Adventures in Reading

Reviewing the unfinished
November 19, 2008, 11:35 am
Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: , , , ,

For those of you who don’t have secret crushes on film critic Roger Ebert or who don’t want to adopt him, you may be out of the loop on some recent occurences known as Minutegate. In short, Ebert wrote and published a review on the film Tru Loved; a film he notes within the review that he didn’t finish:

Full disclosure. I lifted the words “San Francisco to conservative suburbia with her lesbian mothers” straight from the plot summary on, because I stopped watching the movie at the 00:08.05 point. IMDb is also where I found out about Bruce Vilanch’s dual role. I never did see the lesbian mothers or my friend Bruce. For “Tru Loved,” the handwriting was on the wall. The returns were in. The case was closed. You know I’m right. Or tell me I’m wrong.

Q. How can you give a one-star rating to a movie you didn’t sit through?

A. The rating only applies to the first eight minutes. After that, you’re on your own.

This got me thinking about my own little world of reviews and the times I’ve commented on books I simply couldn’t finish: Branchwater, The Turtle Moves!, I Am A Cat, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Forgery of Venus, and The Witches of Eastwick to name a few. Reasons to not finish a book range from reader’s block to a book just being sucky (in my opinion). But how do people feel about this? Thumbs up or thumbs down on explaining why you couldn’t make your way to the last page of a book?


I like what Ebert said. His review is on the first eight minutes of the movie. I think you should do the same for a book and state you didn’t/couldn’t finish it because (insert reason here) but this is my review based on what I did read.

Comment by Ashotick

If you didn’t finish a book, there’s probably a reason why, so I think that would be important information.

A playwrite once asked Carol Sandberg to preview his new play, and Sandberg fell asleep in the middle of it. The playwrite said “How could you fall asleep when you knew I wanted your opinion?” Sandberg replied, “Young man, sleep is an opinion.”

Comment by Jeanne

As long as you state that you didn’t watch the whole film or read the whole book, I think it’s perfectly valid (and useful to your reader) to review it.

Comment by Sarah

It’s rare that I don’t finish a book, but when I don’t, I usually at least make a brief comment on my blog about why I didn’t finish it, whether it had to do with my own reading moods or whether the book had some distressing feature that rendered it unreadable. I don’t usually refer to such comments as reviews, but I don’t hold back what I thought about a book just because I didn’t read to the last page.

Comment by Megan

I absolutely post reviews of books I quit. I don’t like abandoning books, but struggling to keep reading books I’m finding frustrating or dull makes me one very cranky person (as my husband will attest). And besides, there are tons better books out there I won’t have as much time for if I keep reading the ones I don’t like (which take twice as long to read). Also, my blog is as much a record of my reading for personal reference as it is for recommending (or not recommending) books to other readers, so I don’t feel comfortable not including the quit books.

Comment by Jena

Since my blog is a least in part a reading journal, I do review books I couldn’t finish, and I’m very upfront about it. I think it can be useful to know why someone abandoned a book–or movie.

Ebert was a bit tricksy in his review, though, because he left the crucial point–that he only watched eight minutes–for the very last paragraph after several paragraphs of scatching criticism. I think readers would have been less annoyed if he had been more up-front. (But the review wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.)

Comment by Teresa

I think it’s absolutely legit to review only what you’ve read, if you’ve not finished a book. Either it’ll be something like “This book is pretty good, but not gripping enough for my busy busy life” or “this book is so bad that I couldn’t finish it” — and as another reader, that’s the sort of thing I’d like to know (especially the latter). I do this all the time, and do disclose it.

Comment by Christine

I agree with everyone else – as long as you say you didn’t finish a book, and try to explain why you didn’t finish it, it’s totally fine.

Comment by fyreflybooks

This is a common question: board game folks discuss whether you can review a board game after playing it just once or twice.

In my opinion reviewing board games after one play or book after reading half of it is fine, but one should be honest about it. It’s interesting data, if a reviewer you appreciate doesn’t like a book.

If I don’t finish a book because I just can’t care about it, I probably won’t care enough to write a review, but I would review a book that was so bad I had to stop.

Comment by msaari

I’ve done it myself and will probably continue to. I have this philosophy about not finishing books that are a) crappy b) don’t appeal to me for sundry reasons. Go Ebert!

Comment by Andi

I’m not sure if it is fair to judge a book completely on the first several pages because for me it sometimes takes over 50 pages to get into the groove of a book. I agree with the others that a reason why you didn’t like the book and couldn’t finish should suffice.

Comment by Trish

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