A Treat to Myself

Many of you know how I wrestle with putting a book down once I start.  When I crack open the cover of a new-to-me title I feel as though I am in it for the long haul.  To cry divorce after a mere 50 pages makes think I am fickle, that I lack the capability of a long term commitment, and so I commit myself to hearing it out.  The whole story is the point and doesn’t everyone deserve to be listened to?

In my opinion, no.  Not at all.  Truth is the relationship should be one founded upon, at the very least, a sense of reciprocity.  Usually I condone my not-so inner masochist by forcing myself to slog through whatever, telling myself that if it were published that must mean it has some redeeming quality.  Then it dawned on me – my time is valuable.  The books, their authors, need to show me they are worth that investment.  Sorry to say but I’ve come across a great many stinkers in the last year that I wished I had the fortitude then to put down.  As those hours can never be reclaimed I decided to turn over a new leaf and simply not allow that loss to occur again should I feel that’s what it would be.  A loss.

When reading this awesome post recapping books left by the wayside I thought it was brilliant.  So, while this is normally a book review day, I thought I would go forth and talk about a couple books I actually managed to say “no” to and why.  Here goes!

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Why did I want to read it? I read a review of it that stated it was a wonderful, multi-faceted science fiction tale.

What page did I get to? 70

Why did I leave it on the side of the road unfinished? At 70 pages in I quickly gauged that only half of those pages were necessary – then I realized I had 700 more to read.  If, at most, 60% of those pages contain necessary and vital information to the plot then there’s no way I’m going to slog through upwards of 700 pages to get it.  Every word better matter, every character and nuance vital otherwise you’re wasting a whole bunch of people’s time.  There were some other issues for me that included a futuristic tale that made use of things like “iPod” (yes, the brand name) in the landscape of the story.  If a story is supposed to take place in another decade or two when technology already shifts gears every few months to a year then an author should use their imagination and make up devices OR, at the very least, not use brand names.  Added to this that the author made several mentions of President Bush, stated that Jenna Bush is now governor of Texas and a former First Lady, and New Orleans (thanks to Katrina) was a big heaping wasteland.  Perhaps the author thought this made the work seem more intense due to the links with American culture and recent political/environmental disasters but it still suffers from the notion of “recent” while attempting to be “in the future”.  Each of these issues on their own and I might very well have finished reading it, but certainly not both.  **Edit:  More concisely, I’m willing to read pop fiction in a shorter format, but not to the tune of more than 750 pages.  For a work this long I expect somewhat timeless messages (LoTR comes to mind).

Who would like it? I honestly don’t know.  The synopsis on the jacket seemed so wonderfully intiriguing:  government testing/experimenting for longer life (900 years), new vampire lore, government controlled areas.  So, if you like such tales and don’t mind the paradox of pop-culture references and it being a futuristic tale then I say go for it.

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Why did I want to read it? My husband had recommended it to me and the movie “The Ninth Gate” was loosely based upon it.

What page did I get to? Fifty-ish.

Why did I drop it like a bad penny? First, the book was basically some guy using the medium of a novel to talk about all the ins and outs of all Dumas’ works.  I know the title seems like this should have been obvious, but the truth was I was expecting something better spun not sections in Latin or verbose passages about two characters engaged in a literary pissing contest trying to assert who knew Dumas’ works best.  While this was certainly not a pleasant aspect of the book it, at times, was interesting and recoverable if not for a problem with the point of view.  The author attempted to do what “Wuthering Heights” did and have the story told through the eyes of one character while he recalled what another character had told him.  It could have worked if not for the amount of detail the author wanted to impart: conversations directly quoted that occurred only in the experience of the character whose POV it wasn’t, lavish descriptions of rooms to which the POV character never saw, interpretations of other characters’ behavior the POV character never met.  Did I mention the POV character (Balkan) and the informant (Caruso), for all intents and purposes, were professional acquaintances searching for a book?  Yeah.

Who would like it? I suspect any fanboy of Dumas would.

Do you put down books?  What was the last book you left unfinished?

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22 responses to “A Treat to Myself

  • martha drummond

    Hi- When I can’t get into a book, I sometimes feel guilty that I wasted the money or time in getting started on it, and usually don’t spend too much more time analyzing why I didn’t like it. It is interesting to see how people’s tastes vary and to see how specific sensitivities can reveal them selves in the like or dislike categories. That’s just the way it is. Those things we dislike or feel ambivalent about help send us in the correct direction in this short life of ours. So in a way, gracias to those negative elements. It certainly helps clarify your likes.

    Am looking forward to getting together with you on Monday. Even if weather is bad, it will be a nice ride and even better escapade into the used book store. A nice lunch in a quaint deli would be very nice. Wishing you the best of the weekend. My 2 day class at University of Hartford was excellent. Am excited and anxious at the same time, which should be the case. Am off to swimming and exercise to get this 61 yr. old bod in shape. The future has lots of good things to be had, if we keep looking for them.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Martha – So very true. I’m pretty discerning with the books I read to completion unless it’s something I acknowledge as my “fun” or “fluff” favorites. Definitely looking forward to a trip to the mother of all used book stores with you!

  • Joy

    Kimberly,

    The books I put aside, I keep somewhere in sight and so it’s almost like they’re reproaching me for putting them aside. There are several of them I’ve put aside in the last few months, including A Respectable Trade, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and The True History of Paradise. They’re all good books, but the narrative’s a little slow for me. I’m sure I’ll get back to them at some point, but for right now editing mode seems to be taking a front seat.

    I need to get a new attitude too and stop reading when I just can’t get into or see the point of some stories.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Joy – I can totally understand the issue of slow. If the writing is good then sometimes I won’t pick up on that slowness, but others… Let’s face it, we have to feel like we’re progressing through the story in a time that’s equitable with the frequency of the turn of a page. To stop reading a book you’re not into is so liberating. Perhaps hide them so they can’t taunt you? 😉

      Good luck with your edits!

  • Lua

    I’m with you- not all books deserve a chance.
    I read the first 30 pages of all books, I believe that’s fair and a good way to determine if it’s worth reading or not.
    Thanks for the reviews- I’ll stay clear of those books 🙂

    • kimberlyloomis

      Lua – Anytime! I also think thirty pages is a fair amount. Certainly gives you a good taste of the narrative and whether or not it’s good enough to warrant further commitment. 🙂

  • Jes Mauldin

    I do put books aside, if they don’t grab my attention within the first 50 pages. I try to treat my books as I would a blind coffee date. I’ll give you an hour to make an impression on me. If within the hour I’m not “feeling” the character’s voice, I simply set it down and we part ways.

    The book I recently parted ways with was “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”. I settled in with an iced coffee and proceeded to read, excited at the prospects of learning about the history of chinese women, and the “rave” reviews. I put it down, because the author’s writing style went from slow snooze fest to horrific imagery descriptions regarding foot binding. It really bothered me. Very disturbing. That book quickly found its way to the donation bin at my local library. Funny thing is, I’m not the only one apparently. I was in the local Savers on my lunch hour and was rumaging through the donated book shelves looking for a “treasure” and saw 12 copies of the book I was so disgusted with.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Jes – Lol! That was a book that is still on my bookshelves because of the descriptive work. 😉 Until I read it I had no idea just how brutal foot binding was and, though it made me cringe, I thought it espoused a good amount of knowledge regarding the wretched practice.

      Whatever you do don’t read “Wild Swans”. It’s a very graphic and brutal autobiographical account of 20th century history in China – lots of unpleasantness.

  • Jan

    I love your criteria for reading, or continuing to read a book. For me, the most important thing has always been do the characters, or at least one character, have a sense of life? and an attitude towards valuing it? Not too many books cut it that way. And I agree with you, I hate useless detail that doesn’t move the plot forward.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Jan – I like your criteria as well! I think the difficulty in finding fiction that lines up with characters having a sense of life is that so few people contemplate the notion to begin with. In order to have a sense of life, to be able to communicate it, would necessitate the examination of “the unexamined life” philosophical notion. At least I think so anyway.

  • Eva

    I’m glad I could help inspire you! Pop references in novels is one of my biggest pet peeves, so I would’ve abandoned The Passage too. And I read Club Dumas years ago and found it more than a bit silly. 😉

    • kimberlyloomis

      In my youth I don’t think I cared about the pop references as much, but now I demand quite a bit more. There’s just never any real need for them when you can use generic terms like “mp3 player” or somesuch. Brand names give the work a dated and, well, advert-like quality.

  • laurelrainsnow

    I really hate it when I pick up a book that I’ve selected, for one reason or another, or accepted from someone…without finishing it. But it happens.

    I have the attitude that my time is valuable, too; in fact, at my age, I’m running out of time! lol

    So, yes, 50 pages is what I will give a book, to see if I can connect with at least one of the characters.

    The book I put aside (abandoned) in the past few months was Beat the Reaper. Now that may be a fabulous book, but I couldn’t engage. It wasn’t even the bad language…I can deal with that. But there was just something in the tone, in the characterizations—I didn’t like any of the characters.

    There have been other books that I won’t name that I slugged through but didn’t enjoy. Those are difficult, too.

    But again…time is valuable and life is too short to trudge through the bad ones.

    BTW, glad to know that you didn’t like The Passage. There’s so much hype about it, and I felt guilty for not even giving it a try, but I could tell from what I read that it just wouldn’t be my cup of tea.

    Interesting post today, Kimberly.

    • kimberlyloomis

      How right you are, Laurel. The characters can also make or break a book. I feel almost ashamed to admit this, but when reading “Wuthering Heights” I kind of felt the same way. By the end, however, I was very glad I stuck through it – but then again, the writing in that was superb and that will always carry me far into a work.

  • Arlee Bird

    I can see why you might have put these books aside. I cannot recall any fiction that I’ve ever stopped reading. It’s escape and if I’ve started I want to see how it ends up. Kind of like a lot of crappy movies I’ve sat through til the end.

    I have put down some nonfictions. If they are pure tedium, utter nonsense, or poorly written tripe I don’t like to waste my time. Who needs to know how those end?

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

    • kimberlyloomis

      Omg, and that summed up the reason I sat through “Twilight”! Okay, I knew how that would end, but it still had me sitting there even though it was such a bad movie (and book). Fiction work has to sell me on the story and the writing for me to keep at it. Lately, I’ve been finding many books published that have an interesting story (“The Passage” is an example of this) and not stellar writing. Sometimes I can tolerate it, but there does have to be a certain level of skill present for me to finish reading the book.

      Nonfictions kind of slip by me sometimes. I think I just get distracted – Look, something shiny! 😉

  • lola sharp

    I actually did end up enjoying The Passage…but will admit, the first 150 pages were slow (and I too did not like the brand/named references). But, most of it did later become important information and it totally picked up the pace. Also, the prose reads almost literary , which for a futuristic-ish/zombie-ish political/horror/ thriller can be jarring to some people, I think. (though, that’s one of the things about the book I enjoyed).
    I agree, the first 150 pages needed to be edited for pacing etc., I felt it was worth it in the end.
    I didn’t love it, but I liked it a lot.
    There is something good to take away from reading the books you consider ‘bad’: what the author (in your opinion) did wrong (mechanically and otherwise) and what could improve it. I think I spend so much time critiquing my CP’s books, and editing my own, that I’m always looking at books with a red pen (in my head). (I know it’s an amazing book when I get to the end and realize not only did I love it, but no once did I come out of the story and want to mark it up. When the only time I slowed my reading was to savor the beauty of a perfect sentence/metaphor/paragraph.)

    My point is: as a writer we can learn as much from reading a semi-crappy book as we can from reading a perfect book. (obviously I’m not saying we should waste our time on crappy books. I agree with you. Time/life is short. I quit books too.)

    Have a wonderful weekend!
    Love,
    Lola

    • kimberlyloomis

      I actually liked that it was somewhat literary in style as well, but… Well…. If it’s a new world, then gosh darn it build it already! I have to admit that I get leery of people being caught up on Bush and so can’t help but have a knee jerk reaction to it. Puts my guard up and gets me thinking it’s going to be a hit piece instead of thoughtful commentary about the system at large (which I like/adore/drool over). 😀

      You’re very right about learning from poorly written works, too, and about the inner editor. I felt that way about only a few select old favorites and some of the utterly brilliant works I’ve read this year. What books made the grade for you?

  • sara

    At this busy, child-rearing, homemaking season of my life I absolutely give myself permission to put down books.

    I’m pretty picky about what I pick up to begin with. There is more than one reason to put down a book too; sometimes the book is a stinker, sometimes it’s too deep for me to give my full attention to and sometimes I’d rather be sleeping. 🙂

    I figure this stage of life is pretty short so I’m soaking it up and resting in the knowledge that there will be time when my babies are older to enjoy some broader and deeper reading for myself. In the meantime, Winnie-the-Pooh and Ferdinand the bull, and ducks named Ping are good friends of mine.

  • Anne

    Good for you! 🙂 Reviews like this are so helpful. The last book I didn’t finish was Adam & Eve (forthcoming), and the last book I finished and wish I hadn’t was The Magicians. I had such high hopes for it, and should have abandoned it when I first suspected it wasn’t going to get better.

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