Throwing Books Against The Wall

A few booksNot every book published will appeal to every reader. That is a given. I have a terrible time reading bestsellers. The genre rarely appeals to me. I find them too full of Gary Sue or Mary Sue protagonists. They know too many esoteric disciplines, have access to arcane trivia, and unlimited funds to track down a villain we already know who wants to destroy the world for motives we also know. The adventure alone is not enough to engage me. Too often I find the author has fallen into the trap of telling everything and showing only fights and chases.

So the question arises: at what point do we abandoned a book we have purchased on the recommendation of a friend, a stunning review, or even because the title, cover art, and back cover blurb entice us? I know I’ve been suckered in by books that don’t live up to the opening paragraph.

If I’ve spent good money on a book, I try very hard to find something in the endless prose that interests me. I used to plow through to the end simply because the book was published for a reason and I might learn something about writing from it. I usually only managed to finish one book a month.

Now I find myself tossing books against the wall with greater frequency. At what point in the book this occurs varies.

A friend of mine insists on giving a book 50 pages. She reads a lot faster than I do. Another friend uses 3 chapters as a rule. I’m not so rigid. If I find myself making excuses not to the read a book I’ve started, then I will read something else and go back to it. When I have abandoned a book 3 times, I give up. One recent best seller went to the pile awaiting a trip to the used bookstore after only 30 pages and 2 abandonments.

I felt guilty for making excuses not to read that book. I put up with severe arthritis pain to knit or tat rather than read that book. The moment I made the decision to give up on that book and picked up another, it was as if a boat load of guilt left me. The new book was about an interesting character doing something interesting. The author showed me the character doing things. Through the use of tight point of view I was invited to share the character’s innermost thoughts, worries, and triumphs. I wanted more. I made excuses to read the book rather than to avoid it. Before I knew it I was 50 pages in after only 24 hours rather than 24 days.

Do we have to finish a book that bores us? I don’t think so.

Do we have to plow through the tangled language of the classics? Not unless you truly want to. Dickens may be a magnificent storyteller but I get lost between subject and predicate. How can I find the story if the words go in one eye and out the other ear? I don’t even want to talk about either of the Bronte sisters.

Do we have to read depressing books because they are socially important? Make your own definition of socially important. You can find most of that on the evening news, you don’t have to wallow in it unless you’re doing research.

Reading should be a pleasure, not a chore. So abandon guilt and delve into a genre novel, a short story, or whatever interests you. While you’re at it, check out the newest offerings on the Bookview Café.


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.


Throwing Books Against The Wall — 6 Comments

  1. The quickest I have ever bailed out of a novel (it was a huge fat one, the first in a highly-touted fantasy megaseries) was after the first two paragraphs. It was obvious, weighing those first two paragraphs against the mass of pages ahead of me (not to mention the next umpety volumes) that the game was not going to be worth the candle.

  2. I think I know that series. I lasted about 4 chapters and realized it was all world building, no character development at all. When the immature hero met his first challenge I didn’t care if he survived or not.

    Tossed the book against the wall.

    I’ve heard from other readers that mega series took 4 monster books to figure out that it had a plot.

    My reading time is too short and valuable for that.

  3. i confess, I get those far too often to review. I started a joke list of words that appear in the press release that comes with the book. they include, as I recall “dynasty” “evil sorcerer”, “twisted”, and possibly “dragon horde”.
    I know people who claim you gotta read 50 pages. I read mostly mystery and I can tell often within 10 pages if i will last. Some years back I slogged through a book that I did not like but the ending made me shriek. I didn’t toss it though as i was always afraid I’d hit one of the good books on the shelves.
    It’s more that I stop when I hit one of the boundless cliches of the genre. i despise mysteries that use alternating chapters that show you the mind of the evil psycho. I hate first chapters/prologues that “show” you the murder and where the victim says “oh, it’s you” and then all goes black. And I won’t read the 7th book in an endless “saga” about evil sorcerers with dragon hordes in search of the lost son of the king. Or whatever. Grump.

  4. When I was young I read everything: aspirin bottle lables, “should” books (ie., classics I thought I ought to read), gothic romances, adventure novels, “trashy” books. And I finished them all. But the older and more demanding I got, the harder it was for me to finish books that didn’t hook me in some way. I don’t mind working to finish a book–work can be pleasure, too. But if I put a book down to answer the phone and find that I’m making up excuses–I dunno, got to wax the floor or polish the dog or something–then there’s a disconnect between me and the author.

    I’m in the process of reading Umberto Eco’s Baudolino, which I picked up because it’s set in Italy in the late 12th century, an era I’m researching. It’s wonderful–dense and rich as fruitcake, funny, and yet a lot of work to read. Eco’s writing about the nature of truth and lies, so you have to read each sentence carefully–and I’m a dash-through-the-prose reader when I’m engaged. But the payoff is worth it, so I’m staying.

    On the other hand, when I’ve been a jurist for a literary award, boxes of books would be delivered, and if the first page didn’t grab me, I’d put it in the “no” pile and move on without compunction. Life too short, and too many books to get to. If I missed a wonderful book because the first page was rotten–well, that’s why we had a panel of judges who could tell me: “give that one a second look.”

    I’m sorry you don’t care for the Brontës, Phyl. I can’t stand Emily, although I understand academically what she is doing. I think Anne is the weakest writer of the three, but I rather like her stuff, and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre is one of my go-to reads: I’m always finding new things, and new viewpoints, when I re-read it.

    I’m told there are many people who really loved Da Vinci Code, and I’m glad that the book was there for them. Me…I’ll go back to Charlotte Brontë or Emma Bull or John Scalzi or…whatever is on my “to read” pile.

  5. I remember having an energetic conversation with you about JANE EYRE at some con, Mad. Did you see the recent dramatization of it on PBS? In which Thornfield Hall seemed to be a castle the size of a city block.

  6. The Da Vinci Code was a book I finished but wish I hadn’t. THAT went in the trash.

    Recently I gave away Orhan Pamuk’s ‘Snow’ because I couldn’t continue reading it. It’s brilliantly written, but it was so depressing to me that I couldn’t go on with it. I think I was also disturbed by what my reaction said about me. I had come to actively dislike the country, the people and the culture.

    I now understand why the Turkish government wanted to put Pamuk in jail for insulting the country.