unwrapped a fresh copy of “The Bridges of Madison County” with revulsion barely concealed by face muscles toned through years in a government job. “Thank you! How thoughtful!”

    What to do? Rejection would have frayed an otherwise lovely friendship. But pulling on hip boots and actually wading in to this steaming mound of dung risked an ineradicable stain on my psyche, like one of those staph infections that flares and subsides over a lifetime.

    Gamely, I tried. I’d read a few paragraphs, then rush to a picaresque memoir or three as a palate-cleanser. But eventually my mind became “the highway and a peregrine and all the sails that ever went to sea” and further progress was impossible.

    My friend finally asked me what I thought of the book. “I was so moved,” I replied, “that I couldn’t finish it.”

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  3. I read Ulysses with a guide: Professer Heffernan of Princeton (?) has a course on The Teaching Company that makes a wonderful companion. It’s worth digging in to it. James is, surprise, surprise, actually funny. Fifty Shades has the WORST writing imaginable. It has a good driver though: the reader keeps wondering if the heroine will ever wake up. Apparently, she doesn’t.

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  4. I agree with 50 Shades and Girl with Tattoo. Garbage. Tolkein took me a while to get used to (or understand), but once I did, it became an obsession. Over the years I’ve read all four several times. Ayn Rand? Why do they keep publishing that tripe? (Oh yeah, I know, because people buy it). Leo Tolstoy should be commended for even finishing War & Peace, but it’s a slug of a read … better adapted to film.

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    1. Tolkien gets a bad rap & I think Stieg Larsson does too. No doubt both could’ve enticed far more readers if they had good editors (though Tolkien at least was a writer from a different age and if it managed to snag me wholeheartedly as a 10-year-old I’m not sure why adults can’t manage it). However, there is a charm to these long-winded works I enjoyed. The only book I ever threw to the ground was Tim Winton’s The Riders which I actually read to the end purely to discover the reason behind the story, only to find the author quite rudely doesn’t provide the answer, which I think is an unconscionable breach of the unwritten (!) pact between writer and reader.

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  5. That girl with the dragon thing. It was deadly dull. Page after page of detail about a company that wasn’t even real, as it were. And that was the beginning. The movie was good, Moby Dick always harpoons me during the catalogue of whale types. Did finish War and Peace but not Bros K or Proust.

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  6. Fascinating article. As a writer, it’s just too darn hard to get people to pick up one of my books, let alone have them walk away disillusioned… keeps me looking to learn and refine my writing even further

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  7. Agreed and helpful as well. Girl with the dragon tattoo was exactally like that for me. I tried really hard to like it. Still, I had to fast forward skimming chapters just to see what the deal was. I really didn’t care anymore. After the movie came out a coworker told me about it. She even found the movie hard to follow. So, what is it about that book?

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  8. Ah, your “Red Pen of Doom” reminds me of Mrs. Nyman in this blog post with her “I will not bleed on this paper” comments. We were not fond of each other.

    I was able to breeze through the entire “Lord of the Rings” series, though it took a couple of false starts. What I have never been able to read all the way through is “The Hobbit”.

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  9. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I must agree about Fifty Shades and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Three sentences into Fifty Shades I was laughing my ass off. That’s as far as I got. The Girl? Sorry. Sucked. I LOVE Catch 22. How can you not love Catch 22??? But I succumb to an Ayn Rand phase and devoured everything she wrote. Got over it eventually. The first two books of Lord of the Rings are quite good – the third book – Return of the King – gets way too deep for me. Reading it is like listening to the most boring lecture in the world.
    I loved Ulysses and Moby Dick. However Eat, Pray, Love made me want to find every copy and build a big bonfire. What a crock of self-serving self-absorbed shite! Speaking of bonfires – Bonfire of the Vanities was my throw on the ground and stomp on it book.

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