Reading Habits

Five reasons to finish reading a book you didn’t like

A recent online discussion about a certain book series caught my attention. Reviewers didn’t like the series, yet they read all the books in the series, which seems contradictory. However, a little thought reveals that this is not the case. Here are five perfectly valid reasons (okay, four valid reasons and a logical error) to hold onto a series that doesn’t suit your personal taste.

Usually, these articles have examples, but I have a feeling the authors might not want their work cited as the literary equivalent of cod liver oil, so I’ll make this discussion more general.

Sunk Cost Fallacy

As the word “fallacy” suggests, the sunk cost fallacy is less a valid reason to keep reading than it is a profound thought error suffered by billions of people. In its more general form, the reluctance to admit that one is wasting resources on an ill-advised endeavor is known as the sunk cost fallacy. It’s a powerful driver of human behavior because no one likes to admit they’re wrong. beings, and even some book reviewers, after investing time in reading disappointing books, may be hesitant to give up on those books because the effort will go down the drain. However, the resources used so far are gone forever; the time and effort invested in the future on terrible books will never be recouped. Clearly, rejecting the sunk cost fallacy would make human life better, but the phenomenon persists. Maybe if I spent a little more time trying to convince people of this obvious logic error

There’s a related issue that, while not worthy of a dedicated discussion, needs to be mentioned: often, people simply don’t realize that they can stop doing something if it doesn’t pay off.

Lack of Alternatives

Every month, many new titles enter the continent-wide distribution channel. However, not everyone can afford to buy new books at their own pace. Also, some of us may have picked up buying habits from the past, when fewer books were published, and the means of distributing them were much more rudimentary than they are today. These people may well decide to focus on the books they actually have access to rather than the books they might prefer to access. If the choices were “a library book that people don’t particularly like” or “nothing at all,” the library book would likely win out.

If a person happens to have a particular literary yearning, they may find that picking it up forces them to compromise on smaller issues like prose and characterization. For example, books set in the solar system with plausible propulsion systems were so rare between 1980 and 2010 that one can’t be picky about the quality of the literature if one wants to read them (in this case, me).

Dim Curiosity

Many people are fascinated by disasters, whether it’s a car crash, plane crash, or nuclear fallout. How did this happen? Why is this happening? God, how long is this going to last? This rubber band has spawned a rich tradition of works on the subject of imagined disasters (disaster movies, science fiction and fantasy works, thrillers, etc.) as well as books, films, and television shows covering historical disasters. Sometimes it’s about learning how to avoid them. Usually because explosions are cool. In some very specific cases, this obsession can fuel a morbid fear of molasses.

A terrible book offers a similar diversion. How could such a tattered book be printed? How bad does a book have to be for the reader to gouge out their own eyes to escape? The entire series, made up of equally (often increasingly depressing) installments, provides greater entertainment of this kind, which probably doesn’t do anyone any favors.


This may seem counterintuitive. Surely it’s better to learn from something well done than from something poorly executed? Flaws are easy to notice, whereas excellence can be depressingly subtle. Knowing what not to do at least narrows down the possibilities of what to do.

Likewise, speculative fiction with serious scientific errors can be annoying to read – surely everyone was taught basic thermodynamics as a child? Doesn’t every elementary school kid know the rocket equation? Why would anyone think a horse works like a motorcycle? — but thinking about what’s wrong with the foundation of the work can help us understand the world better.

To Pay

In the end, a compelling reason to stick with a disappointing book is that someone paid for it. Convincing people that paying for book reviews is worth it is left as an exercise for the reader.

No doubt many of you have your own perfectly valid reasons for sticking with disappointing series from time to time. Feel free to share them with us in the comments below.


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