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The 20 Books You Just Couldn’t Finish

By July 13, 2015April 17th, 2016Discussion and Recommendations

After I’d tried and failed to read a famously awful trilogy, the team at Reading Addicts and I were discussing books we’d been unable to finish and we thought it would make a good Poll Question; ha! What little did we know! Thousands of you replied and whilst a large number of you claim to have read everything they’ve started (really? Everything?), most of you were vehement in sharing your candidate for the book you just could not read to the end.
As always, don’t shoot the messenger, you’re the ones who decided on the books that appear below.

It comes as no surprise that the run away winner of this poll is E.L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. With over 500 votes, it seems many of you were turned off by the writing style of the author.

Fifty Shades Trilogy US
Fifty Shades Trilogy UK

Running 50 Shades a close second (well almost 200 of you),  was Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga. Again the author’s writing style was your main gripe..

Twilight Saga US
Twilight Saga UK

Stephanie Meyer also takes third place with her fantasy novel Host; I really rather liked this one but 56 of you said it just didn’t grab you in the way her Twilight saga had.

The Host US
The Host UK

The Casual Vacancy is a close run fourth with 51 votes, many of you finding it difficult to leave Harry and his chums behind.

The Casual Vacancy US
The Casual Vacancy UK

Game of Thrones from George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga is next, with complaints of it being slow, boring and long winded.

A Song of Ice and Fire US
A Song of Ice and Fire UK

The Life of Pi received a surprising 45 votes. Full of ‘boring bits I wanted to skip’ and deemed un-entertaining according to the voters’ comments.

The Life of Pi US
The Life of Pi UK

This next title on our unfinished poll shocked me; but it seems that for 37 of you Harry Potter was not as magical as you imagined.

Harry Potter US
Harry Potter UK

Great Expectations  is next on our list, its long winded and depressing prose blamed for the difficulties in finishing this classic Dickens novel.

Great Expectations US
Great Expectations UK

Next is Gone Girl, with complaints of unlikable characters and awkward plot lines given as reasons for not getting past the first few chapters of Gillian Flynn’s highly regarded novel.

Gone Girl US
Gone Girl UK

Your final nominee was Eat Pray Love; boredom yet again claiming 29 readers and prematurely ending their relationship with Elizabeth Gilbert’s travels across Italy, India and Indonesia.

Eat, Pray, Love US
Eat, Pray, Love UK

Wicked –  Gregory Maguire
Divergent Trilogy – Veronica Roth
Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
An Abundance of Katherines – John Green
The Picture of Dorian Grey – Oscar Wilde
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Ulysses – James Joyce    
The Fault in our Stars – John Green

Fill the next ten spots in our unreadable poll. What did you think? Do you agree with the results, or are you horrified that your favourite book has appeared in our list? Feel free to comment and add your Book You Couldn’t Finish.

Leave your vote


  • Jim cooper says:

    No real surprises in the 20 I Couldn’t Finish list . The only one the irks me is one in the sub-list – The Handmaid’s Tale.
    As for what I would add….

    The Scarlet Letter/Hawthorne (ugh)
    The Shipping News/Proulx
    The Bonfire of The Vanities/Wolfe
    Zen & Art of Motorcycle Maintenance/Persig

    • A reader should be able to read anything and everything. Including the phone book. You disappoint me!

    • Gemma says:

      I agree about the Handmaid’s Tale. I love that book and have read it so many times!

    • Alicia Nierman says:

      I finished “The Shipping News,” but I still wonder why.

    • Kim Shepard says:

      I agree with the Scarlet Letter. I tried twice and couldn’t get through it either time!

      • Penny Williams says:

        Yes! Once in my 20s and again in my 40s – horrible!

        • Adele says:

          I agree with the dislike of The Scarlet Letter, but think of when it came out. And here was this book about judging a woman for adulatory, when, all along, the man who commits adultry with her escapes scot free. Pretty radical commentary on gender hypocrisy.

  • Chana Plotke says:

    The one I couldn’t finish was Moby Dick, although I would be willing to give it another try. I liked Eat, Pray, Love; Life of Pi; The Handmaid’s Tale; The Time Traveler’s Wife; and Wicked.

  • Beverly says:

    Transfer of Power by Vince Flynn. It was recommended to me. Even 30 + pages in I just couldn’t like it. Too many descriptive words made it distracting to the story. Maybe it’s just me but I couldn’t finish it. It was my first time reading Vince Flynn. I will not be trying another.

  • Anne says:

    I’d like to be the first of what I’m certain will be many to nominated “Go Set a Watchman”.

    • Amy says:

      I finished it but was so disappointed by it. I can understand why you didn’t finish it.

    • Jeanette Smith says:

      I hated it too although I finished it – such a disappointment after To kill a mockingbird

  • Jake says:

    I second the “ugh” on Scarlet Letter; I’ve picked it up twice, never again. I’ve never been less interested by a book. I’ve liked other Hawthorne, though.

    I’ve attempted Moby Dick several times. I admit defeat.

    • JazzyJake says:

      I agree with you on both I have read, and loved, a lot of classics, but these 2 will go unread. Like you, I have liked other Hawthorne (House of the 7 Gables, stories), but can’t plid through SL.

  • Natalie says:

    Emma by Jane Austen… it holds the honour of the only book to literally send me to sleep, and on the first page at that. I was somewhat excited to read it until i actually tried.

    • Cathy says:

      I second Emma. I’m half way through the book, and there is no substance. The entire book is boring family and neighbor gossip. I’m forcing myself to read it to the end.

  • Sandra Albert says:

    Even though I was born in New Orleans and am a life-long resident of south Louisiana, I just have never been able to finish A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. I even tried listening to the abridged audio. I give up.

  • Patrizia says:

    “Gone girl” was difficult and boring only for the first few chapters, after that it turned out to be riveting and genial.
    I could not finish the highly appraised “The little friend” by Donna Tart.

  • Nina says:

    Until I read the Twilight saga I always finished books then I met Breaking Dawn and that was the end of the streak: the ending was so predictable I didn’t bother. To make up for it I tried reading The Host and couldn’t power through and then A Feast for Crows and Dance of Dragons are so tedious and passive that I never finished Dance. I also couldn’t finish The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest either; though to be fair, I read the second first and the other two just didn’t match up so I might have messed that one up.

  • Jill Porco says:

    I know this will be boo-hooed as sacrilege, but having said that, I read 9 chapters of Pride and Prejudice and couldn’t finish it. I had to read Northanger Abbey in college, did finish it with a struggle, and thought it was silly. Sorry Jane Austen fans, but that’s my take.

  • Kathryn says:

    I’m with you on Moby Dick. Also on Harry Potter the series, books 1-3 were good though.

    I disagree with Great Expectations. Parts of it were just hilarious. Pride and Prejudice I read almost once a year.

    But here’s my couldn’t finish, throw it in the trash title: The Goldfinch. 800 pages of “there’s a story here?”

  • Susan Yorke says:

    I had a difficult time with Pride and Prejudice. I had heard its a great book; but in my opinion, its not that great. I know Jane Austen fans will be taken aback by this, but it truly was a dry and difficult read.

    I also had problens with Twilight series. I don’t want to read 300 pages of depression. The Vampire leaves. You have a hot werewolf on your trail; sweetheart go with the hottie not the sparkly.

    • Atewhs says:

      Hahaha… I so agree with you over the Twilight saga series. And with Pride and Prejudice, I have tried reading it twice or thrice, but I just couldn’t finish it. I guess its a great and a wonderful book as many friends of mine take it for granted that I have read it ‘obviously’, after all it’s The Pride and Prejudice. Maybe it’s somewhat not engaging for me.

  • Bria says:

    I liked Life of Pi and of course LOVE HP. I’m with a good group of others in that I honestly could not force myself to finish Great Expectations for sophomore lit in high school. Got about 1/3 through and just couldn’t do it. Read the Cliff Notes instead. I know, I know sacrilege!

  • CJ Hines says:

    All The Light I Cannot See or that can’t be seen or whatever it is. The switching back and forth between the girl in France and the boy in Germany (or maybe the other way around) confused me and got to be tedious.

  • eline says:

    The Dutch book i am named after. Eline Veere from Louis Couperes. But i do have to note that it was probably one of the first literary Thrillers, and since it was written in the 18th centenary it isn’t the easiest to read.

  • I think Pride and Prejudice is the best novel in English lit…I read it when I resumed college to get a teaching degree. My professor was impressed with my enthusiasm for this book. I think it should be read in h..s. not Moby Dick ! Jeffrey Meyers said The Old Man and the Sea is the poor man’s Moby Dick….and our h.s had 9th graders struggling with Moby Dick !

  • Hariprbhu k says:

    I read Emma some chapter, little boring, Recently I read Anna Karenina, very interesting it reveals human character, and life etc. We expect such fiction. Thank.

  • Nele says:

    I’m shocked about these results. Some of my favourite books are on this list.
    Who calls themselves a reading addict?
    Sure, I can agree on some… Wuthering Heights is one DNF for me. I reached about halfway in and lost interest, but I’m gonna try again ☺️

    • Kim says:

      I have read most of the books on this list too. I agree about The Handmaid’s Tale, though, and I haven’t even attempted to read the Fifty Shades, Twilight, Divergent, Game of Thrones or Harry Potter series. The book I can’t get through is Infinite Jest. You people have low standards for difficult books.

      • marcy klein says:

        I loved infinite jest and everything by David Foster Wallace…George Elliot however, Mill on the Floss isn’t even allowed in my house

  • Heather says:

    For the longest time for me it was American Gods. Picked it up in multiple forms and couldn’t finish. Finally pushed through recently for the simple reason that my husband was reading it with me and I didn’t want to quit when he was loving it.

  • Deanna says:

    I have read 9 out of the 20 on this list, I own 5 of these that I have yet to start, on my tbr list. I love those 9 books (and sets)… would and have read them over and over again. All some amazing books!

  • Mouduna Tanjeem Khan says:

    The Picture of Dorian Grey. It was okay in the beginning. Near about three or four chapters in I was so bored I wanted to fling it out the window, and that is boring, ’cause I’m never harsh with books. I wouldn’t have finished it, and I didn’t if you look at it in the right definition. I skipped nearly fifty pages till I found something interesting and read on till the end.
    Emma. Well, I started on it when I had the most steam. I read nearly 20 or so books that year, and that’s a big one for me. I started Emma, and I do not know why I read till chapter four. It does NOT have the same quality as Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. Emma is not someone you can relate to, and that sort of kills it.

  • Danae says:

    I’m so happy I’m not the only one who couldn’t finish the Harry Potter series because everyone I talk to thinks I’m crazy because I read up to book five and was so happy because I thought I was done. It’s the only time I prefer the movie over the book, which kills me as a bookworm.

  • Zhi Kan says:

    I agree for some..I still dare not to start reading The Hunger Games, I forcefully finished Insurgent -just Insurgent-, and didn’t even watch the movie of Wuthering Heights which was supposedly instead of the book that i had only read five chapters of….so, yeah.

  • Jennd says:

    I couldn’t finish Twilight…no surprise when the movies came out couldn’t stand those either. It goes against everything I believe to be true…Vampires Do Not SPARKLE!

  • Victoria says:

    Bonfire of the Vanities was like watch paint dry. I’ve never been able to finish a Nicholas Sparks novel, they’re just vapid and shallow. Also some friends and family members keep giving me books by Jodi Picoult and I find her works emotionally manipulative and never finish them but I do keep trying especially since they were gifts from people who just love her writing.

  • Christoph says:

    Highlander by Diana Gabaldon. Starts off somewhat all right, she’s come back from WW2 and loves her husband, then …. magic happens and she’s sucked into a timewarp somehow and sent back a few hundred years, then is taken to a castle. Okay, with you so far, book.

    Then we get bogged down with what I’m sure had to be the author’s full knowledge of every damn aspect of life in that period. I don’t need pages and pages of how that particular society lived or why their clothes were made a certain way – just give me a story that’s interesting. If I wanted a hardcover version of Wikipedia I’d do a little time travelling of my own and grab an Encyclopedia Brittantica. I don’t read fiction to be ram rodded so many facts about minutae that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans – I read fiction to immerse myself in the character(s) and see how they’ll overcome some major obstacle and achieve their goal. You know, the entire point of every story that’s been written, ever. This story is filled with so much needless fluff, so much of what comes off as Gabaldon desperately pleading with us to say, “Oh but I SIMPLY MUST tell you about all the different foods on this table and how the foods were prepared, you just WON’T UNDERSTAND OTHERWISE!” – there is so much of this, that by the time Gabaldon apparently gets an incredibly rare moment of lucidity and decides it’d be a great idea to go back and insert a plot development in the midst of it all, I stopped caring. I dread to imagine what her first draft must’ve been like – her agent probably counted how far along he was in her story by the number of trees that died to bring us the amount of paper she’d have had to print it all out on. “Oh but it’s really popular.” you say. “There’s a TV show about it now.” Both statements are also true about crystal meth. Doesn’t make it good. Anyway I am fully aware that there will be plenty of people who will take issue with this comment, and that’s fine, I’m not posting it to convince them they’re wrong, merely to project my own thoughts and maybe affirm someone else who has a similiar view on this pretentious skunk fart of a series.

    • EAM says:

      Do you mean Outlander? If so, I agree completely. I’m an avid history buff so I was prepared to love this series but I couldn’t get past the initial 300 and something pages of the first book. The main character was so shallow and annoying and the narrative so contrived (and incredibly long-winded) that I just couldn’t finish the book… and that’s rare for me. Even if I’m really not enjoying the book, I’ll usually try to finish it just in case the story line might actually improve. The other series I couldn’t get into was the Jean Auel Clan of the Cave Bear books. The first book was okay and I read it in it’s entity but the rest went steadily downhill from there, turning into prehistoric soap-opera “bodice-ripper” novels. Ugh. I flipped through the following two and gave up on the rest of the series actually having anything of substance to offer. I know that these books were (and continue to be) very popular, but they just aren’t entertaining for me.

  • Arooma Naqvi says:

    I can’t believe Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations are on this list.

  • Marian says:

    War and peace. Had to read it as part of eng lit. Writing too stylised for me at age 15.

    • JazzyJake says:

      Give it another try someday when you are ready for it. It really is a great book.

  • Dave says:

    I couldn’t finish Battlefield Earth, by L Ron Hubbard. It is (a) very long, and (b) very dull.
    I don’t have anything against long books – got through the Gormenghast trilogy quite happily.

  • Bev says:

    Papillon Have tried and retried several times over the past 2 decades!

  • CynthiaMarie says:

    Vanity Fair by Thackeray ughhhhhhhh

  • Ella says:

    I think for me, Across Five Aprils, Parable of the Sower, and Three Cups of Tea were the worst for me. I finished Across Five Aprils because it was a reading we had to do in middle school, but the other two were high school books I really just couldn’t finish. I found Parable of the Sower outside of my interests and Three Cups of Tea too boring.

  • Angie says:

    I love many of these books but agree with a few (Twilight, Great Expectations; haven’t even tried Grey or Eat, Pray, Love). I’d add Melville’s Moby Dick and Teddy Dreiser’s An American Tragedy to the list.

  • JazzyJake says:

    It’s always in the top 5 greatest novels, but I’ve started Moby Dick 3 times and just have no interest whatsoever. Forever unread.

    The Scarlett Letter – what a snore-fest
    Dhalgren – a SF cult classic, but after reading 1/2 of an 800 page book with no plot, I punted

    I haven’t attempted Ulysses yet.

  • Amy says:

    Don Quixote – it defeated me not once but twice. Also, Catch-22, Tropic of Cancer and The Bone Clocks.

  • Jackie says:

    The Lord of the rings trilogy. The Hobbit was great but the rest made me feel stupid. I couldn’t keep all the odd names in my head and kept getting confused because of it.

  • Sharon says:

    “Silas Marner” by George Eliot is a book I just absolutely could not slog through. With the advantage age, I may try again, but there are so many enjoyable reads, why should I waste my time?

    Regarding Jane Austen books, the things I love about them are her characterizations and juxtaposition of mores with sly humor.

  • Tonya says:

    1984. I’ve tried more than once but I just cannot read it. It’s awful. Also on my DNF list are Fifty Shades of Grey and The Satanic Verses by Rushdie.

  • Jeanne Saint says:

    I agree with Ulysses – not for me. I also remember throwing a thriller by Francis Fyfield across the room in disgust – don’t remember the title but it was about a dentist and was horrible! I would never normally commit the sin of mishandling a book.

  • Brenda Paladino says:

    Life is too short to read bad books!

  • Erin says:

    I thought The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver was horrible! I couldn’t get any further than the first few chapters. I very seldom quit on a book, but I just couldn’t do this one.

  • Jacqueline Cook says:

    A book that I absolutely could not finish, no matter how much I wanted to and tried was Anna Karenina. I got half way through it and finally gave up.

  • Linda L.Holt says:

    I read a lot of the books you listed but the one I just could not finish was “Shades Of Grey” liked the movie though…….One of the books I just LOVE is “Whispers”by Dean Koontz….read it its great…..I’ve re-read it at least seven times

  • Patricia McCoy says:

    A more recent one that I just could NOT get through is: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. I *really* liked the premise but once I started reading it, I just had NO desire to continue.

  • Mai says:

    The girl on the train sits on my bookshelf staring accusingly at me….. I tried twice to finish it and realised that I just didn’t care.

  • Penny Williams says:

    Great Expectations is one of my favourite books of all time! I taught it in school and I got the kids to love it too – may be because I wore my old wedding dress and hobbled around a bit with a cane as Miss Haversham! Also – Eat, Pray, Love – horrible! I stopped after reading “Italy” primarily because, although she had lived in her apartment/house for 3 months, a ‘decorator’ friend visiting the US had to tell her that her bathroom was painted pink! And THIS is supposed to be an observant journalist? I think not.

  • Margaret Harke says:

    Loved the Life of Pi. Agree with the Fault in Our Stars, only read 1 chapter and knew I couldn’t finish it. Passed it along to someone who could. Book that took me the longest to read was War and Peace. Started it at 16 and finally finished at 23.

  • faye says:

    the difficult books for me were ones last i couldn’t get a handle on. big example for me is the satanic verses. i really wanted to read this, but the mindset was so alien to me that i only read a few chapters. the other that i just didnt read past the first 100 pages, was remembrance of things past. too much of the same stuff. many of the books mentioned, i have never bothered to pick up, so i cant say. but, moby dick, people! give it another chance now that you are out of high school.

  • Deborah Gust says:

    I have actually read the 50 Shades books more than once. No they are not as good as some other romanic/erotic novels but none the less they were my exposure to that type of reading. Why does everybody have to put them down all the time? Live with it. They were successful and so was the movie so get over it.

  • Michael says:

    The Kid by Sapphire is awful! Push was so good and the sequel not only fails in comparison, it is quite possibly the worst book I have ever read.

  • Changer says:

    Could not finish ‘Cloud Atlas’ – could not get past the first few pages no matter how I tried – and I am an avid reader.
    Could not do ‘Ulysses’, either, or ‘Tree of Man’ by Patrick White (required reading for my Australian lit course)
    Didn’t finish ‘Middlemarch’ but will give it another go at some point.
    Loved a lot of the others on the list. Enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’ because it had such antihero lead characters, although the ending was weak.
    Read the 1st ‘Shades of Grey’ and decided it was Mills and Boon with nipple clamps.
    Have not finished all of GRR Martin’s series – love the plot, but I get turned off by too many favourite characters getting ‘offed’.

  • Arec says:

    I am not surprised that the majority of these are either “classics”, best sellers, or books that were turned into movies. People go in having certain expectations, and that can ruin a book for anybody.

  • amber says:

    Isnt it funny that almost all the books people were unable to finished turned out to be famous movies….

  • Renee says:

    I can’t seem to finish any Jane Eyre books.

  • Kimberlyn says:

    A lot of the books on this list were awesome as audiobooks. Like Gone Girl and Handmaid’s Tale. I will add See to Harvest as one I couldn’t finish.

  • Christine says:

    DaVinci Code, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Ulysses, The Unlikely Pilgimage of Harold Fry, and The Jungle were some of my DNFs.

  • Mikki says:

    A Tale of Two Cities and A Picture of Dorian Grey because they are repetitive and written at a time when authors were paid by the number of words not the content both books will put me to sleep after half of a page

  • Kim Coffman says:

    I couldn’t finish Les Miserable. I’ll try again someday.

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