The Books People Leave Unfinished

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Any reader worth her weight in complimentary bookmarks knows that, as we chase after each new, highly anticipated release, there will be disappointments. Some books will go unread. And while there are those of us who feel a bit guilty about that, it's worth noting that sometimes it's just not our fault. Buzz and critical acclaim can't dictate what the heart wants, and what the heart doesn't want will be left on the top of the bookshelf, gathering dust next to a copy of Infinite Jest. Goodreads (which is just Facebook for book geeks) published a list today of the five most abandoned books among its members. All of them were supposed to be great, but here's why you probably didn't finish them:

It Wasn't "Harry Potter:

One could argue that the Harry Potter books are an impossible series to top. Maybe we should all be happy that J.K. Rowling decided to write anything after sending Albus Severus off to Hogwarts. But she did, and both critics and Potterheads alike were underwhelmed by The Casual Vacancy. When the book was released last September, Michiko Kakutani at The New York Times called the book "clichéd," "banal," "disappointing," and "dull." Also:

There is no magic in this book — in terms of wizarding or in terms of narrative sorcery. Instead, this novel for adults is filled with a variety of people like Harry’s aunt and uncle, Petunia and Vernon Dursley: self-absorbed, small-minded, snobbish and judgmental folks, whose stories neither engage nor transport us.

Casual Vacancy currently has a 3/5 rating on Amazon, but it has about as many 1 ratings as 5s. As one Amazon reviewer put it, "Every time I pick it up, I wonder why I'm still reading it."

Recommended Reading

It Was a Slow Read

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fared much better with Amazon reviewers and the critics. It also has a pretty devoted fan base, and an appeal that spans languages and mediums, hence the Swedish film and David Fincher's U.S. adaptation. All the signs said you'd like the book a lot, as long as you made it past the slow, slow beginning. 

How slow is slow? "I keep hearing from everyone it's great, but you have to first get through the first 150 pages! ARGH!!!" lamented one would be reader. Of course, you could have easily had a problem with the extensive violence against women in the novel, or the fact that Mikael Blomkvist is kind of a ridiculous sex symbol, but you probably didn't get that far. 

"Wait, the Book's Not Based on the Musical?"

Wicked, the Broadway musical that gave us "Defying Gravity," is probably what led you to Gregory Maguire's massive, 400 page novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. And so you decided to read it, because that's the way the world works now.  You go to the bookstore and they have an "In Theaters" section. You watch season one of Game of Thrones, and then you buy A Song of Ice and Fire. You watch and sing and cry along to Wicked and then you read the whole story all over again. Or not.


You Realized How Annoying the Main Character Is

Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love is a book geared towards a highly specific audience. But even the women who were supposed to love the book didn't necessarily fall for Gilbert's spiritual and emotional journey. 

Maureen Callahan at the New York Post called the memoir "narcissistic New Age reading" and found Gilbert's portrayal of Eastern culture troubling:

[I]t is the worst in Western fetishization of Eastern thought and culture... You may be a well-off white woman, but if you are depressed, the answer can be found in the East, where the poor brown people are sages.

Katie Roiphe at Slate found Gilbert to be a "an insightful, disarming, joyous writer," but thought she was a bit of a try hard. "At times, one is aware of her trying too hard to be liked," Roiphe wrote. "One feels the belabored mechanism of her jokes." Maybe you felt it a little too much, and a little too early on.

Everyone Has Her Limits

Do we even need to go into why anyone wouldn't be able to stomach all 528 pages of Fifty Shades of Grey? Yes, the books have done some good. They saved Barnes & Noble. They saved a few marriages. They even earned Random House employees a $5,000 Christmas bonus.

But at the end of the day, the good bits will only take you so far before the recycled Twilight fan-fiction bits wear you down. Besides, at this point everyone knows you can find the parts you skimmed ahead to online

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.