The 15 Most Frequently Unfinished Reads, According To Goodreads' "Popular Abandoned Books" Shelf
It's happened to the best of us. You pick up a new book and at first, it's great. This books just seems to get you. The two of you go everywhere together, and you can't stop telling all your friends about this great new story you've been hanging out with. But after a few hundred pages, you start to wonder if you've been kidding yourself. Does this book really even understand you at all? What did you see in this book in the first place? You start looking longingly at the other books on your shelves. You might even start reading a new book, behind your book's back (it's not cheating if you skim), and finally, at long last, you have to just give up on your original book altogether, before you make it to the end. These are the most frequently abandoned books, according to Goodreads' "Popular Abandoned Books" shelf.
We've all left a book unfinished in our time. And honestly, I get it. Forcing yourself to slog through a book you don't like is a pretty pointless endeavor. Reading should be fun, not a joyless exercise in seeming smart/trendy/interesting. But if you have it in your heart, some of these oft-abandoned books are actually worth giving a second (or third) chance:
1. 'The Casual Vacancy' by J.K. Rowling
I mean yes, I wanted The Casual Vacancy to be Harry Potter too. This book came out at a time when we were all desperate for J.K. Rowling to give us another hit of that sweet, sweet wizarding world (as opposed to now, when we're all begging her to stop). Instead, she gave us a realistic, complex novel about the politics of a small town. If you can get past Rowling's name recognition for a moment, it's a perfectly lovely book (it's just not Harry Potter).
2. 'Catch-22' by Joseph Heller
It's fair to say that Catch-22 isn't for everyone. It's a war novel filled with irreverent humor, a lot of repetition, and a whole lot of blood splattering. The conventional wisdom seems to be that if you can get past the first hundred pages or so, the intensity gets cranked way, way up. Much like a real war, the narrative alternates between boredom, intense violence, and absurd, bleak farce.
3. 'A Game of Thrones' by George R.R. Martin
Look, it's not the TV show. Don't go in expecting the TV show. The first time I read this book, at age ten, I found it terrifying and confusing and boring in equal measure. But when I finally went back and reread it as an adult, I was extremely into all of the excessive world-building and court intrigue. If you like fantasy maps and family trees and English history (but with dragons), this one is definitely worth a second shot.
4. 'American Gods' by Neil Gaiman
I'm biased, because American Gods is one of my favorite books of all time... but give it another go, people! Yes, the plot is weird and long and the chapters jump all over the place to give you quasi-mythic backstories about random strangers throughout American history... but you just have to accept that this is the novel equivalent of staying up all night with your college roommate, getting high and freaking out about how your comparative religions class is blowing your mind.
5. 'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief is a beloved bestseller... but it is also a very lengthy book about the Holocaust, narrated by Death himself. It's understandable if some folks need to take a break halfway through. It's not exactly escapist fiction, and Death tends to get into all the minute details in his narration of young Liesel's life. But it'll be there when you're ready to come back to it (and cry your eyes out all over again).
6. 'Fifty Shades of Grey' by E.L. James
See, I think that Fifty Shades of Grey is frequently marked as abandoned because it's one of the few books that people want to brag about leaving unfinished. The people who finished reading Fifty Shades of Grey aren't announcing themselves online, because the book has such a "trashy" reputation. But I say, if you get a kick out of reading this book, and you understand that real life BDSM communities do not condone abusive relationships, then live your best life and read whatever you want.
7. 'Outlander' by Diana Gabaldon
I think that Outlander might also suffer slightly from Fifty Shades of Grey syndrome: it's a sexy book targeted at ladies, and therefore people are excited to post online about how they could barely stomach it. If Scottish melodrama isn't your bag, then you might not like it. But if your heart burns for a lengthy bodice-ripper set in the Scottish Highlands, keep going until you get to the juicy bits.
8. 'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt
Some people have called The Goldfinch "Dickensian," and I think that captures the crux of the problem: if you like orphans and wordy writing and long, rambling plots that get continuously sidetracked by an enormous cast of quirky characters, you'll like The Goldfinch. If Great Expectations was the bane of your existence in 9th grade, this might not be the book for you.
9. 'Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell' by Susanna Clarke
With fantasy, I think most people end up in two camps: either they want to be whisked away on a quick, delightful adventure story, or they want to spend several hundred hours immersed in the details of the history of a fictional realm. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has a bit of both, so if all that magical history turned you off, maybe take a deep breath and give it one more chance.
10. 'Wolf Hall' by Hilary Mantel
If you read A Game of Thrones and thought, "That's fine and all... but I want less magic and more politics," then you'll like Wolf Hall. It's a brilliant, intricate novel about Henry VIII and the historical Thomas Cromwell, but you definitely have to be on board for the "intricate" part.
11. 'Infinite Jest' by David Foster Wallace
Surprised? Yeah, me neither. Infinite Jest is famous primarily for being long and hard to read. However. A lot of people have been deeply moved by this weird, philosophical comedy about the American Dream, so if it speaks to you, go ahead and read it and don't let anyone tell you that you're pretentious (unless you're reading it while smoking a clove cigarette, then they are correct).
12. 'Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West' by Gregory Maguire
I read Wicked when I was way too young for it and I, too, was shocked and appalled to find that it is almost nothing like the musical. It's dark, deeply political, sexual, violent, and Idina Menzel isn't there at all. So if you go in expecting a musical theatre-pop anthem in book form, you'll be disappointed. But if you like political allegories and creepy talking animals, you'll love it.
13. 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' by Gabriel García Márquez
You guys! Go finish this book! I know that experimental fiction and magical realism can be a turn off for some people, but I firmly believe in putting aside your judgments and reading it anyway (at least in this case). Once you get a taste for Márquez's lyrical, surreal prose, you won't want to go back.
14. 'Eat, Pray, Love' by Elizabeth Gilbert
Oh boy. This book is divisive. On the one hand, a lot of people find it profoundly inspiring. On the other hand, some of the hate that people have for Eat, Pray, Love seems to focus on the fact that the author is a woman who dares to complain and want a different life. And on the third hand, there are a lot of very valid critiques to be made about the inherent colonialism of white travel writing as a whole.
15. 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' by Stieg Larsson
The "Girl" book that kicked off all the "Girl" books. Actually, I think that fewer people would abandon The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo if it still had its Swedish title: Men Who Hate Women. It kind of... makes it a whole lot clearer that this intense mystery novel was written as an explicit critique of violent misogyny. Larsson forbade the Swedish publishers from changing the title before his death, but the Americans went ahead and did it anyway. So yeah... I say, slap on the original title and give this one another chance (unless extreme violence is not your cup of tea).