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July 6, 2014 8:13 PM   Subscribe

What aren't you reading? By looking at the top 5 most highlighted passages via Kindle in each book, Jordan Ellenberg has figured out which books are most unread: Take the page numbers of a book's five top highlights, average them, and divide by the number of pages in the whole book. He calls the result the Hawking Index, after the much-unread Brief History of Time, though Piketty seems to have knocked Hawking off his throne (all five top highlights come in the first 26 pages, out of 700). Also, everyone finishes The Goldfinch. Previous attempts to figure out what is least finished have been conducted by Goodreads (#1: Catch-22), and by the Guardian in 2007 (which may explain why Vernon God Little is #1), which included helpful summaries. What have you not finished recently?
posted by blahblahblah (103 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
How far back does this go? Based on my high school English class experience, I'm guessing Thomas Hardy's works are at or near the top of the all-time "unfinished" list.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:18 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


How can you put down 'Catch-22'?!?
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:22 PM on July 6 [15 favorites]


Thomas Hardy in high school? *insert image of Victorianist tearing hair here*

I would have tossed Murder as a Fine Art across the room, except that a) I was sitting in a coffee shop and b) I was reading it on my iPad.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:28 PM on July 6


MetaFilter's own.
posted by asterix at 8:29 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]


Thomas Hardy in high school? *insert image of Victorianist tearing hair here*

We read both The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess in my high school (in different years, I think), and optionally, as one of the summer reading books, A Pair of Blue Eyes. I read all three! I really liked The Mayor of Casterbridge.
posted by kenko at 8:30 PM on July 6


I've tried, and failed, to read Infinite Jest at least five or six times. I get about 100 pages in, and just can't find the desire to go further.

I'm a terrible Mefite.
posted by petrilli at 8:32 PM on July 6 [17 favorites]


For me, highlighting itself is usually a pretty good indication of a readerly aspiration I'm not going to live up to.
posted by batfish at 8:32 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]


If every reader is getting to the end, those highlights could be scattered throughout the length of the book.

I'm not going to argue with the Piketty result (my own copy languishing over there in chapter seven), but this methodology seems flawed; maybe—for instance—there are some really stunningly great passages in a book in its first hundred pages—everyone highlights those—and then things start appealing more idiosyncratically in the rest, so that either no one highlights much at all (I know I don't highlight uniformly when I'm reading a book) or the highlights are so scattered that none of the latter-half highlights can crack the first-half highlights for popularity.
posted by kenko at 8:33 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Ha, I picked up Catch-22 before I got on an airplane recently and abandoned it for Skymall. I have bad taste when I'm in transit--I did the same with Twilight a few years ago.
posted by Lardmitten at 8:33 PM on July 6


I started this book 16 months ago. Getting Things Done
posted by trunk muffins at 8:33 PM on July 6 [12 favorites]


I guess I'm in the majority who got pretty tired of the catch 22 schtick about halfway through (though I slogged on, page after annoying page).

Of the Goodreads top 5, the one that surprised me the most was actually Atlas Shrugged. A dumb book, but much more of a sort of easy page turner than Moby Dick or Ulysses (the latter of which I can't imagine finishing without a class or support group).

The Goldfinch though, impossible not to finish. So true.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:35 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


The Goldfinch is a Hachette book, and is recommended by Stephen King, and everyone finishes it, so I'm gonna go ahead and get it.
posted by Huck500 at 8:35 PM on July 6


I know my will to highlight has flagged even as my will to read remains strong, on occasion.
posted by kenko at 8:36 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]


I find that the more engrossed I am in actually reading a book, the less I want to interrupt that experience by highlighting passages. So the building of immersion over time that you would expect from a good book that you do finish could show up as a low Hawking Index.

But of course that abruptly changes on the last page of a book, so I reckon this metric is mostly useful for books that have more florid prose at the very end than leading up to the end.
posted by Phssthpok at 8:37 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


trunk muffins--I had to read that for work this year. I had to make myself read a chapter a day to get through.

That was very funny though!
posted by Lardmitten at 8:37 PM on July 6


How far back does this go? Based on my high school English class experience, I'm guessing Thomas Hardy's works are at or near the top of the all-time "unfinished" list.

I'm not in high school but I JUST finished Tess of the d'Urbervilles and holy shit I really liked it a whole effing bunch. I'd been nervous about reading Thomas Hardy for whatever reason but I was in the library the other day and saw it on the shelf and thought "I guess I'll try it" and seriously it was really really good. OMG seriously really good. Maybe if they check and it's not being highlighted at the end it's because everyone is TOO ABSORBED to highlight and they're just completely rapt.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:43 PM on July 6 [8 favorites]


My theory is that people who highlight novels aren't really readers, so the data is skewed. I mean, I never highlight novels, I just look up, shake my head, say "How true, how true." to the people around me, and take another sip of my Yirgacheffe. Highlight? Never.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:44 PM on July 6 [27 favorites]


I'm sure the WSJ was happy to tell us that Piketty is boring and people won't finish it. (Also, that's not what I'd call a summer read. I read Graeber's Debt this summer, and it was easier than I expected, but not a "summer read".)
posted by immlass at 9:01 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


I have bad taste when I'm in transit--I did the same with Twilight a few years ago.

By which I assume you mean that you abandoned Catch-22 in favor of Twilight? Because abandoning Twilight in favor of the Skymall catalog is a wash, as far as I'm concerned...
posted by Slothrup at 9:01 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I'm about a quarter through 2666 and I think I always will be.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:11 PM on July 6 [6 favorites]


By which I assume you mean that you abandoned Catch-22 in favor of Twilight?

Ock no, I left them both for Skymall. That's my yardstick. Can I get through this book when I am trapped with nothing but it and the contents of my seat pocket?

I swear I am capable of reading Good Books (tm).

Source: myself.
posted by Lardmitten at 9:12 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I've tried, and failed, to read Infinite Jest at least five or six times.

Infinite Jest was in the original version of the article but was cut for length. Here's the paragraph I wrote about it:

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. HI 6.4%. There was a time, children, when you couldn’t ride the 1/9 without seeing a dozen recent graduates straining under the weight of Wallace’s big shambling masterpiece. Apparently it was too heavy for most. Yes, I included the endnotes in the page count. This is another one whose most famous line – “I am in here” – doesn’t crack the Kindle top five.

More thoughts about the index on my blog.
posted by escabeche at 9:13 PM on July 6 [15 favorites]


Because abandoning Twilight in favor of the Skymall catalog is a wash, as far as I'm concerned...

Whoa there. I don't remember ever seeing anything overtly misogynistic in the Skymall catalog.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:13 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I feel like a broken person.
1. I did not finish the Goldfinch. I suppose I might go back one day?
2. I do not understand highlighting a novel, unless you are studying it for school and picking out quotes to support your interpretation.
posted by Joh at 9:26 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I would imagine a lot of people these days would find Catch 22 too hilariously, eye-wateringly sexist to finish it for that reason alone and that makes me sad.
posted by Sebmojo at 9:26 PM on July 6


I loved Catch-22 right to the end, but the sequel? Barely started it and couldn't stand the style.
posted by ctmf at 9:30 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I would imagine a lot of people these days would find Catch 22 too hilariously, eye-wateringly sexist to finish it for that reason alone and that makes me sad.

I kind of felt this way about One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; I read it a year or so ago and I was absolutely flabbergasted by both how much I liked it and how sexist it was. It was an unbelievable book and I had not expected to find it as good as it was but wow, it was also hard to read. I haven't found Catch-22 to be nearly as bad on that front, although I may be cutting it slack because I do like it a lot.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:32 PM on July 6


Can't finish 100 years of solitude though. Love it, beautiful writing. I just lose interest for some reason.
posted by ctmf at 9:32 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I'd try to highlight shit in ereaders if it felt more... useable. And less clunky. Maybe the kindle app is easier to use to highlight, but all the ereaders I've tried so far, it just feels ... weird. I want to drag to easily highlight, without worrying whether I actually select a word or part of a word and make sure it's all selected well, and then I want to drop it into a bin of related texts (a la evernote) and be able to use it for more than just "oh here's a quote".

Meh.

I think I hit about page 28-29 of Piketty (but my ereader shows 642 pages - and that's in two different readers... so I'm not sure what the deal is with the ebook I have - maybe indices are missing? I keep meaning to go back to it.
posted by symbioid at 9:38 PM on July 6


2. I do not understand highlighting a novel, unless you are studying it for school and picking out quotes to support your interpretation.

Though I don't read a great deal of novels, I like to make note of the page at which I would have murdered the main character for their insufferability. I adopted this custom while reading Sons and Lovers, which really ought have been called Paul Bloody Morel.
posted by Thing at 9:54 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]


The classic of this genre is Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time," widely called "the most unread book of all time."
...
"A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking: 6.6%



This genuinely baffles me. People talk about A Brief History of Time like's it's some sort of herculean effort to get through it, but in fact I found it to be pretty light reading. And it is brief: You can easily knock it out in an afternoon with time to spare. As I recall, it stays non-technical and is very much aimed at a layperson.

But I guess I must be bad at judging what the general populace would consider to be an easy read.
posted by jcreigh at 9:59 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


It's interesting to me that the highlighting feature is used enough to do this kind of analysis. Is the Kindle's highlighting that good? Maybe it's the social aspect, which is one thing I emphatically don't need in an e-reader. I'm more of a note-taker anyway so I'm alright with my trusty Kobo.

My unfinished shame is Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Abandoned it after 500 pages. Started it fresh a year later, abandoned after 700 pages. I can see the words on the page, but I can't summon the will to keep reading. I JUST DON'T LIKE CHARLES DICKENS OK!
posted by Lorin at 10:05 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


I don't always highlight phrases in my Kindle, but when I do it's by accident.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:24 PM on July 6 [23 favorites]


Well, I don't use Kindle, but I HAVE been known to highlight--however, I generally get too absorbed to continue this unless (a) I'm writing something on the book or (b) I'm teaching the book. "Brief History of Time" just wasn't as compelling to a 35 year old me as say, "Einstein's Universe" or "Hawking's Universe" to a 16 and 17yr old me.

I think it's interesting that "The Goldfinch" which is like 800 pages long get's MOST highlighted at the end. I do wonder if there's something about the non-fiction versus fiction thing here...in that in non-fiction, there is often revelation in the opening, versus the ending for fiction.

Still, I lose interest on a lot of books--even some good ones--but feel no shame in it. If you have read ALL of Das Kapital, Ulysses, or A Thousand Plateaus, more power to you though.
posted by whatgorilla at 10:52 PM on July 6


Whaaaaaaa? Vernon God Little was not only not heavy going, but also a helluva page-turner imo. Genuinely surprised.
posted by ominous_paws at 11:01 PM on July 6


The Goldfinch though, impossible not to finish. So true.

Eh, I liked it, but I could see stopping it somewhere during the Vegas trip, or the furniture restoration. It slogs a bit in the middle.

from escabeche's blog:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s stone at 90%, beat that. Of course everybody finished that book. And don’t go NYT on me and tell me that “children’s books” don’t count.

I read 100 pages of the first Harry Potter and couldn't stand it. Probably b/c I heard Wizard People, Dear Reader first ...

Interesting, I couldn't finish His Dark Materials either. I stopped somewhere in the middle of the second book, somewhere around the time the dude with the golden schlong showed up.

For me, the two books that have taken me 10-20 times not to read: The Recognitions and The Tunnel. I'm pretty sure I will die before I read either.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:47 PM on July 6


Highlighting on the Kindle is slightly tedious, but not that bad. What's terrible is that you can't really access your highlighted quotes. Well, you can read them on the Kindle itself, and you can find them in plain text on the somewhat secret kindle.amazon.com page, but there it's hard to find the book and you have to scroll through a stupid auto-loading JavaScript box to get at your quotes. Also, for some reason the iPad seems to have a secret length limit to quotes, so if you highlight a long paragraph it'll get cut in half. Even with all this suckiness, I do lots of highlights, because I like to be able to copy & paste stuff I've read into internet arguments, etc.
posted by mbrock at 11:50 PM on July 6


After finishing a paperback book, I sometimes used to glance again through the promotional copy on the back and work out how far the publisher's blurb writer had needed to read to produce his copy. It was seldom more than about page 30.
posted by Paul Slade at 11:59 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Catch-22 is my #1 favorite novel, and I don't even know what to say. How can someone not finish it?

Hell, anyone who can't finish Catch-22, send me your copy and I'll do it for you.
posted by rifflesby at 1:21 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


Oh man, where do I even start with my abandoned books list. That is, the abandoned books I'm supposed to read; I recently tried re-reading a Dean Koontz novel for the first time since high school and proudly abandoned that shit about 20 pages in.

Catch-22 I found hilarious, so I find it odd on that list. But yes, Moby Dick is tough, because it's almost a collection of short stories, or rather each chapter Melville tries a new style and topic, all the while keeping with the overall story. Ok, damn, now I have to go back to it.

Ulysses...I'm actually reading that now and I'm all WTF am I reading? I see that they are words on the page, they are English (mostly), but the references, the context...it's really beyond me. Would it help to be Catholic? And Irish? And about 100 years old? Apparently after a bit, the narrative takes over more solidly, so I'll keep on trying.

Infinite Jest, most things by Dickens, and One Hundred Years of Solitude. The latter makes me a total Philistine, I know, but it just didn't do anything for me.
posted by zardoz at 1:39 AM on July 7


Are there any statistics on how many people read the first two chapters of Gödel, Escher, Bach and then skip ahead to all the bits with Achilles and the Tortoise?

I did actually make it through the first time, but every time I've picked it up since I've felt like I was a little kid looking for the ends of the articles in the Reader's Digest again.
posted by darksasami at 1:45 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]


I got a few false starts on Catch-22 in high school, and finally read it several years later.

I have a lot of unfinished stuff:

I started Shikasta like five or six years ago; I don't know if I even still have it.

When I was unemployed I bought a pile of books that I started and never finished, including:
A Canticle for Liebowitz
Blindness
Hyperion
Tuck Everlasting
The King in Yellow

Some time after starting working again, I bought some Kindle books (and eventually a Kindle, because reading on my phone got hand-crampy), several of which I haven't started yet, so they don't really count, and a few of which I have started and not finished:
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
The Long Goodbye
Railsea

I blame having web access at home. When I couldn't get on line without going out of the house, I got a lot more reading done.

I still mean to finish all of them.
Maybe not Shikasta.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:54 AM on July 7


darksasami, I've failed to finish GEB like three times. I make it to the last chapter, or next to last, and just lose steam.

I like it, but I can't ever get all the way through.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:59 AM on July 7


You're allowed to stop reading Catch 22 if you're mad, but stopping shows that you're sane, in which case you must continue.
posted by Segundus at 2:42 AM on July 7 [11 favorites]


Library Thing has an unread tag that covers lots of classics.

Picketty being the top unfinished book is surely not a coincidence. The reviews should have spent more time saying it's a pretty terrible read even if the research is important. Perhaps the French version is better. I read quite a bit of non-fiction economics books but Capital I had to give up on. It's just a pity that it isn't yet only 1% who actually finish it.
posted by sien at 2:45 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


If you had gotten all the way to the end of The King in Yellow,you wouldn't be posting here, I suspect, but on the I've Seen the Yellow Sign web community. (They have a way faster member turnover than MetaFilter.)
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:50 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


Two things I struggle to understand:

1. How the hell anyone finds the dazzling, coruscating, darkly hilarious "Catch-22" hard going.

2. The hate for "Vernon God Little", which I thought was a wonderful book.
posted by Decani at 2:53 AM on July 7


Highlighting on my old Sony eReader Touch was a breeze. Just use the stylus to highlight what you want to highlight.

Highlighting on my new Kindle is a pain in the tuchus. I just use bookmarks nowadays.

Worst case scenario, me-from-three-months-ago winds up leaving a fun little riddle for me-in-the-current-day: why was this page important?

...

Regarding unfinished books, I wonder if nonfiction a la Piketty winds up going unread when people say to themselves, "okay, I've read the thesis, now I see what the author's talking about."
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:13 AM on July 7


I have really no urge to annotate books I read for pleasure. I'll sometimes make notes if I expect to be doing a lot of discussion of the book, but just for general reading? No. The place where I fall down finishing books is anthologies -- I'll read the first couple of stories, then skip around reading what's interesting, and I'm sure I miss some of the stories in the process. They are probably good stories, too.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:07 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


I loved Catch-22 right to the end, but the sequel? Barely started it and couldn't stand the style.

Catch-22 is incredible, but Heller had one good book in him. His second novel, Something Happened, is one of the worst books I've ever read.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:48 AM on July 7


Love it, beautiful writing. I just lose interest for some reason.

This is a big reason I abandon books that I know are good (as well as books that I've been told are good). If a book has "beautiful writing," it will often read to me as very ... written. I find I can't get into the story if I'm too conscious of the craftsmanship. I can't get into books that are badly written, either; those are much worse because I can't even appreciate the writing.

I love books with good writing that melts into the story, writing that moves things forward instead of getting in the way.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:59 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


I bailed on The Goldfinch about 1/3 the way in. How much more could this kid's life get screwed up? I didn't feel like finding out.

I have finally given up on ever reading Tristram Shandy, which seems like it should be exactly the sort of book I like, only somehow it isn't.

I didn't even make it to the whaling scenes in Moby-Dick. (But at least I know it's spelled with a hyphen.)
posted by JanetLand at 5:11 AM on July 7


I'm in the Infinite Jest camp, but not because it was too "heavy" or challenging for me, I just felt that the first time you read the phrase "The Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment" it's worth a bit of a smile, but the seventh or eighth time you wish someone would buy this six-year old another joke book because you've heard all of these.

It looks like the latest book to make the cut will be The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman. I bought it for a recent trip and by a quarter of the way through I had had enough of the main character, who is nothing but a collection of twee little quirks. I soldiered on and got about halfway through. At that point the main character, who has a mysterious past, is talking to Quirk Bundle about past events and actually says, "But we're not going to mention X," this preserving the mystery not for either one of them, who know, but for the reader they're apparently employed to keep secrets from. There wasn't anything captivating enough to overcome my annoyance at that, and, back from my trip, the book sits abandoned on my nightstand. It's been two weeks and I'm pretty sure it'll be given away, bookmark intact.
posted by Legomancer at 5:15 AM on July 7


Given that I've read at least 30 other novels since I put it down last November, I think I'm not going to finish The Luminaries.
posted by thivaia at 5:36 AM on July 7


Hah. With all the chatter about Piketty I thought maybe I should read him, but then I realized most of those chattering about him hadn't either, and I became enlightened.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:43 AM on July 7


Catch-22 is incredible, but Heller had one good book in him. His second novel, Something Happened, is one of the worst books I've ever read.

Largely agree, but I quite enjoyed God Knows.
posted by Segundus at 6:06 AM on July 7


With all the chatter about Piketty I thought maybe I should read him, but then I realized most of those chattering about him hadn't either, and I became enlightened.

Amazingly, sometimes they straight up admit that in their columns: "I am going to talk about a book that I have not yet read."
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 6:09 AM on July 7


I really enjoyed the parts of the Power Broker that I read, but boy, that's a long dense book that just goes on and on. Robert Moses did a lot of shit.
posted by smackfu at 6:14 AM on July 7


Robert Moses did a lot of shit.

Jeez, man. Spoilers.
posted by yoink at 6:28 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


I maintain a list of books I abandoned. The question is, what is the best philosophy to abandoning books. I've seen some who never abandon, they will say they were glad they stuck it out as the book revealed itself later, learned something they might not have been open to. Others will abandon more books than they finish, quickly leaving anything that doesn't grab them since life is short and there are too many books.
posted by stbalbach at 6:36 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the love for Catch-22. Tried it a few times, made it 20 pages or so in, and left it.
posted by josher71 at 6:43 AM on July 7


I don't understand the love for Catch-22. Tried it a few times, made it 20 pages or so in, and left it.

Then it's not very surprising you don't get why people love it, is it?
posted by yoink at 6:47 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]


zardoz: Ulysses...I'm actually reading that now and I'm all WTF am I reading? I see that they are words on the page, they are English (mostly)...

Wait 'til you get farther into the book: there's plenty of non-English gibberish in there, trust me!

Joyce's Ulysses is amazing, but I have bailed on it three times now. It's still in my Someday pile, but I am going to need some more time (and maybe a book of explanations) before I take a fourth run at it.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:50 AM on July 7


I keep forgetting you can highlight things on the Kindle, and only accidentally remembering. Even in the non-novels that I want to refer to later, I just bookmark the page.
posted by Foosnark at 6:51 AM on July 7


Then it's not very surprising you don't get why people love it, is it?

I guess? How many pages should I give it?
posted by josher71 at 6:53 AM on July 7


I have read between 1/4 and 1/2 of Catch-22 at least three times, enjoyed it thoroughly and then just stopped, AMA.
posted by griphus at 6:54 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


...It's still in my Someday pile...

Someday Pile would be a perfect name for a Pynchon or Vonnegut character.
posted by griphus at 6:55 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]


I guess probably nobody's attempting it via Kindle these days, but back in the dead tree era there were surely a couple of years when Ada, or Ardor would have been at the top of this list.

Back when I was in high school, every used bookstore in town was swamped with hardcover copies which nobody ever seemed to buy, and most of my friends' parents had the same hardcover edition gathering dust on a high shelf somewhere. I have literally never seen a paperback copy IRL, though Amazon assures me one exists, and never seen it for sale new in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Either you bought the hardcover right when it came out and was getting rapturous reviews (and then bailed out when you discovered how fucking dense it was) or you never bothered at all.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:56 AM on July 7


How many pages should I give it?

All of them.
posted by yoink at 6:58 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


I've been trying to read Women in Love for over 15 years. I get slightly further each time.

Also, Jonathan Norell and Mr Strange or whatever it is...I have it on my kindle and have been reading it to fall asleep for months now because it is like the least interesting book about magic ever. Or else it is magic because it puts me out about as quick as benadryl.
posted by sio42 at 7:04 AM on July 7


The Goldfinch was the first novel I ever contemplated quitting 95% through the book. The last 50 pages are incredibly tedious. MY THEMES, LET ME TELL YOU THEM.
posted by brain_drain at 7:17 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]


The first third of JS&MN is slow -- we have this cool scene at the beginning with all the statues moving and then for THREE HUNDRED pages you're thinking, what's up with the bait and switch? I found that the story sped up, the middle is good and the last third is unputdownable. And you do need the setup, and it's not tedious on a reread, and I love the book a lot, but I have sympathy for people who don't keep going past the "only Mr Norrell" part.
posted by jeather at 7:22 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


Years ago when Michael Kinsley ran Harpers he conducted an experiment in which he entered Washington bookstores and slipped small bits of paper halfway through some of the best selling books of the time, informing the lucky reader that they could get ten dollars if they called Harpers at the phone number printed on the paper.

No one ever called.
posted by BWA at 7:23 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


> Can't finish 100 years of solitude though. Love it, beautiful writing. I just lose interest for some reason.

My interest dropped like a rock when the narrative moved out of the jungle to the city. But the book was already very much on probation because of the little girl who gets married off so young and then, astonishingly, turns out to be very happy in her marriage. Then whammo he kills her off with a miscarriage. I wanted to dig him up and slap him. And he wasn't even dead yet then.
posted by jfuller at 7:33 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


I am pretty sure I only finished 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell' because I had a 5-hour unexpected layover and nothing else to do (not even skymall!). It was the biggest book the airport bookstore had. I would read 20 pages and put it down over and over and over again, but I got far enough into the story that I got to the interesting parts. It's one of my favorites but it is tough to recommend to people.
posted by matcha action at 7:36 AM on July 7


The Goldfinch was the first novel I ever contemplated quitting 95% through the book. The last 50 pages are incredibly tedious. MY THEMES, LET ME TELL YOU THEM.

My theory is that's why it scored so high, though! People like to highlight declarative sentences, I think.
posted by escabeche at 7:41 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


I stop reading books if they cross a stupidity threshold.

And given what I normally read, it's a really high threshold.

Hell, I finished the book about the ex navy seal and astronaut who was so traumatized by the death of his girlfriend (she fell out of the space shuttle on re-entry), that he carried around her astronaut suit glove throughout the book.

That was the one where the world ended, but the whole world went back in time except for the badguys who all died, and the goodguys also survived time travel and were okay.

I finished the book about carnivorous giant ants (twice the size of regular ants). I finished more books than you can count about lost civilizations in antarctica with the rugged ex-navy seal who's trying to go straight to get his kids back and save the world from a conspiracy, or aliens, or whatever.

For me not to finish a book it has to be 1 of 3 things.

1. Too stupid. This is a level of stupidity that it is hard to quantify on conventional scales. I'd say it's a National Treasure level of stupid. The kind of stupidity that has a 3-4 block impact on the people surrounding you.

2. Poorly Written - I can't deal with sloppy writing, or poorly researched pulp. If you're going to write about antarctica, submarines, space, monsters, megalodon, the military, conspiracies, secret orders, DO YOUR FUCKING RESEARCH.

3. Not what it says on the tin - I'll be reading a book about a secret nazi conspiracy, and the 2 people that can stop it and halfway through realize "Hey, wait a minute, this is all about relationships". Nobody clearly labels romance books in the sci-fi, conspiracy, or fantasy genres. It's frustrating because what you think is a military sci fi book is actually a romance novel (I"M LOOKING AT YOU LACUNA)

TLDR - Man, I read a lot of crap. A lot of good stuff too, but man, a lot of crap.
posted by Lord_Pall at 7:55 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


griphus: Someday Pile would be a perfect name for a Pynchon or Vonnegut character.

Surely "Someday Pile" would be better suited for a Jasper Fforde book, possibly as the name for a stately home that had been bought by the Chronoguard for use as a clandestine office or safe house, or for the storage of hazardous (reading) materials.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:13 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


Capital is #15 on Amazon's best seller list and has 843 reviews with a 4* average.

WTF?

Also Gladwell's new book is number four even though they have the three week time embargo on his publisher.
posted by bukvich at 8:14 AM on July 7


Of the Goodreads top 5, the one that surprised me the most was actually Atlas Shrugged. A dumb book, but much more of a sort of easy page turner than Moby Dick or Ulysses (the latter of which I can't imagine finishing without a class or support group).

The people who are inclined to read (and highlight) Atlas Shrugged strike me as people for whom reading in general is not a favorite activity.
posted by Legomancer at 8:21 AM on July 7


Also there should be a Neal Stephenson statistic for books that go down easy for 250 pages then crash into a brick igloo wall.
posted by bukvich at 8:21 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]


The people who are inclined to read (and highlight) Atlas Shrugged strike me as people for whom reading in general is not a favorite activity.

Well, it's also a Culturally Important Book in that, like it or not, it's been influential for a lot of people.

So I'm sure there's a bunch of smart, skeptically inclined readers who pick it up all like "Right, I want to see what the big deal is and judge for myself whether there's any merit to this," and then past a certain point they're just "NOPE NOPE NOPE NO MERIT WHATSOEVER GLAD WE SETTLED THAT" and go back to the sort of books they actually enjoy.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:27 AM on July 7


My unfinished shame is Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Abandoned it after 500 pages. Started it fresh a year later, abandoned after 700 pages. I can see the words on the page, but I can't summon the will to keep reading. I JUST DON'T LIKE CHARLES DICKENS OK!

I do like Dickens, and I've never gotten more than a hundred pages into Bleak House, so don't feel bad.

Also, I want to like MetaFilter favorite House of Leaves...scratch that, I do like House of Leaves, or at least the first half of it, which I've read twice, but never seem to manage to finish it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:51 AM on July 7


i am a compulsive reader, and have been since I could recognise words at the age of two or so. The hardest part of getting a serious illness a few years ago is that it cut my reading speed by half, as I struggled to maintain concentration - I can read non-fiction easily now but more complex novels are still difficult for me. (I have been reading as much non-crappy popular fiction as I can which has helped a lot, though I can't quite get into the idea of reading YA as a woman in her thirties.) If it's something that's reviewed in the broadsheets, it'll take me a week to read, which feels frustratingly slow.

So, it's rare for me to not finish a book. However, the last book I read which was so awful that I had to keep reading to the end mostly out of sheer disbelief was Lionel Shriver's Big Brother. I would rather attempt the catechism chapter of Ulysses every day for a month than risk smashing my Kindle in frustration at the 'trick' ending. I rarely see it in charity shops so I can only assume non-ereader people have burnt the wretched thing to avoid anyone else accidentally wasting time.
posted by mippy at 8:59 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


Also, from my reading rehabilitation of bestsellers, I can tell you that Kindle readers seem to find The Devil Wears Prada quite profound. So many highlighters, so few of them on that wonderfully waspish passage on cerulean blue.
posted by mippy at 9:01 AM on July 7


I want to read Infinite Jest but there's only so much room in my handbag, y'know?
posted by mippy at 9:03 AM on July 7


I stopped many years ago, but I still feel like I'm forgetting something when I don't have the A Brief History of Time paperback in my carry-on. It was the perfect size for holding the airline ticket and it slipped right into the oversized pockets of the light jacket that I wore all through high school and college.
posted by Skwirl at 9:27 AM on July 7


Highlighting on the Kindle is slightly tedious, but not that bad. What's terrible is that you can't really access your highlighted quotes.

Same on the Kobo. Since they added Pocket integration you can bookmark something and it magically appears on your device, but nothing so fancy in the opposite direction. I spent the last hour trying to get FB posting / IFTTT channels to do something useful, but no joy. I did get this script to work at pulling annotations from the device, but that's barely better than jotting down a brief passage and looking it up later in Calibre. I read for pleasure, but also to make up for my lack of education, so my desire to highlight and take notes probably comes from that. I believe I'll stick with my notebook. That way, when I'm on the phone with my brother and need to drop a bon mot on him, it's right there.
posted by Lorin at 9:31 AM on July 7


Wait, I thought that being caught in the purgatory of perpetually reading and rereading the first half of Catch-22 was the point of the book?
posted by Skwirl at 9:36 AM on July 7


3. Not what it says on the tin - I'll be reading a book about a secret nazi conspiracy, and the 2 people that can stop it and halfway through realize "Hey, wait a minute, this is all about relationships". Nobody clearly labels romance books in the sci-fi, conspiracy, or fantasy genres. It's frustrating because what you think is a military sci fi book is actually a romance novel (I"M LOOKING AT YOU LACUNA)

Oh me too. Crime novels are especially guilty of this: "yes, yes serial killer, but here's 75 pages on coping with alcoholism and learning how to reconnect with your ex-wife first".

In the SF genre the most recent offender for me was "The Girl in the Road". About halfway through you realize that this is a magical realist joint about relationships and sex and mental illness, and not the semi-hard near future dystopia it started out as.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:43 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


I've avoided finishing a number of these.

Brief History of Time: I've never gotten very far into it. My reading comprehension is fine for most non-fiction, but for science I find I need to either talk to people or have problems to work through in order to follow along. It all blends to mush after a few dozen pages.

Atlas Shrugged: I read it at an age that I didn't leave a book unfinished, but I did skip the 40-page radio address 3/4 of the way in. It was such a clear line between story and personal politics, and the politics didn't interest me. As an adult I probably would have gotten the point and walked away from it way before that.

Catch-22: I can't remember much of it but sort it with Slaughterhouse-5, another important wry war book that everyone loves, that I put down a few pages in. I think I put up a wall when I assume that characters will be dead by the end and can't work up the interest to keep going.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:55 AM on July 7


This year has been about getting things done, and it was no small victory for me when I finished Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It was the first book I bought for my new Kindle, and while I enjoyed it, a few nights I was grinding out 5% (per the Kindle's calculations) an evening just to keep the forward momentum.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:59 AM on July 7


There is another potential statistic. Longest gap of unhighlighted stuff in a book with bunches of highlights.

Has anybody ever highlighted a sentence in the long scene where they go hunting in the country in War and Peace?
posted by bukvich at 10:00 AM on July 7


I love Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, but no one else in my book club was able to finish it. The meeting was just me telling everyone how it ended. Since then, we are not allowed to suggest books over 500 pages. :(
posted by domo at 10:13 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


It took me over five years to finish Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I bought it in hardback with an Amazon gift certificate when I was 17 or so, couldn't get past the first hundred pages, but optimistically stuck it on my Goodreads to-read list some time in 2007, and finally got around to finishing it in late 2012. I had to switch from the hardback version to Kindle though, that book is a hell of an unwieldy brick.

I don't blame anyone for giving up on JS&MN. It's beautifully written, and I thought it was mostly worth the time I put into it, but man, "The first third is slow!" is a tough sell when the first third of the book is 300 pages. One of my Goodreads status updates for it was "This is the book that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friends, some people started reading it not knowing what it was, and they'll continue reading it forever just because..."
posted by yasaman at 12:37 PM on July 7


Jesus, when I read JS&MN I immediately read it again. And thrice since.

I had no difficulty with that defective masterpiece Infinite Jest apart from struggling to keep one finger in the footnotes. Every time someone reads IJ because they feel it's their duty, a fairy dies.

Pynchon, though; that's arduous.
posted by Segundus at 1:33 PM on July 7


> Pynchon, though; that's arduous.

Mason and Dixon. I haven't quit yet. But there better be an invasion of bad space aliens or something, and soon.
posted by jfuller at 6:52 PM on July 7


Okay, okay, but how many of y'all have read this far in the comments?
posted by Monochrome at 8:39 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]


Shouldn't Ellenberg note that his dubious index only applies to readers who highlight Kindle books? I, for one, have never highlighted anything on the Kindle.
posted by abakua at 9:52 PM on July 7


I just remembered, I'm overdue for my biennial "First 80 pages of Gravity's Rainbow".
posted by rifflesby at 11:21 PM on July 7 [4 favorites]


Ha ha I was about to say Gravity's Rainbow.
posted by interplanetjanet at 2:33 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I just remembered, I'm overdue for my biennial "First 80 pages of Gravity's Rainbow".

Yep, it took me 8 tries, and on the first 7, I rarely got past page 80. It's somewhere after the Banana Breakfast and the Giant Adenoid and Tantivy-Muffuck or whomever in the office with Slothrop (or maybe that historical excursion with IG Farben and Slothrop's ancestors).

It does get better and easier to read, and actually pretty funny in parts (and quite disturbing/graphic in others).

Now Against the Day is EASILY the hardest Pynchon in my opinion. It's a blast in parts and the Chums of Chance are wonderful, but man is it highly tortuous.

For pure joy and fun, stick to The Crying of Lot 49 or Inherent Vice.

Mason & Dixon, my personal favorite, isn't actually that bad. It has a linear plot and extreme rarity for Pychon: unique, human characters that you actually care about (both Jeremiah and Charles).

For Infinite Jest, you gotta get to like page 235, and then you're hooked. I loved it, so it was no problem.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:09 PM on July 10


Pynchon, though; that's arduous.

I picked up The Crying of Lot 49 from my sister's bookcase many years ago. It's an easy book to read, but half way through even the easiest thing in the world would have seemed as pointless as finishing that book. Wanking but never coming.
posted by Thing at 3:06 PM on July 11


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