It’s happened again. I’ve fallen out of love. Well, actually, I don’t think I was ever in love, but after 200 pages of George RR Martin’s A Clash of Kings, I’ve decided to take some space. I mean, I think it’s better for the both of us. I need to answer some very serious questions: Who am I? What do I want? More importantly, what don’t I want, and right now, that’s this.
It’s nothing personal against George RR Martin. I read A Game of Thrones two summers ago and I loved it. I will, however, say that it took me a long time to get into it. Say, 150 pages? But I just can’t do it this time. So, that led me to think about why. Why do I ditch books halfway through? It seldom happens. I honestly think I’ve only ever done it to about a dozen books, but is there a formula?
I strove to find out.
I Hate the Characters
I’m not going to lie, this doesn’t happen very often for me, but when it does, it’s a huge turn off. And I don’t mean the good hate. Think Joffrey from Game of Thrones. That’s good hate. It feels good to hate him. You watch the show or read the book just so you can see what he’s going to say or do next so that you can get angry and want to strangle the poor kid.
I’m talking about the other hate. In this circumstance, I can’t stand a character. It started happening with Harry Potter circa The Order of the Pheonix. Harry became whiny and annoying and acted like the whole wizardly world was against him and that made me want to reach into the pages and give him a smack across the face. Now, in that situation, I didn’t stop reading, but it definitely slowed my pace down. I was happy when he stopped being such a suck in the subsequent books.
Where’s the Plot?
I understand the lack of plot for artistic reasons (think Catcher in the Rye), but unless you’re JD Salinger or F. Scott Fitzgerald, you best have a point. I can’t stand getting halfway through a story and realizing that it isn’t going anywhere. It’s like seeing a car crash happening in slow motion. You know what’s going to happen, but you trudge on thinking that you’re wrong, and then you get to the final scene and–
Nothing. There’s just a whole lot of nothing.
And the worst part is that I sometimes don’t even see this coming until it’s too late. I’m invested in the characters, and I just need to know. But if I had some foresight or if I had bothered to read reviews of the book on Amazon or Goodreads, I would put the book down.
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Three Words: TOO MUCH DESCRIPTION!
This is the number one culprit. If I decide halfway through a book that I don’t want to read it anymore, ninety percent of the time it’s because there’s too much description and I’m bored: too much description of the setting, too much description of objects. And the worst: too much description of past events and back story.
Too much description has sealed the fate of quite a few books that I’ve decided not to read: Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson, Across the Face of the World by Russell Kirkpatrick, and most recently A Clash of Kings by George RR Martin. That’s not to say that I won’t return to these books.
This happened to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy at first, and I ended up finishing all three eventually and loved them. This is just to say that I won’t read these kinds of books right now. I need time to engross myself, time that my life just doesn’t have right now. I’m too busy a person for a book to spend hundreds of pages describing trees and rocks and lineages.
Maybe I’ll make reading these books my retirement task.
The Writing is Full of Errors
This one is self-explanatory, and this often leaves a book unread before I even start reading. Most of the time, this doesn’t happen to big name authors, but a lot of indie authors that have piqued my interest have sealed their fate with spelling and grammar errors. Sure, they happen, even with a professional editor. But when it’s clear to me that there has been no editor, none at all, I’m out. I won’t buy.
The Writing is Just BAD
Thankfully, I have yet to read a book where the writing was so bad that I stopped reading. There have been cases where the writing isn’t my cup of tea, per se, but I normally trek through, especially if it promises to be an easy read.
However, bad writing has stopped me from buying a book outright. Think the Twilight Saga or the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy (Gray? What country is this?). I picked up the books in a bookstore just to see what the hype was about. At around five to ten pages in, I would decide the writing was crap and the books wouldn’t be for me. I know sometimes this is an unpopular opinion (sorry Twi-hards!), but as my mom always says: Life is too short to read a bad book.
So, with that in mind, I extend my apologies to A Clash of Kings. This isn’t working out for me, and I’m thinking I should leave before one of us gets really hurt. Maybe we can try to make this happen some other time. Don’t call me, I’ll call you.
This guest post was contributed by Michael Cristiano. He works in editing and acquisitions for Curiosity Quills Press, and his freelance work has appeared on websites such as Nexopia, FluentU, and BlushPost. Check out his blog for more of his work.
I’m the same way. I’ll give it 2-3 chapters, and if I can’t find any reason to care about to characters or the story, I’m out. So many books, so little time!
Hi Michael! I agree totally re your “life’s too short” credo.
Just one little thing: you might want to correct your “pheonix” to phoenix. See the red squiggly line under the misspelled word? But there’s none under the right one? I rest my case.😊
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There was a time when I felt I needed to finish every book started. I no longer feel this way. There are too many books and not enough days, to spend time with a book that doesn’t sweep me away.
I usually finish every book I start. As for the bad ones, I study them to see why I am not enjoying the read, and I try to learn what not to do in my own writing. Not liking a book usually has something to do with the pace pf the story telling. I agree that too much description will kill my enjoyment every time.
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I’ve encountered all five reasons too many times to count! Here’s the real mystery – those armchair critics who hate the book and still finish it (presumably) so that they can give it a one-star rating and enlighten the world with their wisdom and insight. Go figure. Better yet, get another book you can enjoy. Spare us, please – life IS too short!
I try to finish all books and I agree with you on most points. I will however forgive some editing if the characters and the plot are engaging. Editing issues get better, the other issues don’t. Good Post.
Reblogged this on The Reluctant Poet.
I agree with all of your reasons. I might just add ‘in your face historical errors’. Once I come across something ridicilous like this, I quit the book right away. Also, I don’t like when authors use historical personalities for evil (for instance, Ch. Harris making poor prince Alexey Romanoff into utter monster vampire… Too bad for her as I was devoted Sookie’s fan)
There was a time I’d trudge on through books there were missing the mark with me, trying to give the book (and author) the benefit of the doubt. But no more. Books should leave us satisfied and/or wanting more enough to seek out more writing by that author, or in that genre.
Books should not leave us annoyed, or even angry because of flat characters, empty plots and/or too much description.
So these days, my DNF shelf holds more than a few books, unfortunately, but I agree with your mom – life is too short to read a bad book.
Enjoyed the post!
Reblogged this on Kim's Musings.
Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
I stopped reading one because the writer used a lot of words that I needed a dictionary for. I don’t mind the occasional challenging word but his use was excessive, even my medical books were easier to understand.
Lately, I’ve been finding it so difficult to get into a good book. I start them and then decide it’s not for me. The over use of descriptions and the lack of editing is the main reasons I put a book down too. As for the bad writing and Fifty Shades haha I only managed chapter one and I couldn’t take it anymore!
I also leave books half-read, My habit of not-finishing books hasn’t held me back at all. In fact, it’s meant that I’ve gotten to taste a lot of different styles, authors, and genres over the years. If I waited to finish every book I read before I picked up another book, I wouldn’t have read nearly as much or as widely.