Off the Shelf – My Book Graveyard

Listen here.

Books are like a relationship, sometimes you have to break up with them

I’ve been a little bit of a reading slump of late. I blame Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which at almost 800 pages gave me a total book hangover. After finishing that, I definitely needed some lighter fare to cleanse my palate. So, I headed to my ridiculous TBR shelf and chose The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw. I thought that might have been just the ticket to jumpstart my reading again, but it’s been super-slow going. It’s the story of two families whose lives intersect because of not one but two affairs and I have almost given up on it a couple of times. The writing is good though, so I keep trudging along.

I used to be the reader who finished everything she started. I couldn’t stand the thought of abandoning a book that I’d started, but the older I get and with more demands on my time (aka Netflix bingeing) I find that I am not as willing to go the distance with a book that doesn’t float my boat.

So, what causes me to close the book forever?

  1. Style over substance. Okay,  I am attracted to the pretty. But I am also more – how should I say this – seasoned. I am less enthralled by a beautifully written book with nothing to say. It doesn’t take long for  the pretty to wear off.  I’ll compare it to being at the bar. Across the room you see this gorgeous guy. You make eye contact. Then you realize he isn’t actually looking at you; he’s looking at his reflection in the mirror behind you. A book that works so hard to be literary, to impress, but is really just naval gazing loses my interest pretty fast.
  2. Unbelievable characters. I don’t have to like the characters, but I do have to believe in them. Even if the author has chosen to put them in crazy situations, I want to share their journey.  I can’t travel with characters who fail to earn my respect or admiration or sympathy. So, I’m back at the bar. Handsome guy across the room. Eye contact made. You move towards each other. He buys you a drink. Then he starts talking and after about five minutes you realize he’s as dumb/self-involved/humourless/dull… as a pet fence.  You stop listening to him because you stop caring about him. Characters like that.
  3. S-L-O-W/tooquick  plot. Not every novel is driven by plot. Some stories don’t depend on what happens as much as to whom it happens. I don’t have a preference. Pacing is everything. Back at the bar, you’ve consumed your drink(s); there’s potential. And then he sticks his tongue down your throat. Whoa, buddy, didn’t see that coming! Timing is everything. If you are building suspense, build it. If your characters are going to do the horizontal mambo, let them take their time; but if nothing happens for page after page after freakin’ page while the author describes cutlery and grass clippings, sorry, it’s over. Or, if without any character development or too much exposition the book lands me in an unreasonable place, we’re through.
  4. Bad writing. Come on. Who is going to slog through a poorly written book? Not me. Not anymore. It’s amazing to me that these things get published! I mean, Twilight, okay. New Moon. Seriously!? And two more after that? Yikes. Books like that come with buzz – like your handsome friend at the bar. Until he opens his mouth and, dude, you need some breath mints or something.

So, I have a little Book Graveyard at The Ludic Reader and that’s where I send the books that just don’t make the cut. Some of those books include:
Erin Vincent’s memoir Grief Girl, which was well-reviewed but I just couldn’t finish it. It’s the story of an Australian teen whose parents are involved in a horrific traffic accident…but it was just so plodding and

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare  is a super popular teen franchise which has been adapted for television. Loads of my students have read and loved these books but I just found them derivative and poorly written. I gave up pretty early.

The Dark Heroine: Dinner with a Vampire by Abigail Gibbs

I actually read 300 pages of this book before I relegated it to the book graveyard. I would consider myself a huge fan of vampire fiction, but this book – which was written by a seventeen year old and started its life in serial form on Wattpad. Seems to be the way lots of writers are discovered by traditional publishers, but man – this book needed some serious editing help.

I would love to hear from you: what book have you given up on and why?

The Ruining – Anna Collomore

ruiningEighteen-year-old Annie Phillips, the first person narrator of Anna Collomore’s YA novel The Ruining,  is desperate to escape her trailer trash world outside of Detroit, Michigan and begin a new life. When she’s offered the opportunity to become a nanny on Belvedere Island, located about six kilometers north of San Francisco, she jumps at a chance. The gig sounds perfect: she’ll care for three-year-old Zoe and baby Jackson and take classes at San Francisco State University.

Libby and Walker Cohen are not like anyone Annie has ever met and it doesn’t take very long before Annie feels “a sudden, desperate urge to please Libby, to do everything right, to be the most exemplary nanny the Cohen family had ever had.”

In the beginning, life seems too good to be true. The Cohen’s house is “more like an estate or a castle” and  Libby seems more like a girlfriend than an employer, offering Annie wine, shared confidences and a chance to raid her closet. It’s heady stuff for Annie, who comes from nothing and is dragging the baggage of a personal tragedy from her past.

The reality of my life in Detroit, a reality I’d spent almost every day wishing to escape, was gone. Disappeared, like I’d never been a part of it at all. And in order to leave it in the past, I couldn’t let myself worry about leaving my mother behind.

It won’t take the reader long to see the cracks, though, even if Annie is a little bit slow on the uptake. I cut her some slack because she’s young and damaged and trying so hard to make something of her life. However, Annie seems determined to ignore the signs that something is not quite right in the Cohen house. Libby is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: solicitous and kind one day, passive aggressive the next.  Walker is gregarious and friendly, but  mostly absent. There are no grandparents, no extended family – Annie is isolated until she meets Owen, the literal boy next door.

The Ruining races along at a good pace, traversing the line between suspenseful and ridiculous with aplomb. Collomore manages to make it just possible for the reader to believe that Annie might be more damaged from her past than even she realizes; however, there can be no mistaking who the villain of the piece is.

The Ruining was fun to read, well-written and definitely recommendable; I know my students will gobble it up. Can’t say I was a huge fan of the ending, though. For me it was contrived and way too tidy given the complicated nature of Annie’s circumstances.