On quitting reading books I don’t like

It’s frustrating being a slow reader. It would be really nice to be able to read at a pace that at least kept my To Be Read pile steady, rather than having it always growing.

I appreciate that it can be a hassle living with the flipside to that issue. A friend of mine devours books unlike anyone else I’ve ever known. She absorbs it all and enjoys it and isn’t racing through it for kicks, she just happens to read blazingly fast. She’ll finish a book cover-to-cover in down time at one day’s work shift. She’s been known to decide which book to buy based on which has more pages for the money. And I get that can be its own hassle.

But I think–and this could of course be a grass is always greener thing–that I’d rather have that issue going than nickel-and-diming a book sometimes a scant few paragraphs or pages a day for days, sometimes weeks, at a time to finish it (*COUGHsevenbladesinblackCOUGH*).

The growing To Be Read pile is of course its own disappointing offshoot: Which book do I read next, ignoring all the others that may have been there longer and that hopefully I’ll read some day but will more likely get buried by even more books and I literally may never get to?

Given that turtle’s pace, I decided some time ago that I was going to stop reading fiction I’m not enjoying. What the cause of that is varies as much as the books and the writers themselves. Smaller issues I try to overlook because they’ll perhaps get explained later (though it had better be soon) or maybe I’m enjoying the story enough that I can accept the problem as a glitch and keep going, while others are so badly done or so jarring to me that I get bumped out of even a good story enough that I don’t have any interest in bothering to try to get back into it.

Big errors happen, of course. I myself revamped the last part of a screenplay I wrote without changing key former elements, which resulting in having cops interrogating a suspect who was dead in an earlier scene (and while normally a fair question given my history of writing in various genres, no, this wasn’t a story involving any variety of undead). But particularly bad errors should, in this reader’s opinion, be caught by the writer, beta readers, or certainly the editors that traditional publishers employ and self-publishing writers really, really should employ (but seemingly often don’t). That dead guy being interrogated after my dumb error was caught by both beta readers and, had I not been in such a rush to get them the script that I didn’t bother reading through myself after that big change I’d made, I’d hope would have been caught by me, too.

Point being, I’m not going to walk away from a book over a typo, or over a character being named incorrectly in the midst of a discussion, etc. Some mistakes happen, even through a number of people vetting the story. I get that. But the issues I’ll readily walk away from a book over are bigger and badder. Nay, fundamental.

As a couple of true examples:

  • If the book’s established perspective style suddenly changes half way through–third person narration that sticks exclusively with the detective protagonist for half the book and then suddenly shifts between him and a new client, as one self-published book did–you’ll lose me.
  • If the protagonists aren’t driving the story but instead having the events in the story pull them along and coincidences, some highly unlikely, line up perfectly to get them where they need to be right when they need to be there (as in the traditionally published first book of a popular young reader’s series), then I’m out.

It’s all subjective, of course. Every writer has their own style and every reader has their own level of engagement and focus on certain things and tolerance for aspects that may bump others completely. Maybe no one else who read that book with the supernatural detective didn’t mind the narrative shift, and as that kid’s series is a New York Times bestseller, clearly plenty of people don’t mind the child protagonists being pulled through events with timely coincidence after timely coincidence rather than being agents making choices to make things happen. But for me, those issues killed my interest in those books.

There’s an argument to be made that, particularly as a writer, I could learn things from writing that I’m not enjoying. And that’s absolutely true. To a point. But with so much to read that holds the potential for being more enjoyable (which will teach me good lessons rather than bad ones), and given how long it takes me to get through books I want to get to, I don’t have the time nor interest to make myself keep reading a published book that has what strikes me as fundamental issues effectively telling its story.

And of course, I do learn things, even from books I put down and walk away from. Note to self: It can bump readers when the narration follows exclusively one person for half the book and then suddenly changes. Note to self: The protagonists in books should make events happen rather than events happening to the protagonists.

Lessons learned from those issues + time saved in not making myself keep reading anyway = win.

Moving on.