What stops you reading?

Bit of a tangent to the what are you reading subject.

I was reading dark matter by Blake Crouch. I’m about half way through it but something was not clicking with the story that is making the book a bit of a slog.

It got me thinking about the last few times I’ve struggled to keep going through a book. Then I realised what it is these books have in common. They all have a protagonist who is a few steps behind the narrative.

So now I know, I really don’t like when a book has a clueless protagonist who is throughout the entirety of the book trying to unravel a mystery that is either obviously signposted or actually been explained to the reader (normally through another perspective). If only authors would put that on the blurb at the back.

So it got me wondering what really boils other peoples blood in a book and makes them want to stop reading?




Presenting strawmen for the author to takedown via their mouthpiece character, and more generally most hamfisted attempts to push an argument or worldview through fiction.


Any book where it’s just stuff happening. I love deep character pieces with personal growth and inner conflict. I’m a sucker for internal monologues. If it’s just action and explosions, I’d rather watch a film. I generally don’t read fantasy or sci fi since those genres are so obsessed with plots. It’s all “this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened”. So many sci fi books are a desperate attempt at being optioned for a film. Burn them all.

Any book where the authors voice is too apparent - the authors hand needs to melt away within the first couple of chapters. I find thrillers and detective stories so difficult to read. The protagonist gets it wrong once, then again, and then takes a giant leap of faith… that always pays off because the author wrote it that way. It’s dull. There are no stakes when you know the author will bend over backwards to allow the protagonist to miraculously save the day in the end. Smart people in books are the worst. “I predicted it all and knew exactly how you would respond because I’m a genius blah blah blah”. Urgh! It’s like someone playing a game of chess against themselves, and then cheating. It’s not clever, it’s inane and pointless!

There needs some level of naturalistic prose for me to be invested and forget it’s all been pre-ordained. As part of that, different characters need to have genuinely different characters beyond basic surface-level traits. When all characters speak with the same voice I feel like I’m reading a book written by a child.

And why, yes, The Goldfinch is one of my favourite books, and I’m not even sorry. It’s perfect.



I used to average four novels a week. These days I’m lucky to read four in a year. When I was hit with depression about fifteen years ago my desire to read and ability to enjoy books slumped dramatically; it never really recovered.

Not quite what you were after, but there we are.


Well, here is a recent case.

I read about Yoon Ha Lee winning the Hugo Award for Ninefox Gambit. So I decided to take a look. The first page began,

“At Kel Academy, an instructor had explained to Cheris’s class that the threshold winnower was a weapon of last resort, and not just for its notorious connotations. Said instructor had once witnessed a winnower in use.”

That killed my interest in reading further right there. The locution "said " is the sort of thing that George Orwell wrote about in “Politics and the English Language.” It might turn up in a police report or an administrative document, but I’ve never heard anyone use it in actual speech. I read largely for the pleasure of the author’s voice, and this wasn’t a voice I wanted to endure.


Same here. With my mental health being affected cyclically my ability to read comes and goes. And when it comes back the habit of reading has been forgotten so I often don’t. Plus being dyspraxic when I do it’s a slow process. Sucks.


It’s about the same for me. Fiction makes me weep.

As for the more responsive answer, even when I am well I am repulsed by clumsy exposition and stopped dead by “As you know, Bob” dialogue.


Absolutely this. I largely don’t care if an author has political views or is religious or whatever, even if it (as it nearly inevitably does) colors their writing’s perspective as long as it’s not too egregious, but I’m there for a story. I want believable characters, an interesting setting, good prose, real-feeling dialogue, etc. I do not want a lecture thinly disguised as fiction.

Otherwise I’m pretty difficult to dislodge from a book. I read quickly and hate leaving things unfinished, so I’d probably only put it down if absolutely nothing was happening or I really hated the characters and/or authorial voice. I finished The Da Vinci Code, for example, and that book is garbage. And Catcher in the Rye, and I reallllllly didn’t like Holden Caulfield at all.

Right now, I just don’t have the downtime where I would ordinarily be neck deep in a novel, what with my commute eliminated, eating in (and cooking a lot of my lunches) and not really taking discrete breaks since I’m regularly distracted by other things while working and probably lose more time to that than I’m technically owed in breaks.

1 Like

I quite enjoy these from time to time, dependent upon the strawman construction. Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is nothing but leftie environmentalism in the most sentimental way, but it was fun.

Especially loved when the protagonist suddenly and inexplicably reviewed a Bright Eyes album in the middle of the book for no reason. I was so incredulous, I read it a good three or four times. It wasn’t even subtle. It was like a review was copy+pasted in.

Ah, but what about when it’s an American dogmatic free marketeer, or a Randian, or some other viewpoint you think is generally just very wrong? I’m not sure whether such writers are generally worse, or more hamfisted, or whether it’s just that the disconnect with me is worse, but for me they do seem to tend to be more jarring the more I disagree with them.


I quite like a worldview distilled into a novel form, irrespective of whether I agree with it, as long as it has some degree of sincerity and earnestness rather than cynical edginess. If it’s hamfisted “hate this person, they’re the enemy. Don’t they suck? Look how stupid they are!”, then not so much. But for presentation of an overall perspective and why they see the world that way, I think it’s an effective form.


That might explain the difference - the ones that annoy me seem to be more antagonistic, and that might just be baked into those worldviews.

A novel gives an individual the space to express their ideas in depth, without being interrupted, with pretty much total freedom. The one-sided nature of that communication is an intrinsic part of that. Where it crosses the line into blunt straw-man is a difficult line to draw.

I appreciate the author being up front about any intentions though, and general concepts are far easier to handle than specific targets. A paternalistic capitalist dystopia is a pretty clear expression of a worldview, whether it’s Randian or A Handmaiden’s Tale. As opposed to, say, a children’s author using a crime novel to snidely jab a marginalised group that they have been quite openly hostile towards for a number of years, under the guise of “it’s just a story!”. Just a hypothetical example out of thin air.

1 Like

And stress, it turns out. I’ve been a huge reader my whole life, my yearly book bill is terrifying, but since the start of the pandemic my reading has dropped off a cliff. I’m in a book club and many of them have experienced the same. Our brains are busy dealing with the amount of undefined threat out there.

1 Like

My big peeve is when a book makes it clear from Chapter One that the only thing you’re in for in the next 1000 pages is concentrated misery, because misery is “literary” or “serious”. Even that can work, but you have to care about the main character before the doom starts. You have to think that they could have a better life, if they can get past the bad stuff, and want them to feel good instead. If that’s not there, there’s no tension.

I’ve been in a Waterstones book club for 4-5 years now, and you would not BELIEVE the number of front-table fiction bestsellers which are just boring misery-lit because they don’t make you care about the protagonist before embarking on a tedious journey of unrelenting gloom. It’s about the only thing that will make me put a book down unfinished. What happened to passionate, inspiring struggle? Beautiful hope? Surprising relief? Instead we get “suffering means it’s a good book” nonsense.


Well, as it happens, I agree with more of Rand’s ideas than with any other philosopher’s, and I’m sure you would call me a free market nutjob (though I consider that phrase discourteous* in a forum where you can’t be sure everyone will share your particular views); and though Rand is not my favorite writer (if I had to pick just one novel, it would be The Lord of the Rings, though I don’t agree with Tolkien’s Catholicism at all), I do enjoy her fiction.

But I can name writers I enjoy a good deal even though I don’t share their views. I’ve read quite a few volumes in the series that began with 1632, though I have no sympathy for labor unions, and Eric Flint is strongly in favor of them. I have read The Dispossessed several times, and have always found it moving, though I don’t admire its communism (even though it’s real communism and not the Marxist dictatorships that commonly are so called). I don’t like all of Jo Walton’s fiction, but I like a lot of it, and like some of it a great deal, particularly her very early quasi-Arthurian stories, even though she’s a fairly standard British socialist, as far as I can tell.

*And thank you, @Benkyo, for removing it.


Like I say, to me the distinction is whether they are trying to tell a story, which will generally be influenced by their personal beliefs in some fashion whether or not they want it so, or whether they are trying to persuade the reader of their worldview and using the guise of fiction to do so. I’ve enjoyed some David Weber (moderately, at any rate) despite his tendency to cast straw-mannish liberals as one of the key things undercutting his career military protagonist’s efforts, because ultimately they’re stories about heroically solving tough situations and big space battles and stuff like that. I think he’s got some distinct weaknesses as a writer, but it’s not the fact that I disagree with his politics. Conversely, Terry Goodkind (who just died the other day) was very vocal that he considered his novels to be about spreading his philosophical truths about the world and how people ought to act, and while it’s subtle in the early books (at least, to the teenager I was when I was reading them), by Faith of the Fallen I was rolling my eyes hard at how ridiculously didactic he was being and how totally implausible his antagonists and situations were, and I did not end up finishing the series.

I can’t off the top of my head think of a liberal author that was doing similar, but I think I’ve read at least one and wasn’t very excited about that, either, despite agreeing with them. That or an atheist author going off on rants about religion and faith. Again, I agree, but…dude. Story.

I’ve been told that Goodkind was influenced by Rand, but I read part of one of his novels and gave up, and I don’t expect ever to take up another.

This is about all I can read. Just stuff happening. No real narrative, doesn’t necessarily require a justification.

“There is a man who can speak to cats. He spends his days looking for lost cats. Here are some of the times he did that.” 10/10 five stars would read again.

The main thing that stops me reading is words. Long books, things that take too much time, things that last forever.

I want a segment of a story. I don’t need to know where you grew up, I don’t need to know how everything resolves, I just need a bit of stuff happening. Stop giving me all these things I don’t need.