Book worms: How far before you realize the book that you are reading is crap?

Not much of a book worm myself. I only read a couple of novels a year. I might read more if I find myself engrossed in a series; but it’s usually just around two a year.

I think one of my biggest deterrents towards reading is I have a fear that any book I might read could be total crap!

This would piss me off as reading to me is a chore. Don’t mind doing it if there is a payoff, but if not;… Grrr!!

Here’s the thing tho’: Books aren’t like movies. You can’t just read one for five minutes then say to yourself “Awe hell, this sucks!”

In books, you first have to make your way through the prologue, then the character descriptions and then finally get into the meat of the story before you realize it’s a crap book.

That’s alot of damn wasted effort if you ask me. But maybe I’m doing it wrong.

When do YOU put a book down before you know it’s crap? What are some of the red flags that tell you that? Are you at all afraid that if you put the book down it might get good a couple of chapters later? ( another big fear of mine)

How do you select the books you read? A big part of picking books I’m likely to enjoy is knowing which reviewers tend to appreciate the same things I do. For this reason, I check out the Onion’s AV Club book reviews regularly, just to see what’s out there and see readers’ responses to the review.

I also go on Amazon and read a couple of random pages to see if I like the style.

Otherwise, it’s hard for me to describe how and when I realize a book is shit. A lot of it comes from being a voracious reader, so I know what cues to watch for in the early going. You could probably recognize most or all of these yourself:

  1. Does the author show or tell? Strong writers show you what a character is thinking and feeling rather than relying on heavy exposition to tell you. Obviously, some exposition is OK, but if the exposition has to justify why a character behaved in a certain way, then chances are, it’s badly written.

  2. Are the characters flawed, or are they pretty much perfect except for maybe being slightly clumsy or shy or some other bullshit differentiator? If you have to imagine the characterization, it’s a crap book.

  3. Dialogue: Could you easily put a sentence spoken by one character into the mouth of another character? Once you’re familiar with the characters, you should be able to identify how one talks as something separate and different from how another talks, and not have to check the dialogue tags to see who said what.

Those are the biggies for me.

I can usually tell in the first paragraph. If the writer is a bad writer, it’s instantly obvious. If they’re a good writer, it will be worth reading, although obviously within that there’s a lot of variation.

When I get bored with it. When I realize I don’t care what happens next, I go on to something else.

I think you can. You can tell if it sucks for you anyway, and that’s what’s important.

I do what Beadalin does, especially the sampling at Amazon. Publishers who don’t let me read a sample won’t get my money.

Depends on the way the book sucks.

If it is the writing, generally that sucks from the very beginning. Just got back from a vacation where my books became unavailable and the only English language book in the hotel lobby was a recent Patricia Cornwell book. Only took a couple pages to know I was in for a terrible experience (but that was preferable to the alternative since the hotel rooms did not have TVs).

If it is the story that sucks then I’ll usually start to have my suspicions pretty early on. But there is no defense against something like American Gods which is a fantastic book until about 75 pages from the end when it just falls apart (in my opinion, of course).

About 70% of my reading is non-fiction however, and I’m always in fear of falling prey to a suspect book (factually or in how it stresses relative importance of events, etc.) on a subject in which I don’t have enough familiarity to recognize it. I’ve read one book on botany in the Outer Hebrides. It was a pleasant read but it may have been complete bunk and I’ll never know since that’s a subject unlikely to arise in any other book I read.

I understand. There is a lot of crap out there, and much of it on the bestseller lists.

Generally, I won’t pick up a book unless I’ve gotten a recommendation from a trusted source, or I’ve liked something else the author’s written.

Still, there are a whole lot of books I’d like to read, so I’m not going to fool around for long if a book doesn’t grab me. If it’s boring, I’ll slog a little, but if it’s actively irritating, screw it. I don’t have time.

Another thing that will really turn me off is bad editing. If I catch more than a couple spelling errors, I just lose respect for the book, the author, the publisher, etc. Even if I was enjoying the book up until then.


In the mystery genre, for example, there are writers who come up with ingenious plots, but whose prose style is clunky, whose dialogue is leaden, and whose characters are unappealing.

There are also those who create appealing characters, and write witty dialogue, but whose plots are absurdly thin or farfetched.

A book by the former type of writer gets tedious in a big hurry, unless the central mystery is introduced with a big bang very early.

On the other hand, a book by the latter type of writer may be fun for quite some time before the plot’s implausibility gets to be too much.

I generally read a novel in about two days, so it honestly doesn’t matter. Crap or not, I’ll finish it. I’ve gone through 75% of a completely terrible novel, only to find something well worth reading toward the end (and certainly vice versa - I’m looking at you, Stephen King).

The only time I’ll throw down a novel is if I get halfway through and realize I don’t remember who anyone is or why I should care. That rarely happens.

I’m with AuntiePam: you certainly can tell within 5 minutes if the book sucks or not.

I also like RealityChuck’s comment "When I get bored with it. When I realize I don’t care what happens next, I go on to something else. "

Really, if the book doesn’t grab me in the first chapter, I’ll put it down and grab the next one off the stack. I have plenty of books to read; there’s no need to slog through something because someone else said it would be good.

If it’s a book that I really think I oughta like (because of past reviews or I really trust who recommended it to me or I just have a hunch about it), I’ll keep it (or make a note of it, if it’s a library book) and come back to it later. I think I started Song of Fire and Ice about 3 times before I really got into it, and now it’s one of my favorite books. The false starts were wrong timing; for example, if I’m in the mood for literary fiction, fantasy won’t grab me, and vice-versa.

This. Usually, if a book doesn’t grab me on the first page, or at least within a few, it doesn’t turn out to be all that great if I press forward. It doesn’t even necessarily have to get to action or characterization right away; quite often I can be enticed just by the author’s voice and command of words. But whatever it is, if there’s nothing on the first page that I love, there probably won’t be in the rest of the book either.

Of course this can be modulated quite a bit depending on the type and period of the particular book, and there can always be exceptions, but it’s usually possible to tell right away if a book sucks.

I usually only buy books that I’ve heard are interesting or important, and if I don’t like them I at least often enjoy hating them. Not all the time - some are just boring - but many are completely loathsome in an interesting way, and then it makes a good topic of conversation. I think I’ve thought more about The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, which I hated, than about most of the books I’ve enjoyed over the past year. I’ve ranted to at least three friends about it, and had an hour-long conversation with one who had also read it and loved it.

I often leave library books unfinished, but since I follow RealityChuck’s formula on those, I don’t feel any guilt or regret.

I have a disease called Stubbornitis, where I refuse to put a book down just because it’s crap. Whether out of hope for any redeeming quality to pop up, or a desire to fairly criticize the book in a blog review, I just plod on. The only time the hurting came close to physical pain was this “Pride and Prejudice” homage where this modern-day chick steals (the fictional) Mr. Darcy’s heart. Awful, just awful.

I am leery of putting down a book after the first 25 or even 50 pages, though I certainly have when needed. I had a really hard time getting into Shogun - Blackthorne was just such an asshole for the first half. Then suddenly it picked up and to this day I rank it as one of the best books I ever read.

However, as others have said, it usually depends on the way it sucks. Most books you can tell within the first 25 pages. I try to read at least a quarter of the book, whatever book it is, if it’s not boring me to much, but honestly, there’s a whole library just waiting for me there and I can just go back.

And I pick books with almost no rhyme or reason. Literally. I browse through the fiction sections and pick books that I like the title of. I read the book jacket. If it sounds interesting, into the bag it goes.

I find it best to judge a book by its cover. :smiley:

Actually, I tend to select books because they are by authors I trust (either through personal experience, or by recommendations from friends with similar taste) or because they are famous classics that I want to have read, whether they suck or not…TRM

If nothing has happened by the end of the first chapter, nothing is going to happen.

I resisted the application of this rule reading everything by Jane Austen (except Pride and Prejudice), and Confederacy of Dunces, because people told me it got better. It never did.

I don’t necessarily need a big sex scene or somebody being disemboweled by the end of the second paragraph, but once I have given the author a fair chance, life is too short to be stubborn about what I read.


I’m with StoutHearted and filling pages I guess. I read fairly quickly, (usually around 100 pages a night, more if I’m really into a book) and I have a stubborn streak which makes me perservere with all but the most dire of books. Having said that a couple have defeated me that I recall:

I can’t remember the title, part of a series by Janny Wurts - absolutely awful fantasy writing with far too many adjectives for my liking.

Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire - I enjoyed the first volume, but started to tire of the sheer verbiage, just not really into the eighteenth century literary style I guess (I will give it another go one day though…

In my younger and more vulnerable years I had a 100-page rule: I would give any book that many pages to keep me interested, and if it didn’t I would either ditch it or speed-browse the rest. Now that I’m older and closer to death, I only give them 50 pages.

^Nancy Pearl, the librarian action figure lady, says you should give up if you don’t like a book in 50 pages, or 100 minus your age if you’re over 50, because time is running out. :slight_smile:

If it’s bad writing I can tell right away.

The WORST is when it’s something that’s well-written, but there is something fundamentally wrong with it that doesn’t come out until near the end. Then I am truly annoyed that I wasted my time. Recently, this happened with a mystery that was well-written, and then in the end, the crime was solved because gay people are pedophiles. I’m not talking about a situation where this was the opinion of a character in the book, or that one gay person coincidentally also happened to be a pedophile, but the solving of the mystery hinged upon the “obvious fact” that gay people are pedophiles. Grrrr. :rolleyes:

I find a lot of books through recommendations, but book lovers also develop a good sense, I think, of what they will like. It’s as if you can tell, without any conscious effort but you’re subliminally keeping track of it, if the publisher and the author and the way the book is presented are similar to other books you have liked.