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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
I am much more shallow than you in terms of how I decide what books to continue reading, and what to give away/return. Some of my criteria, any one of which is a deal-breaker: is it a been-there, done-that plot; does the author often break the mood to describe the weather/trees/etc. (like a badly placed ad); genre- no spy/sd-fi; and –a biggie- if I don’t look forward to my regular reading time.
PS I think I know the guy in the bar!
I think we *all* know the guy in the bar! I agree with your criteria.
I really wanted to enjoy reading The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley but her style of writing insanely long sentences (1 sentence equalled 1 paragraph) and Norse names turned me off and had to close the book after 3 chapters.