What Makes You Stop Reading?

When you’re reading, what pet peeve or unforgivable storytelling sin will make you stop reading and chuck the book?  Or are you a “finisher” regardless of how much you may hate the book?

30 thoughts on “What Makes You Stop Reading?

  1. I am NOT a finisher! Years ago, I’d read every word Ken Follett had ever published, and when Pillars Of The Earth came out, I glommed onto the hardcover issue at full price just so I could dive into it.

    I dragged myself through about two-thirds of that wretchedness. That’s all I could stand. Closed the book and sold it for probably fifty cents at the next garage sale. Bleah!

    If I don’t like where a story is headed (non-stop tragedy for the protagonist, endless bone-headed decisions, gruesome horror upon horror, child molestation, rape, etc.) I’m out. I have a bunch like that already in my Kindle app. But they were free, so no harm done except for a minor waste of time.

    If it works for me, I’m in. If not, I’m out.

    Oh, and I haven’t read another word of Ken Follett’s stuff since I bailed on Pillars. Enough already.


    1. It always seems like an extra-bad betrayal when it’s an author you’ve been reading for a long time, doesn’t it? (As an author, that’s the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night – I don’t think anybody intentionally writes a stinker, so how do we know until it’s too late?)

      What was it about Pillars Of The Earth that turned you off? Characters? Plot? Pace? All of the above?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Remember, you asked. 🙂

        It was a big, thick, long book. That wasn’t the problem at all. But he’d introduce a whole set of characters, build their circumstances, get the audience all engaged with them…and then they’d all starve to death horribly in a harsh winter. Another bunch of characters would show up, the audience would become engaged with them and interested in seeing them succeed, and the king’s soldiers would come along and slaughter them all to the last infant child for killing a deer to keep from starving to death.

        This same sort of miserable wretchedness and drudgery went on and on and on and ON. At that point, I didn’t CARE anymore if anybody won or not. I’d had the rug jerked out from under me ‘way too many times already. Somebody even tried to tell me how the book ended years later, and I interrupted them and, rather rudely as I recall, told them I did not even want to hear it, and walked away. I still don’t know how it ended, and I still don’t care in the least. I won’t even look up a synopsis online. I’m done.

        Sort of the same thing happened with my interest in Tom Clancy’s work, although not quite to that extent. Red October was a spectacular book. I must’ve read it a dozen times. Then Red Storm Rising came along. Same deal. Then the next and the next and the next, and I was practically foaming at the mouth to get my hands on them when they hit the stores. But somewhere along the way, I got tired of the endless string of mega-disasters Clancy inflicted on the U.S. in his books. Nuclear bomb exploding in Denver during a Superbowl. Another whole war with Japan. That kind of thing.

        I should mention, this being an election year here and all, that one or two of the disasters didn’t bother me at all. Just sayin’… But I digress.

        A few years ago, I tried one of his follow on ‘black ops’ books. Still couldn’t get interested in his stuff even after all that time. I just didn’t like where he was going with his work. Again, enough already.

        But I also need to say this: All those books that turned me off were thick, ‘epic’ sorts of tomes. And it was the direction the author had taken with the WHOLE THING. The Follett thing was drudgery to wade through from the first page, and it had NOT ONE bright spot or redeeming feature in it for the first TWO-THIRDS OF THE TOME! That’s a huge amount of drudgery for a reader to wade through without a single clear glimpse of where the thing is going in the first place. Seriously, by the time I bailed, there was not one of the original characters still alive, nor was there any plausible connection with any of it that would give me the least hint of where it was all headed.

        The thing with Clancy had been coming for at least the last three of his biggies that I read. Each disaster was worse than the last. One book focused on an outbreak of, I think, Ebola, of all things. In excruciating detail. Vectors, symptoms, and then watching helplessly as ‘good’ character after ‘good’ character contracted it and died horribly.

        I’m a lot less ‘trusting’ of authors these days than I used to be. Back in the day, if I liked an author, I went straight for the hard cover issue and paid the big bucks. So when I got burned, I’d also just blown twenty bucks or so. Thus, I began to approach my, er, addiction with a bit more care and discernment. Then the house started filling up with books to the point that BOXES of them were stored in the attic. It became more of an ‘If I like it, I’ll have to find a place to put it” thing, thus causing even more care in selection.

        That’s not a problem for me anymore. I finally have an ‘office’ that I can do as I please with. (That means no kids at home, and the room is ‘overflow’ for guests who won’t fit in the other bedrooms.) Something like eighty feet of shelf space in that room, including an unbroken level of shelving over the windows and doors all the way around. And some more under that one on long walls and over furniture, etc. No more books in the attic. My wife still rolls her eyes.

        And that’s why she got me a Kindle. That helped slow the proliferation, but it did not stop it completely. 🙂

        Okay, I said all that to say this. (Yes, there really is a point to all this.) After eleven books, I really don’t thing you have too much to worry about, Diane. For me personally, the ‘worst case scenario,’ so to speak, was the child abduction business and the other sorts of abuse that went along with it. And you worked through all the things that made me want to bail and kept me engaged and rooting for the good guys all the while.

        We’ve already had all those conversations, and it all comes down to trust, just as we’ve said before. And after all that, I figure whatever is next will be just as well done and engaging and entertaining as everything else has been.

        I appreciate that you care enough for your audience and your craft that you worry about making ‘the big mistake.’ I appreciate it, but I don’t worry about it. I’m pretty sure none of your other loyal readers do, either. I’d wager the soft drink of your choice that you worry about it A LOT more than we do.

        Which is exactly why we don’t have to. And I appreciate that.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ve been thinking about Pillars again, and I’ll stand by everything I just said about it except for there being no bright spots. I do recall one. One of the characters was a stone mason, a builder of cathedrals, in fact. Over a short period of time, that character did give a rather educational description of the process used in building such structures with nothing but the most rudimentary hand tools, rope-and-pulley systems, hand-mixed mortar, what amounted to slave labor, and the occasional use of draft animals to do the heaviest of the heavy lifting.

          And speaking of draft animals, there was also another bright spot; a bit in Pillars about the different breeds of horses that were in use at the time. “Hunters” were the sporting breeds, agile for jumping objects that were in the way during the chase. “Coursers” were similar, but used more for racing than hunting (flatter, less cluttered, race tracks or ‘courses,’ so to speak, so these were bred for more speed with less need for jumping ability and the required agility). Draft animals ranged from the very small breeds used in coal mines (Shetland ponies were originally bred for low-head-room coal mines, not for children to learn to ride) all the way up to the enormous Clydesdale giants that now are merely relegated to pulling prop beer wagons in parades.

          Incidentally, what we now know as railroad tracks were first used in these same coal mines to reduce the labor required for (and, more importantly to the mine owners, speed the process of) extracting coal from deep underground. Note: It’s always about the money. Just sayin’…

          FYI, there were HUNDREDS of distinct breeds of horses in daily use before the Industrial Revolution that no longer exist. Either the function they provided was taken over by machines, or the industry that they were bred to serve no longer exists. In one of the texts I use in an introductory fluid power course (essentially basic hydraulics) there is a one-paragraph blurb about how James Watt determined the amount of work that the average horse could perform so he could compare it to the power output of his steam engines. That unit of work is now known as the horsepower, and it has been since 1782. One paragraph about the man whose genius powered the Industrial Revolution? A travesty, that. In my eyes, James Watt is THE MAN. But I digress…

          Anyway, the first two-thirds of Pillars was not completely devoid of bright spots. There were, in fact, two. But they were very small. The rest of the book was absolute drudgery.

          Okay, I’m done. This time. For a while. Maybe. A little. Kinda. Ish. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. A book has to be extremely bad for me not to finish it. I will re-read the stinking pile of words sometimes to make sure I wasn’t just having a bad day, or was too distracted that I missed an essential part of the plot that made it all make sense. Rookie mistakes aren’t subtle and are quite obvious, and your writing, Diane, shows no sign of rookie errors, although I may not be the most discerning reader. After all, I read for pleasure and haven’t studied the craft of writing as an author would. I also have a taste for novels as opposed to Literature, although I like it too. If you pose the question of what errors are deal breakers to the reader in order to avoid making those errors, I’d say forget that strategy, I believe you are already too good to blunder that badly.

    There are so many ways for a book to go bad, especially for a beginning writer, and if I understand that the author is new to the craft, the mistakes are understandable, and less irritating than if they are coming from an author who has “made it.”

    Some Random Guy’s bottom line seems to be the yuk factor. I understand that and can agree that it can be too dispiriting to consider being entertained by tales of rape torture and child abuse, etc. I can take some historically appropriate yuk if the plot makes sense, if the author hasn’t overwhelmed me with tons of needless detail, hundreds of named characters, so many subplots that I lose track of it all, or if the author has led you down a reasonable plot line and then suddenly pulls a switcheroo and no, it wasn’t the butler who did it, it was this new character and a new plot altogether and the old plot is left to bleed out abandoned on the path.

    I’ve already said how I find it irritating if there are too many names for characters and too many characters in a book. However, I have made it through books with nearly 100 named characters without confusion but in another book found that many names intolerable. If the character is mostly referred to by the family name, but suddenly the author starts using their given name, and then adds a knickname or two, or a lookalike or two, I may curse the author in exasperation. You’ve come close a few times, with characters like Sharkface/Kevin Barnett and John Smith/Kasper Doychevski, Honey Jack Whatever, and the Snakelike/ Charles Stemp/Cosmic River Stone. If you laid all those characters, names, and aliases on us in book one, I doubt I would have gotten to book two, but I can accept such complexity in the small doses as you actually gave them to us. It all depends on the skill and good sense of the author to make it work where others fail.

    There are books I’ve read that have made a sizable splash in the world of fame and fortune that I’ve read and couldn’t understand why they were considered to be so good. There was a series written by an author from South Africa about a female protagonist who sets herself up as a detective. I fully expected to be entertained and charmed. I found there was too little plot, no character development, and it read like a grocery list of what happened next. I mentioned to a friend how disappointing l found the book to be, and she began to overflow with praise for the book. Then she said they had made a series of movies out of the book series and I can imagine that the movie series might have been better than the books and colored people’s opinion of the books. Or maybe there is something I missed big time when reading book one of that series. Then I wonder if there is something wrong with me that I couldn’t enjoy a book that so many others found so wonderful. Am I biased because I read mostly books written in English and I don’t or can’t understand cultural differences? Is there something lost in translation? But I’ve traveled. All my life I have gotten to know people from very different parts of the world. I have made friends with people from other countries and other cultures. I have a good friend from South Africa. I love South African music. I don’t believe I am unable to delight in something because of cultural differences. Why don’t I “get” what was so interesting to others in that South African book? Was the book over-hyped or is it me?

    I also understand that some books or authors will be more relatable to certain readers because of similarities in life experiences or similar beliefs or understanding how the world works. I know that there are works that didn’t speak to me at one point in my life that later in life I love.

    But I’d rather not talk about obvious errors, but in the mystery of masterpieces. I believe that masterpieces are masterpieces because of some unnameable perfection and universal communication that will be felt not only the author’s generation, but also generations to come. A masterpiece can’t be picked apart and analyzed so that you can parlay your understanding into the making of your own masterpiece though many try. The maker of the masterpiece won’t even know why that work is so much more successful than other works, but yet the maker will sense how exceptionally good that work is. I am very happy when I find that groove, the right words come to me, and I am on the receiving end of a glimmer of brilliance, whether it happens in conversation, writing, or painting.

    Teachers can teach a laundry list of rules for gaining the best results, yet I know that rules can be effectively broken with glorious results. It certainly helps to understand the rules before you choose to break them. I don’t think making masterpieces can be taught. The stars align, God smiles and guides the hand that creates the masterpiece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re a much more tolerant reader than I am! I often give a book a second chance if I’ve read the first chapters and decided it’s not for me – sometimes I re-read the early chapters and discover a good book after all, when I’m in a different mood. But if I’ve slogged through the whole thing and hated it, I’ll never read it again.

      Like you, I’m always aware that I read under the influence of my own preferences and biases, so I rarely judge a book “bad”; just “not my style”. (And sometimes “really, really not my style”!) 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. When I opened the website this morning and saw the new topic, I had to stop and think. I DON’T finish every book I start, especially at my age and situation. But I have several reasons why and they are not the same for every reject. So I popped up the Kindle for PC app on my computer and took a look at my ‘Library’. I used the view that shows the cover and also a percentage of how far you got when you were last reading it. I looked for books with percentages less than 50% and checked to see if I remembered why I stopped reading. Evidently, most of the books simply failed to hold my interest as I couldn’t even remember opening them. But enough, coupled with memorable disappointments from the past gave me at least a couple of concrete reasons to abandon a book. Remember, we are just talking about fiction here.
    I have to l like the protagonist well enough that I care what happens to them. Some authors seem to feel that a ‘damaged protagonist’ would be more interesting and go too far to the point they are unlikable.
    The situations and characters in the book need to be believable at least within the context to the story. For instance I could deal with a book about Santa Clause even though I don’t think he is real.
    The book needs to be reasonably well crafted. I suspect I know which South African novel El Tea is referring to ( –and I agree wholeheartedly) and it is that very thing that ruins a book for me. There is a well-known SciFi author who has a military series featuring a female protagonist. In general, I very much enjoy military SciFi with female protagonists, and I liked his first few books but small annoyances crept in and eventually became more than I was willing to deal with. His writing was too predictable. For instance if a new character was introduced and they made a labored word-play joke, they would go on to be a good guy no matter how the author tried to misdirect the reader. Also, if a meeting was being held, every last word and gesture was written down whether it was needed or not. But the final sin was that he kept explaining the technical details, complete with diagrams, of his ships, other technology and the mapping of his ‘universe’. Who cares???? I haven’t bothered with the last couple of books in his series.
    Elsewhere SRG has mentioned that he liked Frank Herbert’s Dune. I don’t. I subscribed to Analog SciFi magazine at the time it first came out as a serial and I liked it well enough at the time. When his next one came out, I read the first few chapters but laid it aside, thinking I was just in the wrong mood at the time and I would finish it later. But about that time I accepted a transfer to Seattle. Seattle has a large and very active SciFi community (at least five fan-run conventions and a couple of commercial ones each year). Frank Herbert was living in the area at the time and I would run into him fairly often. I was listening to a speech he was giving once and the words ‘turgid and pretentious’ flowed unbidden into my mind. I don’t know how much his personal mannerisms have to do with it but I never read another word he wrote.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t get through Dune, either. I skimmed it, trying to discover a storyline that would keep me interested, but ultimately I failed. I enjoy sci-fi, too, but the ones that get bogged down in technical detail leave me cold. I much prefer Lois McMaster Bujold’s style where the characters are compelling and there’s still enough sci-fi-tech to keep me fascinated without dumping out reams of boring detail.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This has brought up another question in my mind. What makes you UNABLE to stop reading? I re-read many books because I especially like the story, or the protagonist or else I just like the way the author puts the words together –or all of the above together. Normally, time will pass between readings, sometimes several years. However, with the Spy series I not only binge-read all eleven one right after another, as soon as I had finished, I started all over and did it again! I have now read the series a total of six times though not at my earlier pace. I do not seem to be able to leave Aydan’s world for any appreciable length of time. I accept that I would re-read the books –all three criteria are there but what is keeping me tethered? This has never happened to me before. Anybody else having the same reaction?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m sure I’m not the only one to second the vote, but although I am the only one to agree enough to respond, it would be my bet that most of the regular commenters would also concur. I wil re-read other author’s books, in fact, my first read of any author’s new book is so fast I miss details and don’t keep all the characters straight in my head. A second read gives me at least a chance at remembering that I have actually read the book a year or two later- but to re-read again and again? There are only a handful of authors that have made that cut, and Diane Henders tops my list. Especially for a contemporary author. I have re-read a few authors from other centuries to immerse myself in the era and in an effort to understand the cultural and linguistic differences. I’ve read a lot of contemporary novels as the equivalent of junk food or comfort food, which Diane has claimed for her writing, but those other books I don’t find as “nourishing” as I find in another go ’round of all the Never Say Spy books. Superbly done, Diane!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Definitely not a finisher. What makes me put down a book; overly cliche scenarios, over-the-top, unrealistic expressions of romance (no, all women do not fantasize about soap opera style romance), poorly written works (I don’t care how good the story line is) and what often appears as an author’s lack of care in telling their story. You can’t just phone it in.

    My time is valuable and even though I need to read, almost as much as I need to breathe, I can’t/won’t waste my precious time.

    Diane, your work makes me want more of the characters, their humour and humanity.

    Thank you!!


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Because I read on a Kindle, I usually read a sizeable sample before deciding to commit, so I have a good idea of the prose style, etc. Having said that, there have been times when I’ve purchased the book and found that the story just doesn’t progress. I get bored and abandon it. I also refuse to read anything with unintentionally bad grammar (i.e., not dialect). I recently pushed through a book that included some lame sex scenes and objectification of women because the rest of the book was worth reading. (The author improved his style in his next book, thank goodness!)

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I used to be a finisher, back in the days when I bought everything in paperback. I’m not a “library” person – I want to own books so I can go back and reread them like old friends. But I always stood in the bookstore and read at least the first chapter (sometimes two or three, leaning against the bookshelves oblivious to everything else) before I bought a book. And books were expensive relative to my income at the time, so if I bought one I was committed to finishing it.

    Now? Not so much; partly because e-books are generally less expensive so I’m less committed to them; but also because, as @Angela points out, my time is valuable.

    Here are my pet peeves and deadly sins:

      Unlikeable characters: The first deadly sin. I can read a regular-length novel in four hours or less, but that’s four hours too long to spend with fictional people I don’t like.
      TDTL characters: That stands for “too dumb to live”. Characters make stupid decisions that are obviously contrived just to further the plot? Nope. I’m done.
      Unrealistic character arcs: They won’t make me stop reading, but they’ll annoy the hell out of me after I’m done. This can happen in any genre, but I rarely read romance because its very nature tends toward an unrealistic character arc. Start with two completely incompatible characters, spend the entire story showing me why it can’t possibly work between them because of their various crippling emotional problems; and then wham-bam, all issues are magically solved in a few days/weeks and they live happily ever after. But it’s not just romance – I feel the same about any story where the author doesn’t stay true to a character’s fundamental personality traits.
      Too much gore or graphic violence: I’ll probably finish the book if it’s well written, but I won’t read the next in the series. I don’t need any more awful stuff in my head – the daily news is bad enough.
      Too much detail: Doesn’t matter whether it’s a sci-fi author explaining every nut and bolt in the spaceship or an epic literary work where I’m required to memorize a family tree of characters. I’m lazy. I read for pleasure and I just don’t want to work that hard.
      Female characters who are used solely as props: They’re cardboard cutouts, existing only to be tortured in order to motivate the male protagonist. They have no personalities, no impact on the plot, and there’s no empathy for their suffering. It’s akin to the guy who expects you to feel sorry for him because his wife is so inferior that he has to beat her. Man-suffering. Truly heartwrenching. *wipes away a tear* Not!
      Blatantly misspelled and misused words: The final deadly sin. I can live with a few mistakes – they happen no matter how hard we try to eradicate them. But a flurry of errors that could have been caught with a simple spell-checker? Nope. I once started reading a story with a likeable protagonist and a compelling plot setup. Within the first page I found a handful of spelling mistakes and misused words, and then the protagonist tucked a “tuff” of hair behind her ear. I stopped. Blinked. Shook my head and carried on. On the second page the “tuff” of hair was mentioned again, and I pitched the book. Just couldn’t make myself read any farther.

    Wow, I’ve just reread all that and realized what an annoyingly picky reader I am! This is why I don’t write book reviews anymore…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an excellent list, Diane. I don’t think it makes you annoyingly picky at all. I will note the same things when I’m reading and become annoyed too. Some will become deal breakers and I will “forget” to finish the book- yes -the overfinisher that I am sometimes can’t make it through a first reading. I will worry later that I wasn’t in the right mood, was too distracted, or too tired to give the book my full attention, then again, it likely wasn’t my “flavor.”

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I totally get your list. The detail thing is okay with me, but if someone is gonna bury me with details, they’d BETTER know what they’re talking about. If their premise doesn’t ring true, I’m out.

    Hey, I’ve read Ayn Rand and survived, okay? 🙂

    Even in science fiction and fantasy where entire new worlds must be created for the story, I’m okay with as much detail as the author wants to bring to the table. But if it triggers my BS detector, I’m gonna be pretty disappointed.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Just pulled the plug on another book, The Lady Who Sang High, by Renee’ Pawlish. Murder takes place in a weed store in Denver, CO, where selling marijuana is legal. It suddenly occurred to me that my grandsons cross the streets there with parents smoking joints openly in their cars while driving in school zones. I’ve seen it, my kids have seen it, and my grandkids have seen it.

    I don’t care who is killing pot growers and dealers, legal or not. As far as I’m concerned, it could become a trend. So I don’t care what happens in the story. I’m out.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m a bit of both. I read for pleasure, so if the book is too depressing, I chuck it. If it’s just not quite too interesting then I push through it. I do think “it has to get better”….but sadly, it doesn’t always.
    Sometimes I think Authors have too much info they want to get across to set up the story, and so the beginnings of books can either be too hectic, or too slow….strange, but true. I’ve been very glad to have gotten through the first 3 chapters and ended up with a really good series, and I’ve been terribly disappointed to find that the book was stagnant the entire way through.
    One killer for any book, which I will usually send emails to Authors if there is an email available, is poor editing. I hate it when you’re flying through the pages in a good rhythm and getting sucked into the story world and then you get to the point where they decided they were “done editing” or where they were “typing too fast to get it all out” and the paragraphs are full of typos. Stumbling through text is a story killer…it’s like breaking that 4th wall in acting! You’ve all of a sudden broke from your fictional world to address the audience, and hence ruined any of the magic that Authors have of bringing us along into a new world. It’s so sad!!!! (I’m so glad your books haven’t required any emails! LOL)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ok I’m late to the party on this one but it really made me think. I was reading a book and was soooo tempted to bin it.
    The book was ” black eyed Susans” can’t remember the author and although I finished it. It took almost a week to read 395 pages. I devour your booked in hours. I didn’t enjoy the constant switching between times, it was 3-4 pages in each time zone and I pretty much always put the book down in disgust every time it happened.
    I have given the book to my parents with strict instructions I never see it again, they can leave it in Spain, donate it, bin it.
    I always keep my paperbacks (two large bags full of mills and boons prove that) I re-read them on occasions. Although I have a brain that remembers the book once I start it again, I have to leave it a while to have the same surprise’s again.
    Going back to the mentioned book. I figured out who it was and even then I didn’t care.

    I need to enjoy something to read more. Paper books are kept, and generally read more than once. Books on my kobo, most started as freebies, if I enjoyed the book I bought more.

    I’ve said it before but will say it again. I have all the series in eBook format. They are also on my bookshelf in paperback. I recommend to anyone who asks for a recommendation. And this afternoon I downloaded the audible book. Ok now I feel very stalkerish and obsessed.

    You are the author who is on both kobo and my Kindle app, and in paperback. Everyone else is one or the other.

    Generally speaking I only buy what I believe I will enjoy, I normally read a few pages or a chapter, but I then I pick up a different copy to buy ( not sure why)
    If I can’t find a reason to stay interested it’s not finished, and if its on the kobo it’s deleted.
    I guess I a bit ruthless on the kobo, paperback generally get a second chance occasionally a third chance

    Liked by 1 person

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