Sunday, February 03, 2008

What's Your Abandonment Rate?

How reluctant or willing are you to outright abandon the reading of books that are not quite cutting the mustard?
How willing are you to put them aside?
Are you tenacious? Do you give a faltering book a reprieve, and keep turning pages?
Do you toss it on the coffee table and see if perhaps another day, it might light your fire? Or, skipping that phase, do you just toss it in the fireplace?
How many chances do you give a book?
Regarding consummation, how many boring and uninteresting pages or chapters will you endure before you annul your vows and open the covers of another?
Do you stick with the relationship, defying all others until the last page is turned? ‘Til death doth us part?

All of those questions interest me.
My own answer would be that generally, I am very tenacious, and rarely abandon a book. Rarely set it aside.
I give the thing every benefit of the doubt.
Early on in the relationship, I will even begin to blame myself if something seems uninteresting.
Hmmmm… perhaps I am not giving this author room to not be me.
Maybe this thing is worth…. worth sticking to!
Let me turn another page, and see what is there.

I was surfing through blogs a few evenings ago and landed upon an excellent book-blog called Dog Ear Diary.
Reading through several of Jeane’s reviews, I noticed that she grants each book a star-rating, one to five. But what was interesting to me is that many times, instead of a rating, she will write “Aban’doned” instead.
Yet, there are still comments about the book, and a reason or two may be given as to why the book was turfed or otherwise left unfinished.
The Abondonment Factor© probably has a lot to do with the level of expectation with which one approaches one’s readings. That, and outright boredom with a book, I guess. Or time itself, as in, no time to waste on a bad read!
For me, I tend to notice that I will far more often abandon a non-fiction book, than a novel. And this is usually because my interest in the topic wanes as I read.
But to abandon either, for me, is rare, as I said.
So rare, in fact, that I would estimate that for every one hundred books I begin, I completely finish [unskimmed] over ninety of them. I am probably functioning somewhere between a 5 and 10% Abandonment Rate.

One book I regret abandoning is Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.
Years ago now, I just could not quite finish it, and this haunts me.
My bookmark is still lodged in the thing, at page 340. On the back burner of my mind, there is this…. this pot of Gulag, always simmering away!
But, on the front burners, ye Gods!
On the front burners a stack of things are either in progress, or pushing each other out of line, vying for my affections. Asking… begging for me to believe in them.
Having won betrothal, longing for consummation.



Anonymous said...

Great question.

My response, for what it's worth: Toss it after a chapter or two. Might skim it to see if there is anything later I might like.

The burden of providing (and finding) interest is on both the reader and the writer. But some couples are just incompatible and - is a great big playing field out there.

To this topic, Harold Bloom says this: "It matters, if individuals are to retain any capacity to form their own judgments and opinions, that they continue to read for themselves. . . why they read must be in their own interest. You can read merely to pass the time, or you can read with an overt urgency, but eventually you will read against the clock." He quotes Dr. Samuel Johnson, who said that the prime concern of reading was with "what comes near to ourself, what we can put to use."

I don't give a book too long to show me what it has to offer me.

Whose "fault" it is that I am not getting what I want from it matters less to me than the awareness of what I am (or am not) getting out of it.

I'm a greedy reader, I guess.
Just because I abandon a book, though, does not mean that I think less of its art...just that its art is not getting through to me. Different strokes for different folks and all that.

Cipriano said...

Holy moly!
What an amazing comment, anonymous.
I think there can be so many perspectives on this... maybe as many perspectives as there are readers.... or books.
I actually think that I err on the side of giving a book too much leeway, with me.
I do.
I cannot imagine [or recall] abandoning a book after the first couple of chapters, and yet, I am not disagreeing with the [your] wisdom and/or suggestion in doing so!
Often, I have slogged on, through a book, only to come to the end and be TICKED OFF!
Like, why the hell did I waste so much of my life on this thing! [??]
Thing is, I am not a "classic" example of a reader.
I am the extreme, when it comes to reading. Like, what I mean by that is that I am willing to pretty much abandon ALL ELSE [except my nine to six job] to pursue my books.
It is almost not untrue to say that books are my LIFE, and that I am willing to forego any amount of human relationships before abandoning my time with the books... [this has led to a rather hermitous, yet "happy" existence], so, what I am trying to get at, is that I find myself actually MAKING TIME to endure several unpromising works, from time to time. I consider "finishing" as something of an accomplishment!
[Hmmmm.... are we still talking about "books" here, Cipriano?]
I find that I am far less lenient with what I consider bad "poetry" than I am with bad "prose".

But you make such relevant points here... in a sense, the onus is on the author to make us want to keep reading. This can extend itself even to the realm of where chapter breaks are placed... and yet, there are authors [like Jose Saramago, for instance] who defy every single rule of prose etiquette, and yet keep me interested in what the hell the next page is going to say!
Someone else, would throw his book against the wall, and prefer something by Nicholas Sparks, you know?
Is there ANY realm as fickle as that of which books will appeal to which people?

Anonymous said...

I don't think that the question of abandonment has much to do with such a thing as "bad" writing.

That is a label that I quite willingly apply - to Danielle Steele. Nicholas Sparks etc. But it has less to do with the quality (we spend too much time trying to figure out rankings of style and such, maybe) than with the sincerity of the thing.

I am talking about the desire of the author to get his truth across...and the desire of the reader to understand it as the writer took care to write it.

What I do not like about books that are overly sentimental or written in hackneyed prose or whatever is that they don't really care enough to find that "one true thing."

That is what I am after. And for it to really impact me it has to be expressed in a way that is conducive to my understanding it. That is, expressed freshly and effectively.

If you can stand yet another classic quotation, I hereby cite Francis Bacon, who - in his "Of Studies" said that "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in part; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention."

I might agree with him...were I one to be agreeable.

You write a dandy blog, Cipriano. Did you know that? In search of that one true it at Starbucks or on the streets of the city or in the interior of your mind.

Cipriano said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...



You say, "I find that I am far less lenient with what I consider bad "poetry" than I am with bad "prose."

Could that be because there is so much more bad poetry than bad prose?

Even the blessed Shelley who wrote at one point that he "fell upon the thorns of life" ["I bleed!"] could be quite guilty of oversentimentalizing, overwriting, pouring out his heart.
(My opinion only.)

I think the heart needs to BE there - omnipresent - but not ripped raggedly open for all to gape at.

A little decorum, please. After all, this is not some stumblebum wordblown passage...this is the very flower of language: poetry.

Question - Have you ever read a little volume called "Very Bad Poetry" - described on the back cover as "a compendium of the worst verse ever written in English - including such (mercifully) forgotten classics as 'The Stuttering Lover,' 'Ode on the Mammoth Cheese,' 'An Elegy to a Dissected Puppy,' and the immortal 'The Dentologia - A Poem on the Diseases of Teeth'"?

I feel fairly certain that you would enjoy this little volume...and since you are such a "tenacious" fellow, you would probably read it (in order, no less) right through to the bitter end, a poem called "A Tragedy" which begins:

"Death! / Plop. / The barges down in the river flop. / Flop, plop. . . "

Sorry. I have to stop there. I am getting too misty-eyed.

Give it a whirl, Cipriano.
I'd love to read it with you. To test your tenacity.

Jeane said...

I would suppose that I finish about eighty percent of the books I begin. That has changed over time; I used to be very anal about finishing every book I started, but one day just said to myself why am I reading this? If the subject, or the author, begins to bore me, I put it aside. (But I would never fling it in the fire or even against a wall. It's not the poor book's fault it doesn't meet my taste!) A few that I feel sure are good books I'm just not in the mood for, will remain on the side waiting for another chance... some of these have waited a year or so before I returned to them and was glad of the reading. (The Bone People, and National Velvet, in particular).

Thank you very much for the compliment, Cipriano, including mention of my blog in your post! I make notes of the unfinished books to keep a reminder of everything I've read, even if it's partial; and also so that I don't err on wasting time attempting those books again.

Cipriano said...

Holy moly!
I am inundated with severely erudite comments here, making me wish I was erudite!
I do think there is more bad poetry than good poetry. And definitely more bad poetry than bad prose.
Poetry.... umm... how does one say it?
It's like watching American Idol.
So many people think they can sing.
So many people think they can write poetry.
But.... so many people can do neither thing well. Thing is, poetry is a genre with so few criteria and/or rules... that a lot of real loonies end up published!
After all, it is poetry that gave rise to the term "poetic license" which basically means, anything goes!
Prose.... at least it is supposed to make sense.
And if it doesn't, it is instantly [appropriately] vulnerable to valid criticism. But poetry?
Poetry is a wide gate, through which cattle, people, monkeys, aardvarks, and Charles Bukowski have equal right of entry!

Jeane, your site is consistently tremendous.
It is my pleasure to introduce any of my readers to it.
I need to more frequently ask myself the question you say you ask yourself... "Why am I reading this?"
I have a limited amount of time to read, and I covet that time, greedily.
I look at my bookshelf[s].
I look at the time I have yet to live.
I should realize I am racing against the clock, here!

Rebecca H. said...

I don't abandon books very often either -- maybe even less often than you do. I can't remember the last time I didn't finish one. This is not good I'm pretty sure! Life is too short ...

Stefanie said...

I always talk big on abandoning books, why waste time on something I am not getting along with? But when it comes down to reality, I rarely abandon a book. I am in the middle--3/4 of the way through--a book I have not been enjoying. But for some reason I keep thinking it will get better. I am also reading it for a challenge so I somehow feel obligated to finish on that score. But really, why am I wasting my time on this book I grind my teeth while reading? I think Cip, you have inspired me to abandon it; given me courage even though I am closer to the end of the book than the beginning of the book. So thanks! Now let's see if I can stick to that tonight when I am looking for a book to read before bed!

Anonymous said...

I think that life is too short to read bad books. Sometimes a book doesn't speak to you like it might to someone else. Having said that, I've temporarily abandoned Atonement by Ian McEwan. Despite the book getting rave reviews all over the blog world, I just couldn't get into it. In fact, I posted about my *problem* and received some interesting comments...the post is a few posts down on my blog, it's called What Am I Missing?

Sam Sattler said...

The older I get, the more likely I am to abandon a book that is simply not working for me. I am becoming all too aware that I will never be able to read all the really good books out there and that every minute I spend reading something I don't enjoy is a wasted minute of my life.

Looking at my 2007 stats, I see that I finished 159 books and abandoned 14 others, right around 8% of the books I started. So far in 2008 I haven't abandoned a single one. I don't know if I've made better choices this year or have found more patience than I had last year.

Isabella K said...

The older I get, the likelier I am to consider abandoning a book. But I hardly ever do. There's a good dozen I've read in recent years I wish I had. There a handful that I've "set aside," but I have every intention of reading them someday.

I'd really like to get better at this whole abandonment thing, cuz life's too short.

Cipriano said...

The overwhelming consensus seems to be favoring the art of abandonment. And really, it does make sense.
If a book is not engaging the reader, really, the sensible thing I guess, is to chuck it, or maybe lend to to someone you don't like, or maybe just shelve it and return to it later.
I have had instances where it was just the wrong TIME for me to be reading a certain book. A few months later, a year later, and everything clicked!
I think I am sort of a bit like Stefanie and Isabella here, knowing at times that a book should be abandoned, but finding it difficult to actually leave it be.
Thank you all for your thoughtful input.

GFS3 said...

This is a difficult question and has to do with a lot of factors.

For example, if I buy a book, I give it more time to develop. If it's from the library -- I close it sooner.

If it's an author I like -- I give it more time. First time author? Not so much.

On the whole -- I hate giving up on a book and I used to never do it. Now I do it more often -- because my stack is enormous. There's no set page number or time for abandonment. It's more of a feeling. When I get the feeling -- I know I'm close to putting it down.

Susan said...

I tend to read and read a book even if I'm not enjoying it, because I think the problem must lie with me, not with the author. Even though as a writer, I also know that sometimes what is written, won't please everyone else! A conundrum! I think I want to be pleased, and I want to like the to cast it away means it is a dreadful book. I feel really guilty too1 So I can't remember what the last book I quit reading was, but I do know I have. I am trying to be more like one of your commentators adn realize that we only have so much time and there are so many good books out there, that i only want to read books that are good!!
PS where in Ottawa do you live? I'm in the West end.

Cipriano said...

Good points.
Covers closed due to inner inclination.
Whatever floats one's boat!

I live with an aerial shot of the Parliament Buildings, right downtown, by the Mint, in a penthouse apartment with full floor-to-ceiling window.
I know, I know.
Hey! Someone's gotta do it!
[Alanis Morissette is my neighbor].