What’s enough to make me stop reading a book?

I’ve mentioned before that there are various things that will bump me from enjoyment of a book.

Sometimes it’s plain bad writing. The advent of self-publishing has been a boon for anyone who has ever thought they want to write a book, because now they can produce one from their laptops and it will instantly be made available to readers everywhere. But in too many of those cases they seem to miss, or maybe don’t want to pay for, the all-important step of getting the work professionally edited, and it shows.

Sometimes it’s a wrench thrown into the pacing. I was more than half-way into a genuinely enjoyable (I think self-published) book that alternated between two points of view in each chapter, the half-demon private investigator and his human client, but then it suddenly started adding in a third person’s POV chapters. That was weird and oddly handled enough to throw me, so I put the book down.

Sometimes it’s simply a style that rubs me the wrong way. John le CarrĂ© is a widely lauded writer, but I had trouble connecting with his style in the first book of his I tried, and then that main story went into a flashback I was also having trouble tracking, and then there was a flashback within a flashback, at which point I decided perhaps he’s not for me.

And those are just examples off the top of my head. It can be those or any number of other things.

Those issues I have of course aren’t universal. What bumped me from a book recently was something my wife had zero problem with when she read it. Ditto for a different book my daughter enjoyed front to back. John le CarrĂ© is among the most popular writers in history. Hey, different strokes for different folks.

The most recent example that did it for me, in a book I really wanted to like because the story takes place in Denmark with mythical creatures I hadn’t heard about before but was eager to read about, were a couple of irksome issues I had with the writer’s phrasing over just a few pages. I wanted to share them to show some specific items that managed to bump me out of a book enough to stop reading it:

“Watching the Larsens was not a new pastime for Klakke. In fact, it wasn’t a pastime at all. It was his job.”

Well then, why even use the word pastime in the first place? Why not just say watching them wasn’t new for Klakke? That would avoid the needless detour.

For example, I could write:

This wasn’t the first time Lily skipped up the street. In fact, she wasn’t skipping at all. She was walking.

… but, I mean… what?

Five pages later, the main character, Bettina, wakes in the morning from an unexpectedly restful sleep.

“The bright winter daylight seeped in from behind the window shade and startled Bettina.”

No, it didn’t.
You get startled by something quick. You’re startled by a flash of lightning or someone unexpectedly slapping you or by an animal shooting across the quiet path in front of you.

Seeping is, by its very nature, slow. And slow things, in and of themselves, can’t be startling. You don’t get startled by the movement of a turtle or water coming to a boil.

Bettina could perhaps have been startled realizing how late it must be if the (seeping) sunlight was already so bright. That, I’d buy. But being started by something seeping? No.

I don’t blame the writer. At least, not entirely. I mean, yes, she wrote that, but writers aren’t any more flawless than anyone else. I’ve talked before about how I wrote most of one complete screenplay and then drastically changed the ending, which then had to be stitched onto the original, and in my rush to get the final product to friends/beta readers before I had gone through the final version myself, I had overlooked the fact that someone who had died in the original version was now later (in the re-written section) being interrogated.

Um… oops.

So yes, of course mistakes happen. But they’re supposed to be remedied in later drafts and, as the final hurdle, ideally eliminated entirely by the editing staff at the publishing house. That not one but two errors like the above had gotten through the editors in just the first twenty pages of the book made me realize there were almost certainly going to be more. And at each one, I would’ve been bumped from the story and thought to myself, “… really? Again?”

Having said that, I’m sure that anything I have published (by traditional means or by myself, dammit, if that’s how best to do it) will have issues or errors that some people won’t be able to get past, and they’ll have to put aside my story just like I have with countless others.

So it has been since the first written word*, and so it still goes.

*It probably even predates the first written word. I’m sure when Paleolithic people were drawing on cave walls, there were those who came along later and were all, “Pfft. The scale of the hunters compared to the mammoth is totally off. Nice try, Steve.”