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.
The 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.
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! 😀
All my own.