At first, the reader may be unable to come to terms with objective, observable reality and attempt to substitute a preferable version of events (e.g. one in which the author did not just use “queried” as a dialogue tag). Depending on the reader, this stage may last for several pages or even chapters. It is also common for readers experiencing denial to believe that the book will get better eventually, even despite all instinct and evidence to the contrary. The reader may seek out others who have read the same book in an attempt to convince themselves that it’s “all in my head” or begin to exhibit other signs of stress, like looking up the book on Goodreads and sorting by two star reviews.
“I can’t believe they would waste such a good premise!” “How dare such a good author write such a bad book!” These questions and others like them are natural when the reader is experiencing the next stage of the grieving process: anger. As the reader becomes increasingly aware that they spent time, energy, and possibly money on an ultimately unsatisfactory experience, frustration can boil over into rage and misery. It is not uncommon for readers at this stage to lash out at others; example behaviors include a savage Twitter mention and/or telling the librarian who recommended the book that he should “seek a new career path.”
Bargaining is ultimately an expression of hope, a belief that it is possible to delay or avert the cause of grief. The reader may begin to tentatively engage with the “endgame” at this stage, such as by promising themselves that they’ll put the book down after giving it just a few more chapters. In addition to bargaining with themselves, the reader may attempt to barter with a hypothetical higher power, offering to trade future favors for a better reading experience now (i.e. “I won’t buy more books before I finish the ones that I have if this book gets better” or “I will finally read Moby Dick if the climax makes it worth it”). While understandable, it should be noted that these aspirations are both 1) useless and 2) lies.
Once they have reached this stage, the reader recognizes the truth: the book is bad and they are reading it. This realization drives the reader into a state of apathy. They may begin to sigh loudly while reading or count the number of days it’s been since they started the book. In one observed case, the reader brought the book to a staff break room and, instead of reading it over lunch, used it to seal shut her cup ramen while it cooked. In this stage, even slim books may begin to feel insurmountably long and unmanageable.
It is important to remember that a bad book is not a thing for a reader to “get over” or “move on from”: it is an experience that the reader must reconcile with and learn to accept. Some experienced readers may be able to recognize this comparatively quickly and stop reading the book before fully progressing through the five stages. Others will exhibit coping strategies, including skimming large portions of the book’s back half and, in the case of audiobooks, increasing narration speed over 2x. Fortunately, the reader is a resilient creature; a bad book is unlikely to discourage them for long. Tragically, the reader is also not prone to learning from their mistakes. Some readers will repeat the cycle of grief continuously over the course of their reading lives and, evidence suggests, eventually come to enjoy it.