Half-Baked Ideas: Why You Keep Reading Something You Hate

So, this is the least baked of all the half-baked ideas. In fact it's almost raw, because I don't exactly know why, when I hate a book, I keep reading it. I know there are a whole lot of you out there who will start a book, find it's not to your liking, and put the book down, never to pick it up again, and go merrily on your way.

I am not like that.

There is a certain mid-level type of book, a book I just don't get drawn into, that I can leave in the first chapter or so. But a book that rubs me the wrong way? That really, for some reason, pisses me off? I finish it. Almost always.

Why is this? Here's my half-baked theory, replete with (as all the best half-baked theories are) fake psychology. You know that whole "Hate isn't the opposite of love, indifference is the opposite of love" thing that many people feel compelled to point out? That. Essentially: my hating these books was evidence of some strong response I was having to something in the books. This goes along with: it's better to be hated than to be ignored, etc etc. That is part of the theory. (Is this even a theory?) The other possible reason is less charitable both toward book and reader, which makes me think it's somehow more likely to be true: I think on some level I just want to be pissed off at the book. It's like some warped relationship where I'm (metaphorically) driving around with the hated book in the car and saying "God, you're always like this. I just knew you'd be like this. Look, there you are doing it again!" And the book is muttering under its breath and doing the same irritating thing over and over.

Does this make sense? I mean as a semi-coherent idea, not as in "Gee, what a great way to enjoy the pleasures of reading." 

I don't know what this feeds in me. I don't go looking for books I hate, I just come upon them and then we go along together through an 8-day or so nasty sniping period and then we gratefully break apart and I try to find a book I like better. Books that make me particularly irritable? Like so:

Unpleasantly lyrical. If the back says "lapidary prose," this is a warning.

Sure of their own rightness. Is this a political or a cultural problem? I don't even know, I just know it as an "Oh no, it's trying to convince me of something."

Smug. Ugh.

Am I alone here? Are you guys strong enough to start hating a book and just put it aside? Or do you have to berate it all the way to the end, then part grumbling?

Oh, and the kids? They don't seem to have this problem. I am envious.

11 thoughts on “Half-Baked Ideas: Why You Keep Reading Something You Hate

  1. You are not alone. Although I have found this: the only books I keep reading, even after I realize I hate them, are the ones that other people are praising. If a book is just clearly awful I can let it go. But if people I know and trust are loving it, I may have to read it two or three times in order to properly justify my hate with examples. Ian McEwan, Michael Ondantjee, and Never Let You Go all come to mind. Bitter and steeped are probably not a good combination.

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  2. I remember reading The Corrections and hating it from the first page and continuing to read it. I’m with Kaethe: I keep reading the book if others liked it or recommended it. And Middlesex was a lot like what Diamond described, so unpleasant I couldn’t not finish it.
    And yes, my son will happily throw a book to the side after reading the first chapter. Too many books, so little time!

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  3. hmmm…I can think of one time I kept reading something that made me angry. I didn’t hate the book, it just had parts that were irritating.
    But if a book is leaving me disinterested, I can put it down without regrets.

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  4. Oh dear, is someone up above me hating Kazuo Ishiguru? I love him. Oh well. Michael Ondatje though, I can get behind hating that. He just tries to hard.
    I am in a book club so I sometimes have to read a book that I really hate. Well, I don’t actually have to, I guess. Lots of people in my book club will not finish the book and cheerfully show up for the wine, but I always feel I should finish it so that I can defend my position as a hater.
    Books that I hate sometimes have ’emotionally gripping’ on the back. Anything by Jodi Picoult springs to mind. “Still Alice” was another one that I really had to force myself through. I’m looking for a certain subtlety in the emotions, I guess. Not the literary equivalent of smacking the reader across the back of the head with a shovel while yelling “FEEL SAD NOW!”

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  5. I don’t do this with books, so much, but I find myself doing it with blogs… I’ll read someone who drives me crazy just to confirm that they drive me crazy. (Though I hasten to add that your blog certainly doesn’t fall in this category!) I think people inherently like a bit of drama and this is one way we get it.

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  6. In Ishiguru’s defense, I dearly loved Remains of the Day. No doubt that was part of why I was so angry about Never Let You Go. Oh, yes, Jodi Picoult, too.
    Diamond, I’m relieved to know that there are so many of us who read books we hate.

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  7. I used to have to finish all books. Two books cured me of this, an awful Amish mystery where the “heroine” just kept repeating her catchphrase at least twice every page. And the first one of the Left Behind books. (I feel that I have to give all books a chance to be wonderful, stimulating books)

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  8. I do this too! I also detested The Corrections, but kept doggedly on until the final page. The first Twilight book made me so furious I literally threw the book across the room when I finished it.
    I think I keep going because this little part of me wants to believe it will get better, redeem itself, become worth the journey in the end.
    Alas. Not always.

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  9. I used to HAVE to finish any book at all I started, so I had this problem. However, I was cured of this by Philippa Gregory’s Wideacre. OH MY GOD HOW I HATE(D) THAT BOOK. Caps-hate. I tried, and I tried, and then I said “Eff this book, I don’t have time for this crap.” and I put it down. Then I read the Amazon reviews to justify my hatred and I went about my merry little way. Now I’m more likely to put something down if I just know it’s not a good fit. Like someone else said, there are so many books and so little time and I love reading too much to waste time on hated books.

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