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Finishing books

From an article about books least likely to be finished by Britons, comment section:
How can someone NOT finish a book? Surely when you open a book and decide to read it you make a commitment to read it through to the end. I read every day and have NEVER NOT FINISHED A BOOK.

NOTE: Make that 1 is "never finish".

Poll #948498 Finishing books

Do you finish all the books you begin?

Yes.
4(7.7%)
No.
48(92.3%)

How likely are you to finish a fiction book, where 10 is "always finish" and 0 is "never finish"?

Mean: 8.27 Median: 9 Std. Dev 1.26
1
0(0.0%)
2
0(0.0%)
3
1(1.9%)
4
0(0.0%)
5
0(0.0%)
6
4(7.7%)
7
6(11.5%)
8
11(21.2%)
9
27(51.9%)
10
3(5.8%)

How likely are you to finish a non-fiction book, where 10 is "always finish" and 0 is "never finish"?

Mean: 6.88 Median: 7 Std. Dev 1.99
1
0(0.0%)
2
1(2.0%)
3
1(2.0%)
4
6(11.8%)
5
4(7.8%)
6
9(17.6%)
7
9(17.6%)
8
9(17.6%)
9
7(13.7%)
10
5(9.8%)

What are some of the most memorable books you have never finished?

For what reason(s) are you most likely not finish a book, assuming you are not someone who always does?

Poor prose.
0(0.0%)
Predictable plot.
0(0.0%)
Boring.
5(10.0%)
Incomprehensible.
0(0.0%)
Someone else's copy/Library copy/Had to return it/Stolen.
0(0.0%)
Still intending to finish, just haven't quite yet....
0(0.0%)
Easily distracted.
0(0.0%)


Edited: Ah, the ineditability of polls. It occurs to me that I am least likely to finish non-fiction, not because it isn't well-written, but because finishing isn't the point. Reading particular sections relevant to what I'm studying is much more likely to be the point. Also, spoilers sometimes kill a book for me - not often, but sometimes. Spoilers are why I haven't finished Life of Pi.

Comments

( 32 comments — Leave a comment )
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curtana
Mar. 17th, 2007 02:15 pm (UTC)
I don't see opening a book as a commitment to finish it. I figure life is too short, and I have too many books on my to-read shelf, to persist with struggling through something that turns out to be boring or especially bad (though I have a fair tolerance for moderately bad).

With non-fiction books and collections of short stories, I often skim and read just the parts I'm most interested in. With novels, if I find I'm really not interested in the plot or characters, I'll generally skip to the end and read that, then put it aside - because, as a plot-junkie, I find it very hard not to know what happens, even in a crappy book.

There are also a few books on my shelf that I know I've not finished, not out of any particular dislike, but just a vague lack of enthusiasm to continue, combined with too many more exciting books to read instead. I generally do eventually pick those up and finish them, but it may take years.
marzapane
Mar. 17th, 2007 02:18 pm (UTC)
I am the QUEEN of not finishing non-fiction books. I easily lose interest or get distracted when there is no real plot to follow through to the end.
arcana_mundi
Mar. 17th, 2007 02:32 pm (UTC)

I use non-fiction books more often than I read them from cover to cover. The exceptions are books by authors I admire and enjoy, books that will be useful to me from pillar to post, and microhistory, which I devour the same way I do fiction. I so loves me a microhistory.

I get a lot of book recommendations, and my fiction/leisure reading time is short (bedtime reading), so if a book doesn't grab me in the first 50 pages, I'm unlikely to keep wasting my time on it.

Sometimes I'll try again when I think it might be the right time for a certain book. I started Gravity's Rainbow about 20 times before I finally got past the first few pages. It turned out that having a temp of 102 and a mild case of fevered delerium was the trick (I was quite ill when I read it).
owlfish
Mar. 17th, 2007 03:11 pm (UTC)
I use non-fiction books more often than I read them from cover to cover.

The more I think about the non-fiction category, the more complicated this whole subject becomes. Some people really do read encyclopedias and dictionaries and guide books from cover-to-cover. But very few of them were written with that style of reading even in mind.
(no subject) - arcana_mundi - Mar. 17th, 2007 03:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
a_d_medievalist
Mar. 17th, 2007 02:33 pm (UTC)
I see no reason to finish a bad book, or one I just don't like. If it's non-fiction I need to read, then I'll doggedly push my way through ... but then, that's what gutting is for, isn't it? Probably the only exception is series fiction where there is a defined end. Hence the fact that I shall finish G.R.R. Martin's Fire and Ice series, even though books three and four have thoroughly pissed me off. I feel like I have invested enough time that it doesn't make sense at this point to just stop. It's kind of like a dysfunctional marriage at this point, though. Giving it one more try, even though you know it's not really going to get better, and just hoping it won't get worse.
jodihoover
Mar. 17th, 2007 02:37 pm (UTC)
HA, I was sooo pissed when I figured out that book three was not the end. I had waited until I thought they were all out to begin so I could just read them straight through.
(no subject) - owlfish - Mar. 17th, 2007 03:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - svb1972 - Mar. 17th, 2007 04:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - arcana_mundi - Mar. 17th, 2007 03:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - a_d_medievalist - Mar. 18th, 2007 12:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
jodihoover
Mar. 17th, 2007 02:34 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty good at finishing fiction, I read fast so even if it's a bit dry I get past it. I hate being without a book so that has led me to finish some very questionable things.

Non-fiction is a another story. Usually I'm interested in finding specific information and once that has been accomplished I'm done. It has to VERY interesting for me to continue past that point.
ex_humanfema327
Mar. 17th, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC)
i'd like to see 'irritating smugness' as a poll choice
owlfish
Mar. 17th, 2007 03:13 pm (UTC)
A fine choice of supplemental options.
tisiphone
Mar. 17th, 2007 02:53 pm (UTC)
I said that I always finish books, but that requires a bit of adjustment - I almost always finish books (eventually, not necessarily when I first begin reading them.) There are two notable exceptions to this. The first was Necronomicon - I'm sorry, Neal Stephenson, but this was an inexplicably horrible pile of prose. Editors are there to help you, not to harm you. The second was called something like Murder in the Kitchen - it was (I think) about someone stopping at a B&B and getting involved in a murder there. Or something. I don't know, I never finished it. In fact, it was so incredibly bad that I actually threw it away rather than take the milder step of give it back to the used bookstore - it was so bad I didn't want to be responsible for someone else wanting to read it.
arcana_mundi
Mar. 17th, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC)
Ooh. I loooooved Cryptonomicon. Which what I think you're referring to. The Necronomicon is this whole other stinking pile of fecal nonsense.
(no subject) - tisiphone - Mar. 17th, 2007 03:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
the_lady_lily
Mar. 17th, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC)
Seconding that finishing non-fiction isn't the point.
pfy
Mar. 17th, 2007 03:30 pm (UTC)
It occurs to me that I am least likely to finish non-fiction, not because it isn't well-written, but because finishing isn't the point.

Yes, I was about to say that when I noticed that you'd got there first. I usually finish non-fiction if it's intended to be read from start to finish (e.g. popular science books, biographies, and so on), but I rarely read the whole of a reference work (I've never finished the OED, for example...).

I don't see why opening a book is any sort of commitment at all. It's not like I'm going to hurt its feelings if I don't finish, and I highly doubt that anyone is checking up on me to make sure I read everything I own. And when I'm on my deathbed, I will not look back on my life and think "My greatest regret is not finishing that book that got stultifyingly boring on page 94".

I sometimes don't finish even really good books. It took me three tries to finish The Lord of the Rings, simply because I twice got distracted by something else that sucked up all my free time for a few months, and then had to start the whole thing again to make sure I hadn't forgotten too much of what had already happened. But I enjoyed it each time, even the bits I'd already read.
chickenfeet2003
Mar. 17th, 2007 03:58 pm (UTC)
Unfinished fiction generally falls into three categories for me:

Books recommended by other people that turn out to be greatly not to my taste. Neal Stephenson comes to mind.

Things one ought to have read but can't actually stomach. Proust and Trollope top that list.

Books by people I sort of kind of know so feel obliged to attempt. I'm going to plead the fifth wrt examples.

owlfish
Mar. 17th, 2007 04:03 pm (UTC)
Books by people I sort of kind of know so feel obliged to attempt. I'm going to plead the fifth wrt examples.

It is fear of this which has engendered my very bad habit of not reading books by people I know in the first place. Exceptions: if I started reading their books before I met them; if I'm editing a book.
intertext
Mar. 17th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC)
I've never even started Proust (though I've been thinking of doing so in honour of my trip to Paris). I can say proudly that I've read Ulysses all the way through. Twice. But oursin reminded me that Life of Pi was another that I gave up on - that came under the category of "insufferable smugness of narrative voice" as reason for leaving. I have absolutely no compunction about abandoning things if they are boring or just plain awful or distasteful in some other way. Another that comes to mind is the Gap series by Stephen Donaldson. I managed to put up with Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, but I could not bear the cruelty and twisted sexuality in that other series, even though reliable people told me it got better.
oursin
Mar. 17th, 2007 04:53 pm (UTC)
A) Life is too short
B) I've read enough to be able to predict certain turns of plot, esp in genre fiction. Either have something to surprise me, or something that's not just Revelation I spotted several chapters back, or I won't keep reading.
heleninwales
Mar. 17th, 2007 05:24 pm (UTC)
Mostly I give up on fiction because it's boring me, but deciding that I hate the characters because of something they've done is another reason.

Things like overall tone or "insufferable smugness of narrative voice" (as suggested by intertext can usually be detected by reading the first couple of pages, so with luck I never even start those.
sollersuk
Mar. 17th, 2007 05:26 pm (UTC)
Books that I don't finish are those of the category "not to be lightly tossed aside but flung violently across the room". I will struggle with bad writing if the story is good, but if the story is bad (which is not the same as either boring or predictable) I won't finish it and I won't take it to a charity shop.

Historical novels are particular offenders: putting present day attitudes into the past will produce a bruised wall every time.
(Deleted comment)
owlfish
Mar. 17th, 2007 06:30 pm (UTC)
I hate that problem! I still haven't read the last 20 pages of the first Circle of Magic book thanks to this problem. I've twice in my life bought books with duplicated text/missing sections, and thanks to that, I nearly always flip through books before buying now, checking that, at least superficially, all the pages look like they're there in order.
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