Reading a dull book? Put it down this instant!


One of the best pieces of advice my English teacher ever gave me – one which I would like to share with every teenager in Britain – was never to struggle on with a book that you hate. Life is too short for ironing and bad books, as Schopenhauer nearly said, and the world is not short of wonderful literature: the next book you read could be the one that changes your life. If you're really not getting on with a book, please put it down before you really grow to resent it. One day you may try again and love it, but not if your parents, a newspaper review or Michael Gove has forced you to plough through it to the bitter end.

Three cheers, then, to the readers' website Goodreads, for publishing its poll of users' "most abandoned books". E L James's Fifty Shades of Grey is right up there, quite predictably for a book whose clunking prose is the suspension-of-disbelief equivalent of watching a homemade porn movie which keeps being interrupted by a clip of Sarah Teather announcing the Lib Dems' new policy on community and local government. But top of the list was J K Rowling's recent novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy. It's a shame, because it's not a bad book. It's really… OK. But does anyone remember me mentioning in these pages that its publisher refused to let reviewers see copies until after publication, by which time, handily, readers had paid for one million pre-orders? Well, just saying…

The site's list of abandoned classics was more surprising. Many readers had abandoned Tolstoy's War and Peace, presumably not knowing that you're allowed to skip the war bits (or the peace bits I suppose, if you're that way inclined). Others had given up on Lord of the Rings, which never occurred to me when I read it but did when I saw it at the pictures and poor limpid-eyed Frodo was still climbing that bloody mountain about five hours in. Lots of readers had abandoned James Joyce's Ulysses, but to be fair you have to take a run at Ulysses at least three times before you gather the momentum to make it past the first three chapters, and not everybody has the time. Many people still haven't finished The Holy Bible: King James Version ("by Anonymous", according to Goodreads), so they're going to be gutted come Easter when somebody goes and tells them how it ends.

In other books news this week, the Man Booker people have released a photograph of all the books that publishers submitted to be considered for the Prize – with their spines tantalisingly facing away from the camera. I think I can recognise a couple – the one with the pale blue edges and the bright yellow one are quite distinctive – but spare a thought for the authors who are hoping that their publishers put them forward. Not only are they trying to pick out their book among the pile, but they're also trying to figure out how far in the spine is broken. Did the judges read their book all the way through to the end? We'll find out next Tuesday, when the longlist is announced.

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