Permission Granted: You Don’t Have to Finish That Terrible Book You’re Reading

Do you feel compelled to finish a book, even if you’re not enjoying it? I used to, but no longer. I got angry with books I didn’t like because I felt that once I started reading, I was committed to reading until the bitter end. Talk about pressure–pressure on myself, and pressure on the poor book. Maybe it’s because I was born into one of the last generations in which we were required/shamed into finishing all the food on our plates. Finishing was a big deal so there wasn’t any waste, and therefore we were absolved of guilt for having food when starving children didn’t. Ah, the crap we lay on our children in the name of getting them to do what we imagine is the right thing. If we don’t finish a book, are all those remaining words wasted? Will a writer cry in the same way a cow might cry if you don’t finish your milk? No. But old habits die hard.

As a writer, I’m qualified to give you permission not to finish a book. *Poof!* You have your permission. Here’s your permission slip, if anyone ever asks you about it:


(I don’t know who designed this permission slip, but they’re my hero. If it were real, I bet it would smell like my first grade lunch room: canned pears, spaghetti, and floor polish.)

In fact, as a writer, I implore you not to finish a book that you’re not enjoying. Sure, some books can have challenging content, but that’s a different thing. If you’re reading a book that you’re not required to read (for a class, etc), and you find yourself bored, irritated, or, well, BORED, just stop. Don’t even put a bookmark in where you stopped. Drop the book in your donate pile (if it doesn’t belong to a library or a friend). Someone else might like it, and that’s okay. Everybody has their own likes and dislikes. Or put it atop the logs on the fire. How satisfying that would be!

I’m always a tad disappointed when someone says they didn’t like one of my books. It used to be painful read negative reviews (I know–how shocking that they exist!). I want EVERYONE to like my books. Except: there are so many books that I’ve begun and didn’t like. It would hardly be fair to demand of the universe that everyone like my books when I don’t like every other writer’s books. A book I dislike is wasting my time. I’m not alone in thinking that. One of my favorite negative reviews for one of my novels is: “Horrible! I wish I hadn’t read it!” Really? I want to ask, “At what point did you discover that it was horrible? Page 15? Page 200? The next to last page? Because I pretty much know a book is going to suck by the time I get twenty pages in. Why the heck didn’t you just stop?”

Writers don’t like to be tortured, and they don’t want you to feel tortured, either. I think I can speak for all writers when I say that we’d rather you close the book on page 5 and forget us, than finish and be angry with us. We’re doing our best, but we know we can’t please everyone. We’d much rather you stop reading and cleanse your palate with a cream cheese on rye sandwich, a Fuzzy Navel, a Patterson book, Jane Eyre, or reruns of The Gong Show. Actually, we’d probably happily join you on the couch and bring some wine to share.

I could make you a list of books I’ve dropped, but I don’t want to offend any living writers–everything lives on the Internet forever, and you never know who you’re going to end up on a conference panel with. There’s also the risk of offending you. Because I guarantee that there are books you and I will disagree on. But I’ll go out on a limb, just for you.

The last book I read that left me irritated and feeling like I’d wasted a dozen or so hours of my life was The Goldfinch. I know, I know. So many people think it’s a wonderful book. And that’s cool with me. I thought it was too much of a muchness and didn’t deserve all the fuss. It has many memorable, lovely scenes that I remember well. But as a whole it didn’t work for me. Donna Tartt is an accomplished writer, and I have liked some of her other work. Maybe next book. Though I did purchase the book, so she got paid, which is always nice.

The last book I closed without finishing was Willa Cather’s My Antonia. It’s on honors English high school lists, so I was looking at it for a homeschool book for my son. I nearly fell asleep in the first dozen pages. I was so bored that I immediately made up a list of novels, stories, and films with a golem theme in response. We started with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Sorry, Willa.

So go forth with a clean conscience, absolved. Be reckless and brave about the books you choose to read. You have nothing to lose. If you buy a book, or even check it out from the library, the writer has received some kind of compensation, and you at least are giving it a shot. That’s all we ask. Feel free to move on, and fill your days with books that feed your imagination and your soul. You have all the permission you need.


March 26th  Words
Journal:  0 words
Long fiction: (Edited 50 pages)
Short fiction: 0
Non-fiction: 0 words
Blogging: 911 words
Exercise: Day off. Whew.

2 thoughts on “Permission Granted: You Don’t Have to Finish That Terrible Book You’re Reading”

  1. skyecaitlin says:

    I needed this permission slip, today~ I am reading four books; two can be tossed and given away—boring and poorly written; trite and unappealing to me’ one is very good and the fourth is a masterpiece of characterization, plot. setting and stylistic excellence; it has me fascinated and addicted.

    1. Laura Benedict says:

      50% isn’t bad at all! Hit me up any time you forget. 😊

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