When I saw there was a Goodreads poll looking for this answer, I had some ideas on what might win the day – Something by Tolstoy? Gravity’s Rainbow? Grapes of Wrath?
Turns out it’s none of those (though I, personally, have quit all and feel no regrets on the topic).
In 2013, Goodreads compiled members’ answers on while classic novels they just couldn’t get through – Catch-22 by Joseph Heller topped the list (never tried it), followed by The Lord of the Rings (read it but have no memory) by J.R.R. Tolkien, Ulysses (never read it) by James Joyce, Moby-Dick (never made the attempt) by Herman Melville, and Atlas Shrugged (yep, quit it) by Ayn Rand.
Other, perhaps more surprising entries on the list:
- The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (own it, haven’t read it)
- Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (no interest)
- Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (quit it; I find most memoirs excruciating)
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson (never tried it)
- Wicked by Gregory Maguire (read it – and it might be the most screwed up book I’ve ever finished)
Since many of these were adapted into stage or screen versions, it’s possible people just decided to chuck the books and watch, instead (or, re: Casual Vacancy, they realized it was not Harry Potter. At all).
Mathematician and professor Jordan Ellenberg devised his own way of calculating how unreadable a book is – he calls it the Hawking Index, and as far as he’s concerned, Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton is one of the easiest books to quit (only 1.9% of readers finish the thing).
Here’s the rest of his top 5:
- Capital by Thomas Piketty
- Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
- A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
You might think the length of these novels played into people’s decisions not to finish them, but then you learn that almost 99% of the people who start The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt finish it – and it’s nearly 800 pages long.
If those readers are like me, they’re probably turning the pages thinking that eventually something is going to happen.
If so, then we’ll all be disappointed. Spoiler alert.
In the end, there are millions of books out there, and you only have so many years of your life to get through them all – so don’t waste a minute plowing through a tome you don’t enjoy just because “they” told you it’s exceptional.
Read what you like. Build your own must-read lists.
You only get so many years and so many books. Don’t waste them on boring!