A list of abandoned books (plus an abandoned book give-away!)

No one likes layoffs. But in economics you learn that labor market flexibility is a two-way street. If employers know that they can cut jobs if they need to, they’re more likely to hire people. If they can’t cut jobs, they’ll need to be really certain before they add people to the payroll, and the pace of hiring is slower than it might otherwise be.

In my quest to read more books, I’ve adopted the same mindset. I don’t want to abandon a book after starting it, but if that’s an option, then I’m more likely to try a book. Sometimes, I wind up reading a lot of books by an author after trying one I wasn’t sure I’d like!

Over the past few months, here’s a partial list of books I’ve abandoned (I’m not including review copies someone sent me that I just glanced at — since I wasn’t actively choosing to purchase those books, I don’t think it really counts as abandoning them. But oh boy, I abandon a LOT of those.) Since I purchased several of these in physical form, here’s the give-away: Please leave a comment here about books you’ve abandoned. I’ll choose one random commenter on Thursday and mail that commenter his/her choice of one of my abandoned books that I own in physical form (indicated by an asterisk; I read others on Kindle).

Now wait, you say — if you abandoned these books, why would someone else want them? The answer is that everyone has different tastes (you’ll see a theme in some I abandoned). I abandoned books that are on lists of the best American novels. I abandoned books that were run-away bestsellers. I abandoned books by authors who have cult followings. In this case, the phrase “It’s not you, it’s me” really fits. These books just need a better home!

The Little French Bistro*, by Nina George. I read and mostly enjoyed The Little Paris Bookshop. This has a very similar theme (unhappy person goes off on quest through gorgeous French landscape). The difference is that I really don’t like the device of the mistreated woman no one understands who turns out to be something special. I particularly hate when authors rack up the misery at the beginning as a way to make us cheer for this mistreated woman. Marianne, the heroine, is escaping a miserable 41 year marriage with a guy whose wretchedness just goes on and on and on. I skimmed the first 40 pages describing this bad marriage, and then I realized from the flap copy that he was going to return. I read a few pages in the middle and couldn’t get back into it. But the description of the French landscape is really nice, so that’s a selling point if someone else would like it!

Girl with a Pearl Earring*, by Tracy Chevalier. Probably abandoned for similar reasons. The heroine becomes a servant girl that no one really understands until the painter discovers she’s special. Tons of people loved this book. I read for a while, but didn’t love it enough to keep going. I should mention here that I also abandoned The Secret Life of Bees several years ago, another book that seemingly everyone loved.

This Side of Paradise*, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Clearly, an “it’s not you, it’s me” choice here. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of Princeton is a literary classic. But I had trouble with Tender is the Night because I didn’t like any of the characters. I realized a few dozen pages into this one that Amory Blaine was going to be even worse. To be sure, no one in The Great Gatsby is all that likable either, but somehow those characters seem more sympathetic.

Hawaii*, by James Michener. I went to Hawaii over spring break. In anticipation of going, I bought this doorstop epic of a novel about the history of Hawaii, thinking it would be great to read on the plane over. Fortunately, I started it prior to getting on the plane, and realized I wasn’t going to like it, thus saving me a lot of weight in my baggage. The opening about the geologic history of Hawaii was interesting. But then we cut to seafaring tribes in Polynesia who engage in human sacrifice, and I’m just not that into reading about human sacrifice. I presume that part’s over by about 100 pages in, though, if someone else likes Michener and wants to give this one a shot.

The Green Hills of Africa, by Ernest Hemingway. This one is on Kindle, so I can’t give it away. But Hemingway’s non-fiction discussion of his African travels just didn’t have the same zip as some other travel writing I’ve enjoyed much more (e.g. Bill Bryson).

In Morocco, by Edith Wharton. Same as above. Great author. Just not my favorite work.

Absolutely on Music*, by Haruki Murakami. I’ve enjoyed several Murakami novels, and I enjoyed What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. So, since I like music too, I figured I would enjoy his musings on this. I didn’t. It’s a dialogue between him and a conductor, Seiji Ozawa, and it wound up being a wee bit inside baseball for me. Could be perfect for the symphony connoisseur in your life.

Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop of Dreams*, by Jenny Colgan. I read (and finished) The Little Beach Street Bakery, and The Bookshop on the Corner. But possibly two novels with pretty much the same plot was enough. This would make a good beach read, though, so I’m sure someone else will really like this tale of a forlorn young urban woman who goes to the UK countryside to revive a relative’s sweet shop (as opposed to a forlorn young urban woman who goes to the Cornish coast and starts a bakery, or a forlorn young urban woman who goes to the Scottish highlands to start a book store. Also, lots of hot local men!)

The Wedding Bees*, by Sarah-Kate Lynch. I think the chick lit/beach read genre is just not my thing. This is a tale of a woman who runs away at the alter, and moves every year bringing her colony of bees (!) with her, making new friends, then moving away just as quickly. Until she finds true love! If you read the New York Times wedding announcements, which feature in here, you’d likely enjoy this.

The Best American Science Writing. I like science writing, much of the time, but I also realized that anthologies don’t inspire me to keep reading the way one coherent narrative does. If reading time is limited, best to go with something else.

What books have you abandoned? How far do you need to read into a book to decide it’s OK to abandon? Or if you’ve never abandoned a book, I’m intrigued to learn that too!


75 thoughts on “A list of abandoned books (plus an abandoned book give-away!)

  1. ~150 pages into Infinite Jest; ~100 pages into Crime and Punishment. For people who abandon these books, these seem to be common stopping points.

  2. I noticed a pattern in mine too. I hate superficial books where they talk only about shopping for brand names in NYC or London. And botox. 🙂

    I’m not against shopping but that is the plot.

    So the latest one I abandoned is How not to shop 🙂

    But my list doesn’t have much of a thread otherwise except… badly written.


    PS I love Jenny Colgan books. I find them good palate cleansers after heavier books or a spate of non-fiction 🙂

  3. I abandoned Along the Infinite Sea and Nutshell recently; thankfully, I have access to a fantastic library with an extensive collection of “e” books that I can download from the comfort of home; which encourages me to start many books that I would never pay for; and I often take the suggestions books promoted within the site.

  4. I guess it says a lot about me that I can’t really remember the last book I abandoned. It was probably one of those personal development books.

    What can I say, I have a lot of free time on my hands and a big dislike of people telling me what to do with my life :).

  5. This is interesting. I abandon many books (from the library, mostly from random staff picks) within the first few pages.

    Three notable books I have begun multiple times and never managed to complete: Woolf’s The Voyage Out, Adichie’s Americanah, and Whitehead’s The Intuitionist. For many reasons I really *wanted* to like these books (why I kept restarting) and I suspect if I find the right moment I’ll finish them. FWIW, The Garden of Eden is the book that made me change my mind about Hemingway. It’s my favorite of his by far.

    1. @gwinne- I just saw The Voyage Out is free on Kindle, so I downloaded it. We’ll see if I make it through! I made it through the Waves, so my tolerance for Woolf is pretty high. I have not read anything by Adichie though I really probably should.

  6. I abandoned Chernow’s Hamilton biography. I saw and loved Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical. I enjoyed the early parts of Chernow’s book. However, after trying to read this I think Miranda is even more of a genius–he apparently read this doorstop in a week on vacation (obviously this was before he and his wife had children). Maybe if I could sit for a week and do nothing but read I could get engrossed, but since that is not in my near future I just couldn’t build the momentum to keep going on this one.

  7. I second the quitting of Crime and Punishment about 100 pages in. More recently, I quit The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. I was rather surprised by my quitting because I consistently rank Bill Bryson as one of my favorite authors, but that one just didn’t do it for me!

  8. I initially abandoned The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I was encouraged to try it again. I abandoned it again. I was then told to not expect much in the first 100 pages, but to plug along anyway. Was glad I did. Loved it.
    I abandoned every Fitzgerald I ever started. Abandoned Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, and Tools of Titans.
    May go back to Vampires, but doubtful on the others.

  9. I’ve tried a couple of chick lit books, mostly Jennifer Weiner, and they’re not for me, either. (Lest that sound pompous, I still will check out practically any book that has “diet” or “organized” in the title.)

    I recently abandoned “The Shipping News.” Interesting plot, but the language really grated on me.

    Sad to say, I start and abandon “Moby Dick” every year.

  10. I abandoned Anna Karenina. It’s just … long. And weighty. This was several years ago and even after purging all sorts of other books I’ve held onto it thinking I’d return one day.

  11. I abandon books so much now that I can’t really come up with a list! I’d have to look at my Kindle. I have a different reaction to anthologies, though- I like them because they’re good to dip into between bigger books. Sometimes I’m just no ready to let the last book go… but I want something to read. A short story or essay is perfect in that case! I also like them for before bed reading when I want to be sure I don’t “accidentally” stay up an extra hour reading. But I’ll happily skip entries that I don’t like as much and go on to the next.

    1. @Cloud – since I was reading The best science writing anthology on my kindle it was a wee bit less intuitive to skip around, so that might have something to do with it. But as I think about it, there aren’t a whole lot of anthologies I’ve read through, so it’s probably not my favorite format, regardless.

  12. The Merry Wives of Maggody by Joan Hess, about 3 chapters in. I just didn’t like the characters. I was surprised, because so many people LOVE the Maggody books. Oh well.

    I almost abandoned The Wurst is Yet to Come by Mary Daheim, but I wanted to find out Whodunnit. Again, I didn’t like the characters. None of them. At all.

    The same with Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James. I almost abandoned it, but I was enjoying all the characters EXCEPT the main guy and his cat. I thought they were boring and bland. All the other characters were much more interesting!!!

    However, I am absolutely LOVING The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. All the characters are well written, and I like the way they interact. Sometimes it reminds of P. G. Wodehouse, but not farcical.

    1. Mine too! I was just going to say that this was a book that has stuck with me for YEARS. 🙂

      I also absolutely LOVED The Secret Life of Bees and devoured it while we stayed in a cabin for a weekend and I found it there. Funny 🙂

  13. I have abandoned Foucault’s Pendulum…TWICE. I loved The Name Of The Rose, but have not gotten to the “payoff” of this book. I feel guilty, maybe I should try again this decade….

    1. Many people abandon Foucault’s Pendulum. It is a very complex book. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but then I also enjoyed Sometimes a Great Notion, which has some similar complexities. It’s been a while since I read it, but I think it takes 100 pages or more for things to start coming together for most readers.

  14. I love reading so much more now that I’ve given myself permission to abandon books! The most recent one I abandoned was Into the Water by Paula Hawkins – I just couldn’t get into it!

  15. I tend to make my way through most books, including Crime and Punishment, those it was a crime and certainly a punishment! A Confederacy of Dunces was one I just couldn’t stand and will not pick up again. Not sure how far I got, but not far.

    1. Oh, the Confederacy! Yes, I abandoned that one, too. UGH. I just couldn’t get into it – and what was its point? LOL!

  16. The Case Against Sugar.

    Or anything by Gary Taubs rallying against sugar.

    Really, it needs about a paragraph of explanation, not the thousand or so pages he’s cumulatively devoted to the issue.

        1. Ha…okay..you’ve just reminded me that I gave up on Taubes’ “Why We Get Fat.” I thoroughly skimmed it though!

    1. I keep reading, hoping many hours of hearing about this topic will motivate me to actually eat less sugar. No luck so far.

  17. I’ve abandoned many of those already listed, but also 100 years of solitude, and Cutting for stone. As a physician it’s basically illegal not to like Cutting for stone, but… after the first part I really couldn’t get into it.

    1. I couldn’t get through 100 years of solitude either. Tried multiple times. I enjoyed Love in the Time of Cholera though, if you really want to read the author.

    2. I am a physician and I could not read Cutting for Stone. I recently read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for a book club (after having read it in 2010) and wanted to chuck it too. I am pretty sure now that I work in the field these books feel too much like work. I enjoyed When Breath Becomes Air, but I think that is because it falls into the Living Life category and not the medical non-fiction category.

      1. @Gillian – I could see that being an issue. I’m not that into reading most self-help/personal development books. Or books on women/work/life. Partly it’s that many are badly written and annoying, but also I spend too much time thinking about the topic to want it in my leisure time, when I generally am interested in thinking/learning about something else.

        1. To your point about bad writing, there is a lot of bad medical writing too. There is a lot of “mystery” and misinformation around medicine, medical research and medical training and much the of the writing out there does more to maintain the sensationalism than to dispel the myths . That really gets me going–I feel bad for my book club pals after the Henrietta Lacks meeting, I had a lot to say.

          1. You are so right Gillain. If you haven’t read them already you might find Ben Goldacre’s books a very satisfying take on all the bad science and medical writing out there.

      2. I got through half of the Henrietta lacks book, and also could not finish it. I felt like I’d gotten what I needed from the first half, though.

  18. I abandoned Consilience by Edmund O Wilson more than twenty years ago. But I’ve made the promise to myself to read it to the end before I die. Haven’t even started it again yet though.

  19. “Shatter Me” by Tahereh Mafi. I just couldn’t stand the narrator’s “voice”—it was painful to read!

  20. I love this idea for a post! Thanks to Goodreads, I can see that I’ve abandoned a total of 40 books since I first started tracking all my reading in 2008.

    Most recently I abandoned The Course of Love. I’ve been married ten years, love reading different portrayals of marriage, etc. but I found the husband SO intensely dislikable and their relationship utterly unrelatable. Calling his wife boring and a c*nt, breaking furniture in rage when she tries to discuss finances, all the insecurity and lashing out about his job, to say nothing having an affair? No, so much no, to all of it.

    1. @Jenny- I actually liked The Course of Love — seeing all those problems in it, of course, and others (the philosophizing is just much too much after a while) but to me the story made up for the flaws. To each his own!

    2. I bought the Course of Love on Modern Mrs Darcy’s recommendation and gave it to my husband for Valentine’s Day 🙂

      He gave it 3* and told me it was a complete labour of love pushing through and finishing it.

      So now I’m dreading it too…..

      1. @Marcia- so interesting to see the strong reactions to it! There were definitely some brings moments. But it was so different from many other “romances” that I found it intriguing.

  21. “Bel Canto” and “The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread” (loved the title but not the first few pages).

  22. I ‘ve abandoned What I Know for Sure from Ophrah. It was not exciting or interesting for me. I hate abandon books…

  23. War and Peace (150 pages in) I started it more for the pretense, but couldn’t follow the names of the characters.
    I also abandoned Paradise. Even in high school I couldn’t stand the pretense (ha!) and class envy that made this book popular back in the day.

    1. @Brigitta- as I think back, I’m pretty sure I started and abandoned War and Peace twice, each time after 200 pages. I guess I just felt like that was enough book.

  24. The DaVinci Code was abandoned after 75 pages. I just had no patience for the plot or that brand of descriptive writing! I’ve also been trying to read Ulysses for years, but I struggle. I like some of Joyce’s other writing, but I have hard time with this one!

    1. @Jennifer- I put Ulysses in the spinach category of literature. You know something important and exciting in a literary sense is going on, but still. Hard to make it through. I read it while on a 10-day journey through Tasmania, which helped somewhat (see, I’m on an odyssey too!) Also, it was assigned for class. So there’s that. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was so much more doable.

  25. Ooh, abandoned book lists. I’ve been keeping one this year myself.

    Miracle on Maple Hill – older kidlit. Syrupy, no pun intended. The lead character is kind of a wuss.

    Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson – I think I could have liked this, pre-kids, but I can’t deal with children in precarious situations anymore.

    What I Saw and How I Lied – started on audio, just never finished.

    My Kitchen Year

    Carve the Mark by the author of Divergent – I may pick this up some other time, just not the right book at the moment

    Rebecca – got about 50 pages in and realized I’d abandoned it before. Love the movie.

    Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin – I wanted to argue with her about fried chicken

    Jane Steele – Why do I pick up Jane Eyre parallels/knockoffs?

    Northanger Abbey – Still don’t like Jane Austen.

    City Bakers Guide to Country Living – tone/protagonist just didn’t work for me

    1. @Byrd – I abandoned Rebecca too. Also, if I’m honest, I did not read all the way through Pride and Prejudice, which might get me excommunicated among some readers. I read the first 30 pages, and then most of the last half (including the ending). But I’m just not as into Austen as I know many, many people are.

  26. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. I read Angle of Repose in college and picked this up. No go.

  27. A Tale for the Time Being by Ozeki
    I stopped reading after a few chapters. Something about the Japanese teen culture just didn’t interest me. I do find that I tend to skim the ends of books rather than totally abandoning them, but this one just didn’t interest me at all.

  28. After reading “The Power and The Glory,” I immediately went in search of another Greene book. Unfortunately the next book I chose was “The Quiet American.” I read about a third of the book and just can’t seem to find any interest in this title (its even a fairly short read). Time to try “The Heart Of The Matter.”

  29. I abandoned “All the Birds in the Sky” recently, which was disappointing because it’s a finalist for the best novel Hugo and I wanted to read them all this year. And I was especially looking forward to this one because of how much I loved Charlie Jane Anders’ short story “Six Months, Three Days.” Well … you win some, you lose some.

  30. I’ve abandoned several free Kindle books lately but the most memorable one for me was my very first abandon around age 10. I’d never ever abandoned a book at that time, I was reading everything I could get my hands on because I didn’t own many books. But I simply couldn’t get through Watership Down. To this day I remember that acute sinking feeling of defeat/failure. I’m glad to have outgrown it.

    1. @Revanche – I’ve never read Watership Down, though it’s one of those books I’ve always heard about and thought possibly I should read. Never seemed to rise to the top of the TBR list though.

  31. War and Peace – HA! I got through it by skipping the historical stuff at the beginning of each chapter. I did OK with the characters’ names, probably because I’d had that problem with Dr. Zhivago until I saw the movie and understood how Russian names work.

  32. I end up abandoning a lot of library books for the same reasons as your layoff analogy. When I read about a book that seems interesting, I can put it on hold and if I don’t like it, all I have to do is return it. I also end up abandoning library books simply because I’ve run out of time and renewals. I’m more selective in the books I buy, though I did recently sign up for Book of the Month club. I suppose if I end up abandoning the books I buy there, I will cancel the membership.

    Overall, I usually give a book 50 pages to grab my interest. Some are just slow starters. Like many of the commenters here, I’ve abandoned War and Peace (though not Anna Karenina, which is one of my favorites). Recently, I abandoned 10th of December by George Saunders–not because it was poorly written but because the stories of unfortunate characters were giving me bad dreams. I did just read and love his new novel Lincoln in the Bardo.

    1. @Elizabeth – I have thought about trying Lincoln in the Bardo. It sounds like I would not like 10th of December. I don’t like stories of unfortunate characters too much.

    1. I too enjoy seeing which posts get lots of comments. Because the blogger is very near and dear to me, I could comment daily but don’t!

      In this case, I saw on Goodreads that I had “abandoned” 21 books since January 2016. I don’t even record books that I can’t get into at all–like The Course of Love. There are so many good books to read that I say there are no rules that one has to finish a book or that one can’t read the end before the middle. Laura’s father would disagree!

  33. It took me until my late 30s to be able to abandon a book without guilt 🙂

    SO many of the monthly free Kindle books I’ve gotten have been awful.

    I’ve tried a couple of Steinbeck books and never got very far. I feel bad about that as an American 🙂

    I just gave away David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I finally did manage to get through it after several false starts but still didn’t love it. I’d rather read a summary of his system.

    I cannot read Wally Lamb books. I abandoned She’s Come Undone after about 10 pages because I could see where it was going and my heart couldn’t take it. I read another one more recently, also with child abuse, and would have abandoned it if it weren’t for the fact that it was for the first virtual book club meeting I held with a couple of friends. That one sticks with me to this day and not in a good way. I wish I had not finished it.

    Stephen King – Misery. I adored most of his books (read all of the classics around age 9!) but this one made me too squeamish to continue.

    1. @ARC – fascinating that you abandoned GTD! Though yes, it’s a system, not a narrative. So a summary would probably work too.
      And I can’t stand reading child abuse stories either.

    2. GTD is not wonderfully written (but then again, not many self-development books are, in my opinion) but I look at it as what can I get from this that will save me time/ money/ make me change a habit, etc. Even one great idea makes a non-fiction book worthwhile for me. And GTD definitely has changed my workflow for the good over the years 🙂

      I used to read thrillers of all types pre-kids but I cannot read anything even remotely abusive these days – my heart is very sensitive after infertility and ultimately having the twins.

  34. Didn’t see the Thursday deadline but thought I’d post anyway. :-). I abandoned Option B. Found it a little depressing but then I actually used something from the book when dealing with a colleague who was grieving the loss of her mother and it was so perfect so I picked it back up and continued reading. Was so worth it!

  35. I freely and gladly abandon books. Reading is my hobby, not my job, and I don’t waste time on books I dislike. An eclectic assortment of my abandoned books is: Don Quixote, the latest Shopaholic book, My Brilliant Friend, and a book about improving your memory.

  36. I don’t abandon books because I like to read through each one. For example in The Lord of The Rings (all three included as J.R.R Tolkien meant it to be) nothing much goes on for the first 100 pages so if you stop before you miss out on what many think is one of the greatest books written either.

    I believe books are:
    Those you remember and sort of “carry with you” for different reasons.

    Books which are good but after a year or so you need to think before remembering you read them.

    Books which are quickly read and often quickly forgotten as well.

    Instead of abandoning books (the few I buy) I like to read them until I feel I know them and then I’m happy to donate them to somebody else to enjoy.

    I don’t dislike predictable books – they can be very amusing – but they will fall into the category “quickly read and quickly forgotten”.

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