I LOVE READING ON JUST ABOUT ANY SUBJECT, and I can read fast enough that by the time I realise a book is bad, I'm normally so close to finishing it that I just roll on to the end anyway.
Despite this, there are some books that have just beaten me completely.  I think it's pretty good that in thirty years of reading I can count those pits of despair on my fingers, but still, here's the shelf of shame, in alphabetical order (they are all just too truly awful to put in any order of 'quality').
  • Barefoot in the Head, by Brian Aldiss.
    I've been a reader of SF since I reached double figures (in age), but I've never really got to grips with Brian Aldiss' style.  In general, I've found his books tedious, but still finishable (I even finished the heroically, epically, titanically dull Helliconia Cycle, for god's sake!), but this account of a journey through Europe ravaged by a war in which, instead of nuclear weapons, hallucinogenic drugs were used, leaving clouds of such pharmaceuticals drifting over the countryside, was just too fragmented and diffuse to keep even me going.  This was the first book I ever failed to finish, and it's possible I might have tried twice and failed both times, but the memory is so bad, I've blanked out that as well as most of the details of the 'story'.

  • The Crucible of Creation, by Simon Conway Morris.
    A popular science account of the creatures of the Burgess Shale (a fossil bed in Canada which yielded a vast and diverse array of ancient creatures, reshaping our ideas on evolution and prehistory).  A subject I'd found enthralling from newspaper articles, and in which I have a substantial interest in any case.  Unfortunately, this was a throwback to the leaden writing that characterised most science writing a generation ago, and, allied with the fact that Oxford University Press chose to print it in a ridiculously small and blurred typeface, on poor paper, and to completely eschew paragraph breaks, I decided to save my sight for another version of the story.  Avoid at all costs.

  • Dismantling Mr Doyle, by James Ryan.
    I had my arm twisted to read this by friends because of the name.  It may be by an Irishman, but this is product-of-Creative-Writing-Course to its rotten, purloined heart, and had me screaming to get out.  Incredibly, it's only 288 pages long, and I was only 30 or 40 pages - barely 20-25 minutes reading - from the end when I gave up, but even that would have been too much of my life to waste on this book.

  • The Forest, by Edward Rutherfurd.
    I had no intention of reading this, having not really enjoyed Sarum, but a friend told me that I should read the first page just to see how bad it was, saying that that was as far as he had got.  I gave up at the end of the second paragraph - when I told him, he checked, and said, 'Yes, that's as far as I could manage.'  How can books written this mechanically and thoughtlessly get published?  And why encourage them by reading such dross?

  • The Last English King, by Julian Rathbone
    Writers of historical novels face a dilemma: do they go for all-out authenticity down to the vocabulary and dialect of the characters, or do they save us the bother of wading through swamps of footnotes by modernising the vernacular used?  Mr Rathbone chose the latter course in this story of a housecarle of King Harold's surviving the years after the Norman Conquest.  Sadly, he decided this allowed him to make anachronistic and out-of-context jokes that aren't even funny.  This worm turned at the end of the (fifth? sixth?) chapter, with the towering insult of the dagger tattoo 'joke'.  Ho ho ho.  At this point I threw the book across the room and decided that even Jeffrey Archer looked like a good read compared to this (I did renege on that, by the way - some books are recognisably bad before you start reading them).

  • Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
    I picked up a copy of this during an idle moment while in rehearsal for Coriolanus.  Now, I know a lot of American authors write with half an eye on selling the movie rights to finance a comfortable lifestyle in Maine, Montana, or whever, but the transparent lack of desire to write a book, as opposed to a movie pitch, that manifests itself in the turgid first chapter is beyond belief.  I have never been more glad of a director calling me over to criticise my rehearsal than at that point, when I could put this book down and never pick it up again.

Honorable Mentions (Books I finished, but shouldn't have)

  • The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom.
    I'd consider myself to be a big Shakespeare fan, if not a Bardolater, and I was very keen to read this collection of essays covering all Shakespeare's plays.  What a mistake.  600-odd pages of rambling, unsupported hypothesising (argument is too strong a word for these disconnected meanderings).  He doesn't just take the wrong side (i.e. opposite to me) on controversial and debatable issues - he gets even the most obvious of truths about the plays and the author utterly, utterly wrong.  If he didn't repeatedly tell us otherwise, I would assume that Mr Bloom (or Sir Harold Bloomstaff, as he ludicrously refers to himself) had never seen Shakespeare on stage.  He's certainly never been involved in a production if his lack of understanding of simple stage and acting mechanics is anything to go by.  In the entire volume, I found two sentences which contained rational and supportable propositions; I read it right through, hoping for more, but I should have seen the writing on the wall.  It's awful.  Something is rotten in the state of American academia, and probably in the state of American theatre, if this is any standard to judge by (please prove me wrong).