Page last updated at 15:13 GMT, Monday, 12 March 2007

Harry Potter book 'often unread'

JK Rowling with a copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The Harry Potter books have sold more than 300 million copies

The fourth Harry Potter novel and David Beckham's autobiography are among the books least likely to be finished by Britons, according to a survey.

Booker winner Vernon God Little was the least-finished fiction title, followed by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Autobiographies by David Blunkett, Bill Clinton and David Beckham topped the non-fiction unfinished list.

A Teletext survey of 4,000 Britons found that almost half of the books they bought remained unfinished.

UNFINISHED FICTION
1 Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre
2 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
3 Ulysses, James Joyce
4 Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis De Bernieres
5 Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
6 The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
7 The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
8 War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
9 The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
10 Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Some 35% of those who bought or borrowed Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre's story of a US high school massacre, admitted not finishing it.

The figure was 32% for the fourth instalment in the Harry Potter series, while 28% said the same for James Joyce's Ulysses, third on the list.

The fiction top 10 also included Louis De Bernieres' Captain Corelli's Mandolin (27%), made into a film starring Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz.

Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, over which a Muslim fatwa was issued ordering the writer's execution, was unfinished by 21%.

UNFINISHED NON-FICTION
1 The Blunkett Tapes, David Blunkett
2 My Life, Bill Clinton
3 My Side, David Beckham
4 Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss
5 Wild Swans, Jung Chang
6 Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking
7 The Downing Street Years, Margaret Thatcher
8 I Can Make You Thin, Paul McKenna
9 Jade: My Autobiography, Jade Goody
10 Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze?, Mick O'Hare

On the non-fiction list, former home secretary Blunkett's The Blunkett Tapes was too much for 35% of readers, followed by Clinton's My Life (30%) and Beckham's My Side (27%).

The average Briton spent more than £4,000 on books during their lifetime, the survey found.

Less than a quarter of people found time to read every day, with 48% saying they were too tired.

Have you struggled to finish any of these books? Do you feel it is worth persevering with certain books? What other works would you expect to see on the list?

What amazes me is that 72% of readers apparently finished Ulysses! As for the other books on the list, one would like to think that the reason people didn't finish The Alchemist was because it's unreadable tosh, or in Jade Goody's case because life's too short. It would be easy to be dismissive of people not finishing the great but "difficult" books like Midnight's Children, but at the same time we have to accept that tastes differ, or as Alan Bennett once put it, they should have a sign at the entrance to the National Gallery saying "You Don't Have to Like Everything." I read a lot but have no qualms about putting down a book I'm not enjoying: we read for enjoyment, after all.
John Self, Belfast, UK

I honestly cannot believe that any Harry Potter fan would leave a Harry Potter book unfinished - especially the best one!!!!! You don't know what you are missing.
Dan, London

After reading The Hobbit, I was eager to start reading The Lord of the Rings, but found that I couldn't finish it. I have to say that I read a lot, and found this to be extremely boring! So much walking and walking and walking, then a monster, then more walking. For being a classic, I was really unimpressed.
Colin Reid, East Kilbride, Scotland

Mark Twain defined a literary classic as "a book which people praise and don't read". So far Catch 22 has proved too much for me on two separate occasions, Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra easily vanquished my most valiant effort at completion and currently Naked Lunch is rapidly approaching addition to my unfinished list.
Damian Elsen, London, England

I really struggled with Captain Corelli's Mandolin as the start of the book is very confused and actually quite dull. However, I persevered and after about page 25 it started to make sense and I ended up enjoying it immensely.
Natalie, Westbury, UK

Cloud Atlas is a phenomenal novel that rewards the reader for sticking with it. It's sad to think that people aren't willing to spend time on good books any more. Not everything should be about instant gratification!
Steven Finney, Manchester

Middlemarch by George Eliot was a compulsory text for my English A-level. When one of the class found a children's edition that ran to about 1% of the length of the tedious and very long original, it was a relief. Thanks Nick. Nearly 20 years on, I've still never finished reading the book. And I don't think I ever will.
Marcel Berenblut, London, UK

Several runs through Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdu have failed to reach the finish line...
John Hardy, London, UK

I would have thought that the Bible would have been on the list!
Philip

White Teeth! Good cure for insomnia though.
Brenda Pritchard, London, UK

Add to your list all of the Mervyn Peake Gormenghast trilogy, but especially Titus Alone.
Fred Vanner, Wells, UK

I wonder if I Can Make You Thin was left unfinished because people got thin before they finished? What a shame that people couldn't finish The Satanic Verses - it is definitely one of the best books I've ever read.
Jake Phillips, Edinburgh, UK

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Good lord, that's a slow book. I gave up many hours of my life to try to finish this book. I'll never get them back, and I never finished it!
Emma, Manchester

I can understand why people gave up on Potter... pity though, as the second half is a lot better than the first.
Chris, London

It's One Hundred Years of Solitude for me; I'm on my fourth or fifth attempt. One hundred pages at most - I don't have any difficulty with any of Marquez's other work.
Peter Rutherford, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland

I'm an avid reader who finds time to read pretty much daily. The one book that really shouldn't be on the unfinished list is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It's such a beautiful and inspirational read, and it's relatively short in comparison to the others. No excuse people - finish what you started!!
Cat Bradshaw, Portsmouth, Hants

Isn't Jade Goody's autobiography something you would never start, let alone not finish?
Gavin, Edinburgh, UK

This is not a list of books that are hard to read. This is a list of books that people think they should read (or want to read). I suspect (although I may be being unfair) that the people who fail to finish Ulysses are not the same people who fail to finish Jade Goody's autobiography. Is the only finding from the survey "people don't always finish books"?
Ranald Macpherson, Edinburgh, Scotland

It's no wonder that so many people fail to use the apostrophe correctly if Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves is never finished.
Rob Dickson, Slough, England

Where is The Lord of the Rings on the list? I have never made it through the whole book and have still to make it through the last film as well!
Martin Curtis, Ipswich, UK

I'm so jealous of those who didn't finish Captain Corelli's Mandolin. I persevered through that book, which built me into a frenzy, but the ending was so awful and unsatisfying I threw the book out of the window. As far as I know it's still there.
Sarah, Douglas

Can't say I'm surprised to see Harry Potter on the list. I've read all of them because you want to see the story progress, but with each new book it gets harder and harder. Rowling's prose is turgid. Will be interested to see what, if anything, she does after HP7. I gave up on Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker as well, but now my son is training me how to read MSN drivel, I might give it a second go.
Mac, Bolton, UK

I have to say that Harry Potter 4 surprises me because I personally do not know anyone that could put it down. The non-fiction list does not surprise me in the slightest though. Apart from Thatcher's The Downing Street Years, which is interesting regardless of your political inclination, the rest of them are books that do not deserve to have been published in the first place. I cannot imagine David Blunkett, Paul McKenna, David Beckham, but especially Jade Goody, having anything remotely interesting to say... these books hit the bargain shelves within weeks every single time, and yet publishers never learn...
James Hall, London

I've started reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth about four times but have never got past half-way, although it's a wonderful book. At 1474 pages, it's difficult to stick with it when other, new books are tempting you!
Cara, Edinburgh

Most of the fiction rings bells with me, but they are mostly books that are intended to be admired for their presence on you bookshelf, rather than to be read. The conversation would go, "Oh, I see you've got... What's it like?" To which you reply, "I don't see what all the fuss was about. I found it so turgid I couldn't finish it." Job done.

The only one where failure to finish matters is Harry Potter. It would be interesting to see whether failure to finish book four translates into failure to buy book five. The one I struggled with was book six and I dread book seven. What happened to Midnight's Children? I struggled manfully on that one and got to page three.
Edward, Colchester, UK

I think not finishing a book is an absolute crime, but I just can't get through Catch 22. I've tried it three times and it just seems too crazy (I know that's the point) to hold my attention for the duration. I WILL complete it one day though - honest!
Sonic, Milton Keynes, UK

Who doesn't have enough of an attention span to finish The Alchemist? And who on earth has enough patience to finish Ulysses? Surely not the 72% who said they did!
J. Cleese, Berlin, Germany

I'm no slouch when it comes to reading, but I've been defeated on numerous occasions by David Copperfield. I find the writing to be overly wordy and the story is convoluted beyond belief. Yes, I too find it hard to believe I'm insulting Dickens, but there it is.
Julian, Twickenham, UK

I thought Catch 22 by Joseph Heller would have made the top 10 unfinished fiction category - it is not very easily accessible and took me a long time to get into it.
Adam, Southsea, Hampshire, UK

I couldn't bring myself to finish Bridget Jones's Diary. It was just so awful I had to give up. It's interesting that it seems some people apparently have trouble finishing a book because it's particularly fat - not because it is particularly bad. What does this say about modern attention spans, I wonder.
Tony, London

Saturday by Ian McEwan. Overrated, poorly-written drivel. Second only to Anna Karenina in the unreadable dross department.
Nigel Wonnacott, Winchester, UK

How can anyone not finish The Alchemist? It takes about two hours!
Matt, Watford, England

Not in the least surprised The Alchemist is up there. Glad to see so many other people must have shared my personal loathing for it. It must be the shortest book up there, why else would people not have finished it? Even shy of 200 pages, it was still unexpurgated tripe.
Cara, Glasgow, Scotland

Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon - I couldn't even finish the first page!
Brian Parkinson, Sheffield UK

People only buy these books so that they can kid themselves into thinking that they are more intelligent than they really are.
Shalim, London, UK

Not surprised about the later Harry Potter books - they're too large and, frankly, boring with tedious irrelevant detail.
Johnny, Bristol

Personally I feel books like Eats, Shoots & Leaves and Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze? shouldn't be included in the list, as really they are reference books, or are at least read as such. By the same logic, the dictionary should be at the top of the list - everyone's read some of it, but I worry to think anyone's actually finished reading the whole thing.
Ben Mansell, Lancaster, UK

I know it's each to their own and all that, but how can you not finish Vernon God Little? It's not exactly a long book and I was compelled to read it to see if he did go down. I can understand it with longer books (I've recently struggled with Anthony Burgess's Earthly Powers), but, really, are people just lazy or is it a reflection on the book itself?
Astaire, Lewes

I didn't "get" Vernon God Little until about half-way through, a bit like Catch 22, but once I reached that point I found it a really good read. So stick at it. I'm not surprised at James Joyce (yawn!), but JK Rowling? Maybe it's because people who don't usually buy that many books buy hers and find it a bit long (the same, maybe, for David Beckham and Jade). The ending of Captain Corelli's Mandolin is really depressing, so don't bother, and I've still got a bookmark in The Satanic Verses, which is somewhere...
Lucy, Edinburgh

I can't believe that Captain Corelli's Mandolin is on the list. I read it long before the awful movie and it is one of the best-written books I have ever read. Having said that, if you read it expecting the same sort of pap that the movie contained then it probably isn't the book for you. But if you want a beautifully-crafted account of the effects of war on a small close-knit Greek community then this is an absolute must-read book.
Jane, Beccles, UK

Not finishing Captain Corelli's Mandolin would have been preferable to completing it - rarely has a book that has started so brightly finished with such an appallingly-written ending. Advice to others: read the first three quarters, then put it down!
Matt, London, UK

If people are struggling to complete a children's book which can be easily devoured in a night, then the standards of reading have truly dropped to an all-time low. Especially when JK Rowling writes so brilliantly. As for Vernon God Little - praised beyond belief but could not get into it at all. And have tried twice!
Matthew Doyle, London

How can someone NOT finish a book? Surely when you open a book and decide to read it you make a commitment to read it through to the end. I read every day and have NEVER NOT FINISHED A BOOK.
Deborah, Ware, UK

I actually failed to finish reading the results of the survey. How many more ridiculous things can they find to ask the good old British public about?
Kevin, Nottingham, UK

I'm just losing interest with War and Peace at the moment!
David, Sheffield

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy, after 100 pages - too many balls, banquets and battles!
Martin H. Watson, Teddington

I get the impression many of these books are bought as they are "fashionable" and look good on bookshelves, rather than to be read and enjoyed.
El Mayor, Birmingham, UK

Should I worry that I haven't even considered starting any of the books on the non-fiction list?
Adrian Welch, Exeter, Devon

No way! Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time is surely the most inaccessible best-selling book ever written. I suspect you could count the percentage of people who finished it on one hand!
Nikkii, Perth

I have started and finished five of the books in the fiction list and one of the keys in doing so has been persistence - Cloud Atlas is a case in point, with each section requiring getting used to a whole new dialect, but within a few pages of doing so the rewards are immense. One book that I struggled with, finished, but thought was incredibly pretentious tosh was Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels, but it was critically acclaimed, so who am I!!
Brian Capaloff, Falkirk, Scotland

We Need to Talk About Kevin. Just couldn't get into it - too depressing!
Julie Foruria, East Grinstead, West Sussex



SEE ALSO
Pride and Prejudice is top read
01 Mar 07 |  Entertainment
TV diet expert in borrowing boom
09 Feb 07 |  Entertainment
Rowling unveils last Potter date
01 Feb 07 |  Entertainment
Parents 'shunning bedtime story'
19 Oct 06 |  Education

RELATED BBC LINKS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2013 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific