Apparently there is a feature on Goodreads that shows the most commonly abandoned books. I found out about it from a Boing Boing article. The graphic showed the first few titles on the list, which naturally caught my attention. I had read… all of them?
I had to see the rest of that list!
I clicked the link. It got even more interesting as I scanned the list. I didn’t hit one that I had not already read until #8, a book I had abandoned as COMPLETELY UNREADABLE after the second chapter even though I felt obligated to cover it on my book blog.
“I’d be better off going out to the garage and pounding nails through my hand,” I thought at the time, and it seemed fair that hundreds of other people had also quit on this one.
The rest, though? These were great books, fantastic books! In a few cases they were some of my personal favorite books of all time.
I read through the list, lost count, realized I would be better off subtracting the titles I hadn’t read rather than counting the ones I had, and came up with my total. Out of the top fifty most abandoned books on Goodreads, I had read forty-five. Two or three of those I could have skipped, but I still found them worth reading.
In my opinion that makes it a really excellent list of Fifty Best Contemporary Novels! (Plus a couple-few nonfiction titles).
What was it, though, that led so many people to abandon such excellent reads? Potboilers, page-turning thrillers even?
A lot of these books are quite long, and I think that plays into it. In my twenties I started seeking out what I call BFBs (Big Fat Books) because I “read too fast” and I wanted something that would last me the week. I looked for books that weighed in at least at 500 pages, hopefully 800 or more. My philosophy is that almost all books are 220 to 300 pages, so almost any title will make the cut, but for a publisher to put out a very long book, the author has to have made the case that it’s worth all that ink and paper.
This is part of why I finally caved and read the Harry Potter series. I figured if so many grade school children were reading and re-reading and re-re-reading these doorstoppers, they must be pretty good. Whatever people might think, any book that helps kids build their reading chops and extend their attention span is a worthy book.
I think another reason, probably the prime reason, that people abandon these great books is the reason they started reading them.
It’s easy and obvious to get ahold of a very popular book. Either someone hands it to you and commands you to read it, or you see it everywhere, or you throw it in your cart at Costco next to the bulk hand grenades and family-size sardines. There’s minimal selection effort.
What this means is that fewer readers need to put in their normal paces to choose something more their style.
True crime, for instance, is so on-point for me that I’ve only dropped two titles, one because I literally dropped it at the bus station and never managed to procure another copy. Out of print! Now I’ll never know why the Menendez Brothers did it! The other was after midterms and I ran out of steam.
(It would be intriguing if we could harvest data on when people tend to abandon books; are there trends here of seasonality, holidays, taxes, etc?)
On the other hand, I have a really hard time pushing myself to read series fantasy or sci-fi. I know that about myself, so when someone suggests that I read their favorite series, I tell them it’s probably never going to happen. Dude. You have to WANT to read thirty-five-hundred pages of a story. It don’t read itself!
I looked again at the list of abandoned titles, and particularly the five that I hadn’t read. One I never will. Life is too short. What about the other four, though?
One I was consciously “saving” because I’ve read a few short pieces by the author and I knew I would enjoy more. This showed my habit of hoarding what I think will be the very best books, because I don’t want them to be over, which is why I stopped reading The Lord of the Rings in middle school and didn’t finish until my late twenties. (To impress a boy)
Another I’d never heard of, which makes me go OOH! *takes notes*
Another was on my “saving it” list, literally on my library wish list, and come to think of it, so was that other one I’d been saving
And I’m 44 so when did I think I was going to read them?
The last of the five is on my phone actually at this moment. Got a good laugh out of that.
What all this shows about me is that:
I read a LOT
I have apparently very middlebrow, popular tastes
Or, more charitably, I’m good at trend analysis
I probably match with almost everyone on LibraryThing because I’ve probably read a large portion of their collection
I may one day run out of popular books to read, because every time I see one of these lists I am better able to narrow my focus and see what’s left.
Lists of popular books always make me wonder what’s so special about them. Why are they so popular? Sometimes I see it coming. I was an early reader of The Hunger Games because I was reading Publishers Weekly at the time, and before it even came out I knew it would be good. I reviewed it and ran around telling all my book friends about it. It was the first time in many, many years that I stayed up until 2 AM to finish a book, even though it was Friday night and I had nothing else planned all weekend.
That’s what I want for everyone. I want everyone to be so excited and captivated by books that we’re constantly grabbing at them, desperate to get through at least another few pages before life intervenes. Leisure time is so underrated these days. I think most of us lose at least an hour or two a day staring into the abyss of our phones, swiping endlessly away and not even remembering why, or what we saw, scrolling scrolling scrolling.
Think how many books we could be reading instead!
Start by consciously abandoning any books that simply aren’t for you. Be brave and admit it like all these fellow readers did. Go through your shelves and give back all the popular titles your friends foisted on you. Make room for something you actually want to read, something you’ve chosen for yourself. Maybe even one of the books off the list of abandoned titles!
Here is the list, for those who are curious. Most of them are amazing, at least worth the 40-page test.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
*Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
*Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
*My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
1984 by George Orwell
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
*City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Quiet by Susan Cain
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
*A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
The Martian by Andy Weir
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies