Let me start by saying I stuck with the X-Files from beginning to end, even after they'd clearly gone off the rails. (Then again, I also liked the last movie, though that took a couple of viewings. On first viewing it was kind of like watching one of those last seasons. It grew on me, though. And not like a mold.) So with that clear caveat and embarrassing reveal of just how long I will stick with something, there are times when you just kind of have to give up on things.
I say this in the wake of the new Fall TV season, and also in the aftermath of a couple of books I was disappointed in. However, this isn't about having just one bad book. Every author is entitled to at least one of those, if not two or three depending on how long their career lasts. These things happen, for various reasons, and an author can and should be forgiven so long as they don't continue to repeat the error.
Sometimes, though, they do. Sometimes the error seems to become the norm, and where once I looked forward to an author's latest output, I start to have that internal debate with myself. Is this one going to be better? Are they going to "snap out of it?" Will it be worth my time? Now, maybe someday when I am old and less active and return to the halcyon readership days of my youth where I could sit around for hours and hours with a book, maybe then that last question will be less pressing. But now? I've got things to do, or things I should be doing, and spending time on a bad book isn't one of them.
So how do you know? When do you quit? As I said at the start, I'm inclined to give authors a bit of leeway. I know many were disappointed in the last couple of Robert Parker's books, and perhaps had been for a while. I kept reading him, and while I might be generous in saying his last few outings he was maybe batting .500 (maybe only .300), there were still good reads in there. I was saddened when he died, and am sorry there will be no new tales of Spenser, Sunny Randall, or Jesse Stone. (Books penned by other authors using those characters do not count. I am always leery of such things, but that's for another post.)
On the other hand, I gave up on Tom Clancy over a decade ago, when after a hundred pages into his China vs Russia book, nothing interesting had happened. When his characters started making long, dull speeches instead of doing things, I quit. Though I add, it was not something that started with that book, but that had actually begun happening the moment Jack Ryan became President, if not before. If Tom Clancy is still writing (is Tom Clancy still writing?) I honestly neither know, nor care.
There are other authors I could beat up on (Laurell K Hamilton and Jack Higgins for instance), but the point wouldn't change. In most instances, the author got lazy, and stayed lazy, or wandered so far afield from the earlier style or tone or premise that made their early works good that it was impossible for them to come back. Sometimes they do. I think Dean Koontz cycles through unreadability every so often, but that also implies that I keep coming back to check. Which I do. I've not quite stricken him from the list just yet.
Quitting on television shows is easier; once they start feeling like a chore, it's easy enough to cancel that particular weekly appointment. Authors are harder. Each time they put out a new book, each time I see it in the store or on the bestseller list or Amazon or wherever, that little bit of hope rises. I pick it up, leaf through it, and cross my fingers. (Which makes it hard to turn the pages, let me tell you.)
It's not an endless cycle. Authors can crush that hope too often. The trick, as a reader, is knowing when to quit, even if the authors don't.