The Psychology of Book Abandonment

What Makes You Abandom a Book
There is only one thing book readers like myself enjoy as much as reading…and that’s reading statistics about reading! *Looks incredibly nerdy*.
I was participating in my regular skim of the Huffington Post books section when I came across an article on ‘The Psychology of Abandonment’. As a reader and aspiring psychologist I couldn’t let that title go. I clicked and discovered a beautiful infographic created by Goodreads (click here to view it and the article) that was a culmination of statistics attempting to explain when readers decide to give up on a book.

The findings show the top five novels Goodreads users have labeled as unfinished:
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Wicked by Gregory Maguire. (Not necessarily in that order.)

The first thing I noticed was that they were all incredibly well known or popular titles. It’s always interesting to see that just because something is a bestseller doesn’t mean everybody likes it! In fact, I think that is half the problem. We’re sheep people. After all, why am I reading the Stieg Larsson books when I’m not keen on crime fiction or thrillers? Why, because the bestsellers list told me to of course! I couldn’t resist the pull of the buzz. When the Millenium series first came out everybody was talking about them, calling the books the best of crime fiction yet, with an original heroine. This coupled with having the novels shoved in my face by advertising every day finally wore me down and I started borrowing the books off a friend.

It gets to a point when some books are so saturated that you can’t help but overthink maybe the books really are good, maybe I’ll like this crime book when I haven’t liked others before it. Plus, I hate to feel like I’m out of the literary loop. I’m betting the same went for Fifty Shades of Grey, and Eat Pray, Love parallel to the other reasons mentioned, humans have a curious and collective nature.

IMG_6610The second theme that seems apparent is different expectations. The biggest reason for abandoning The Casual Vacancy was that it was ‘a far cry from the Harry Potter series’. (Well, duh. But we’ll forgive them.) The main reason for abandoning Wicked was that it wasn’t the musical. In these cases it seems readers were disappointed because they wanted something different from the book due to preconceived expectations. Maybe Wicked lacked the emotional swelling music that the readers really wanted when they bought the novel, all the while knowing deep down that they were never going to get it. The book was a way to try and recapture the magical feeling they experienced when they first saw the musical, but perhaps it didn’t quite live up to it. Equally, some bought J.K. Rowling because deep down they wanted something resembling Harry Potter, even if they had been told numerous times that was not what they were going to get.

Of course it could be argued that the reason these novels were abandoned was simple, they were bad books. It could also be argued that it is a logical self-fulfilling prophecy, the more popular a book is, the more people read it, the higher number of people will dislike it. I also find it very interesting that there are no young adult books in the top five, what do we take from this? Is it simply that less people read young adult? That seems unlikely from the number of blogs and Goodreads statuses I see. Are young adult books more engaging? Or is it because they use more accessible language?

Along with the top five most abandoned books we are also given the five most abandoned classics: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, Ulysses by James Joyce, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.
It is not so hard to work out why these were abandoned, most of them are on the longer side of the average book length, classics are harder work to get through and are more often forgotten.

The biggest reasons cited for giving up a book were ‘slow, boring’ 46.4%, ‘weak writing’ 18.8% and ‘extremely stupid’ 8.8%. Most people continued reading a book because they ‘like to finish things’ 36.6%, (It’s so funny, I voted for this one on the Goodreads poll, I helped make an infographic, weeeee!) had to ‘know what happens’ 25.2% or that it was ‘a compulsive habit’ 13.4%. The breaking point when people give up most was found to be the 50-100 page mark.

IMG_6593 brown

A selection of the most abandoned books/book series.

I was incredibly interested to read these results as I am one of those readers who never gives up on a book. I can only recall it happening three times and two of those were because I had to return a book to the library (and I have since bought them so I can finish them eventually). I even have difficulties giving up on a series if I’m not getting much enjoyment out of it. This probably sounds crazy when there are so many other wonderful books out there I could be spending my valuable time on instead, but it’s how my brain works!
I stick with novels partly because I like to finish things as the infographic suggests, but also because even if I don’t like a book, it teaches me something about writing, societal issues or myself. Of course there is also the possibility that a book or series will improve as it goes along, in this respect I am an optimist. 🙂

An infographic like this will never be entirely accurate; not all readers use Goodreads, not all Goodreads frequenters mark books as unfinished (me for example) and some may not admit when they have given up on a book, but the results are interesting nonetheless!

How do you interpret Goodreads findings and do you think they are accurate? When is that breaking point that makes you give up on a book? I would love to hear from you! 😀

Image Sources:
All my own.

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38 thoughts on “The Psychology of Book Abandonment

  1. I think you make an important point re self-fulfilling prophecies. The more copies a book sells, the more people will abandon it. Concerning young-adult books, could it just be that that particular age group maybe aren’t as active on Goodreads?

    I’m also compulsive with finishing books. If I abandon a book it happens within the first few pages. If the narrator’s voice doesn’t speak to me I’m out (in that way I put down Gatsby, Dorian Gray and Vampire Diaries – I’m planning on returning to the first two).

    The exception was Moby Dick. I laboured through half of it before I put it down. It was depressing to reach the halfway mark in a book with nothing having happened yet. I’m planning to still finish it, but not just now. I’ve also started The Silmarillion by Tolkien several times without making it all the way through. But that’s not technically a novel. Speaking of which, I often leave non-fiction unfinished, but it’s easy with those to come back and pick up where you left off.

    • Thanks kokkieh I’m glad you agree, it does seem quite logical but it’s hard to know for sure without all the variables, although I doubt they took that link into consideration in the results. That’s an interesting idea, I’m not actually that sure what the biggest demographic for Goodreads is. I think quite a lot of younger age groups use it but I don’t honestly know the ratio, it would be interesting to find out!

      It is a bit compulsive isn’t it? Wow, you tried Vampire Diaries, that’s interesting, was that the L.J. Smith book or a different one? I’m not surprised you put down Gatsby and Dorian under that criteria, they didn’t immediately grab me either, in fact, their narrative’s didn’t grab me at any point in the novel! (At least they’re both short though.)

      I’ve heard that barely anything happens in Moby Dick, it seems to be what it is famously know for, and a whole lot of philosophy. I’m unsure whether I will attempt Moby Dick one day, well done for getting half way through though, I’m sure it was a challenge. 🙂 I’ve always wanted to read The Silmarillion. That’s a very good point too, I’m much more likely to leave non-fiction because it’s often more of a reference.

      • Vampire Diaries by LJ Smith, yes. The wife and I were watching the series, then she thought it’d be a good idea to get me the books. Way different from the series, which is not that much of an issue. But I laboured through the first few pages and decided if it’s not a classic I’m not going to work at it. As I said, I’m planning to return to the other three. But maybe I’ll read Gatsby after I see the movie…

      • Ahh right, I watch the series too, I really loved it at first but didn’t think the last season was as good. I’ve read a lot of the books, up to the point where a ghost writer takes over. I have the first ghost book but haven’t felt much like trying it. The Vampire Diaries series may be the most bizarrebooks I’ve ever read! They’re so…surreal, it is really quite odd. I don’t think you missed out on much by stopping if that makes you feel any better. 🙂

        I just watched the Gatsby film the other day and loved it, I thought it was much better than the book, which never happens!

  2. Although it makes for interesting reading, I’d be wary of putting too much currency into a poll conducted on a public website – there’s too many variables involved for it to be taken too seriously. A similar poll on a site like That Library Thing might yield considerably different results because it attracts a different crowd.

    I haven’t given up on very many books myself and I kind of understand the need to finish a series – I was like that with the Millenium trilogy, with much of the third book being a drag. It’s kind of like waiting for a bus that is running late. Although the logical thing to do would be to find another way, once you’ve invested a certain amount of time into something it’s hard to give it up.

    I reckon that people give up on Atlas Shrugged because they realise that Ayn Rand is an obnoxious old cow.

    The reason for giving up on Wicked is rather amusing, I have to say.

    • Me too Michael, that’s why I made sure to add the bit at the end. 🙂 Not only can the stats be interpreted in different ways but they are not representative of the whole public either! They also only release the results and not how they came about them, for instance the one I took part in was a poll and we don’t know how many people took the poll overall! That’s a good point, different book sites could attract completely different crowds. 🙂

      I’m glad you understand it Michael, they way you’ve described it is completely right, when you invest so much time you do feel if would be a bit naff to give up before the end. I agree with the last Millennium book too, it’s SO drawn out! It’s taken me at least a year, probably over to get the willpower to pick up the last book, lol.

      I don’t know much about Atlas Shrugged but I have heard something along those lines. 😛

      Haha that’s what I thought, and The Casual Vacancy!

  3. I’ve given up books from time to time, usually at the beginning.
    If I haven’t been grabbed in the first few chapters, I try and walk away before I read 300 pages of “why the hell am I reading this?”.

    To be fair, Catch 22 is work to read, but it’s a great story!
    The sequel, Closing Time is also pretty good, but not as good.

    • It can definitely be jarring if a book doesn’t hook you at the beginning, it just shows how important first chapters are! You see that’s quite logical, I should do that! The problem is I’ve usually bought the book so once I’ve done that I feel I might as well read it. I’d probably feel differently if it was a kindle.

      I don’t actually know anything about Catch 22, I’m looking forward to reading it in the future. 🙂 Thanks for the heads up. I had no idea there was a sequel!

  4. It’s only recently that I gave myself permission to put down a book if I wasn’t enjoying it or getting something from it. Before I would force myself to keep going, but life is short. If a book isn’t floating my boat for whatever reason – story not gripping, sucky characters, writing not a style I’m enjoying, I close it and move on.

    • You see I wish I could do that, that would be the sensible thing to do. Good for you! I hope one day I will be able to swap to that mentality, maybe as I get older I will decide it’s more important to just read what I love. 🙂

  5. That was an interesting article, thanks for including the link in your post. My biggest reason for DNFing a book is if it’s utterly un-compelling. I can get past horrible characters (e.g. Walking Disaster) or bad editing, or bad writing even, but I have be hooked by the events occurring.

    • Thank you, I’m glad I could post about something interesting! I knew as soon as I saw it that it could make a good blog post. 🙂
      I get what you mean, I think that is always when I abandon books too! A novel can be terrible in so many ways yet you can still want to know what happens and route for a character or two. It’s those books that are totally un-compelling as you’ve said when you could care less what happens that finally makes me give up!

  6. I’m like you in that I very rarely give up on a book. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I did. I even finished both The Casual Vacancy and Wicked, even though I didn’t care for either one of them. However, right now I am really struggling with World War Z. I think it’s because it’s basically written as survivors’ accounts, but just when you start getting into one person’s story, it switches to another one. However, people have told me (including my son, Daniel, who read it in school) that the stories all come together at some point, so I will keep plugging away. More often than not, I always enjoy the book better than the movie, but World War Z is one case where the movie was way, way better!

    • I can always trust that we will have similar book thoughts Cindy, we seem to think alike! 🙂 I remember you saying that you weren’t that impressed with Wicked which makes me slightly more wary of it. I value your book opinions. I need to read the original story first before I tackle it. I’ve wanted to read The Wizard of Oz for ages, along with the rest of the series. I hope to get round to it one day because I love the film, LOL!

      Ohh no, I’ve noticed you tend to enjoy most book you read. I can see how that could be jarring and quite frustrating. I hope your son is right and it will pick up for you soon. 🙂 The movie looks pretty great, especially the special effects! What about Cuckoo’s Calling, how’s that one going?

      • Great minds think alike :). And yes, you are right – I do tend to enjoy most books that I read, and it’s almost like a shock to the system when one turns out to be a disappointment.

        Cuckoo’s Calling is very good so far but not spectacular by any means. It’s looks like it will be your average murder mystery, but keep in mind that I’m not too far into it yet. I got distracted by Fighting Destiny by Amelia Hutchins. Now there’s a freakin’ hot hot read. Holy crap it’s got some intense sex scenes. I almost climbed into the book LOL!!!!! It has a really interesting and fast paced plot too, and I can’t wait to read the second in the series, but if you read my review on Goodreads you will know that the editing sucked, and the numerous errors really put me off at times. Luckily the story is so good that I had to try and ignore the grammar and punctuation errors.

      • Indeed. 🙂 That can only be a good thing, it shows you must know your own taste very well! Whereas I often come across books I don’t get on with, but then again maybe I’m just picky. 😛

        Ohh I’m glad to hear it you’ve been enjoying it, more than The Casual Vacancy anyway. To be honest I don’t really read many murder mysteries although I do watch a few, so it will probably be new territory for me!

        I just checked out your review, it sounds great. Hmm, I like a hot read now and again, LOL! I love it when you get so immersed in a story like that. 😀
        It’s a shame about the editing, that can really get in the way of a good read sometimes, and it’s so frustrating as a reader when you can see little things the author could change that could really elevate a story to the next level!

        I hope you enjoy the subsequent books!

  7. I’ve never given up on a book, no matter how tedious. It’s an OCD thing or something. I’ve yawned my way through the doorstop of Moby Dick (twice actually: It was better the second time) and Jaws and Les Miserables. There’s always something good in there, somewhere.

    • Haha, I am pretty similar, the only times I really gave up were as I mentioned because of a library due date. Twice?! Why twice if it was so boring? Lol, I’m glad to hear it was better the second time round though. I always find it odd when someone mentions Jaws as a book, it’s so fixed in my head as a film. I really want to read Les Miserables! 😀

      • Good question on Moby Dick…I read a few more classics after it and got into it better the second time around. The annotations I have at the back go COMPLETELY overboard, dragging up the most obscure and far fetched literary ideas for what seemed like every other word. I ignored most of them the second time round and just enjoyed the story.

      • Ahh right I see. I’ve never actually read an annotated novel, I have considered it a few times over the years, but as you’ve mentioned here I’ve wondered if it might hinder the narrative. Maybe it’s a better idea to do it when you know a story inside out. 🙂 I hate it when people pick apart every word though, it’s so over the top, I’m not surprised you found it irritating!

  8. I used to never give up on a book. There really had to be no hope of me enjoying it for me to stop. If there was the smallest thing I liked about it I would continue. Sometimes it is as simple as I’m not in the right mood yet in which case I will side line the book for a later date. However I am more open to giving up on books now as life is too short and there are so many great books out there I could be reading instead so that’s what I’m going to do.

    • I think it’s great that you’ve come to that conclusion Jessica, I wish I could too. It makes so much more sense, it is impossible as it is to fit everything you want to read into one lifetime so what is the point continuing with ones you don’t like? Unfortunately my brain refuses to accept that train of thought at the moment, but I hope it will develop as I go along!

  9. Oooh, I loved this post! If only because I’m terribly guilty of never finishing books. My reasons are a combination of all those listed depending on the book plus the fact that I have a short attention span. LOL. 😛

    • Thanks Nisha I’m glad you enjoyed it. 😀
      Really? That’s interesting, I think that’s partly because you pick books that are such hard work, you scholar you. 😉
      Hehe, there’s nothing wrong with abandoning a book that isn’t keeping your attention, good riddance I say!

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  11. Came over from Guap’s and I’m glad I did. Oh I love that Huffington Post book section, I’ll have to bookmark it! I tend to have about 5 books going at the same time. One for out on the deck, one for the couch, in bed, out by the pool. I haven’t found very many recently that I’ve read exclusively through to the end. But when I do find one that hooks me like that I’m in heaven! I think a lot of finishing a book has to do with timing. I’ve put books away for years and got them out again on a whim and loved them thoroughly whereas before I was lukewarm. I think it all depends on so many factors, and mood is a big one for me.

    • I’m glad you’re glad Linda, thanks for stopping by! Haha reading The Huffington Post Books has become a bit of a habit to me now, it’s fabby.

      You know, that sounds very logical to me, I used to do a similar thing, I would have a bus book, a higher-brow book, and super easy reading book and if those were all similar genre’s I would start up another one in case I wasn’t in the mood, lol! In fact, you might find this video quite amusing: https://beckysblogs.wordpress.com/2011/12/26/the-rory-gilmore-book-challenge/ 🙂 Since starting this blog though I tend to read less at a time, I think it’s great that you pick and chose!

      You’re so right, it’s odd but very interesting that how you are feeling and the point you are at in your life affects your enjoyment of a book! I hope you find more to hook you. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  12. Nice post Becky! I cannot believe that The Lord of the Rings made the top 5 most abandoned Classics. Who are these people?! Haha. I used to be like you and finished no matter what … but lately I have become more of an abandoner b/c there are just toooo many books for me to ever get to all of them. Life is too short to read bad books, haha.

    Recently I abandoned The Hare with the Amber Eyes b/c it feel sort of forced and as if the author were trying to impress me rather than impart history. I also abandoned Peter Hoeg’s The Quiet Girl b/c nowhere near as good as Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Sigh…

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. 🙂 Hahaa! My reaction was something similar, “bu…but, its LORD OF THE RINGS, HOW COULD YOU?” but then when I thought about it logically, it can be incredibly drawn out in places and I’m sure that could put readers off. I think a lot of non-fantasy fans might also try and attempt it because it’s one of those classics and then probably end up abandoning it half way through.
      I hope I will be able to reach a similar mindset one day, if a book is incredibly bad it’s natural to drop it for something else but I don’t seen to be able to convince myself of that yet.

      I’ve never heard of either of those but I definitely won’t be picking them up now! Thanks for reading and commenting. 😀

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