Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Fighting..To The...Bitter....End

When do you give up on a book?

Or rather, when do you decide not to waste any more time on a book that you know isn’t a keeper? I’ve been reading Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Night Pleasures, and while not a bad book per se, it just hasn’t grabbed me. I’m two-thirds of the way into it, I know what’s going to happen and that the two characters are going to get their HEA. Problem is, I have no burning desire at all to see how that scenario plays out. The conflict I’ve been given – the reasons these two crazy kids can’t be together – is very thin at best (annoying at worst – that whole “I’m a creature of the dark. She’s a creature of the light. The two shall never mix. Woe is me!” garbage) so I’m not motivated at all to keep turning those pages. Plus the villain is pretty much an after thought. He’s not scary. He’s not three-dimensional in any way. I’m not worried over the fate of the Earth or even the fate of the characters, to be honest.

Basically, I just don’t care.

But I’m two-thirds finished. Can I write a review about it if I’ve only read two-thirds of it? Is that cheating? I mean, I already know what I think, what I perceive as strengths and weaknesses. And since the ending offers no surprises, do I really need to read every last word?

My reading habits have changed drastically since I started writing. I’ve become so incredibly particular. I have a very low tolerance for problems within a book, craft wise. Not that I expect every single book to be a sterling example of writing before I'll deign to read it, but problems now jump out at me and distract me far more than they ever used to.

Maybe it’s just that now I have the technical education to understand why a book hits me a certain way. Like with the example of Night Pleasures, I can identify my dissatisfaction as a failure for the book to provide me with any meaningful conflict. The characters fall somewhat flat and the villain is not three-dimensional and therefore not scary. Before I started writing and studying the craft, I might simply have just thought that I didn’t like paranormals or vampire books. Now I can see specific reasons this book probably won’t get finished.

Too, becoming a writer has upped my expectations and lowered my willingness to settle for less because I see books as an unspoken contract between writer and reader. As a reader, I agree to pay cash for a certain amount of entertainment, and I expect the writer to provide it. Since I don’t have two free minutes to rub together, my reading time is more precious than diamonds to me and as valuable as cash. As such, I don’t want to waste a single second of it reading something that I’m not enjoying or that isn’t teaching me something. Now, I accept that buying books is a gamble, and sometimes I'll be let down. No problem. You roll your dice, you move your mice. But dang if I'm going to spend time in addition to money reading something that just isn't entertaining me.

But I'm saddled with three things that make not finishing a book disconcerting to my peace of mind; Catholic guilt (which just makes you feel bad for no good reason at all), a desire to waste nothing because somewhere in the world there are starving readers who would be glad to have my unfinished castoffs, you ungrateful little...ahem, and the ever present American Anthem of "Quitters Never Win!" You don't quit because...well, you just don't. Not finishing a book – even one I didn’t like – was unheard of for me back in my pre-kids, pre-writing, take-free-time-for-granted days. Once I started something, unless it was literally un-readable, I’d finish it.

Now days, I think nothing of stopping after a couple chapters if I haven’t been hooked. The other day I actually returned a book I’d purchased after reading just the first chapter and deciding that the writing bothered me so much I’d never enjoy it. (Sidebar – for an interesting discussion on returning books and even *gasp* throwing books away, check out the latest At The Back Fence column at AAR, near the bottom.) I’d never done that before – returned a book because I didn’t like it. And to my defense, I'd read all of fifteen pages so the book was virtually un-read. Like wearing a new pair of shoes around your bedroom for five minutes, on carpeting, before deciding you don’t like them and returning them. In the past it never would have occurred to me to return a book unless it was a duplicate or a gift that wasn’t even close to something I’d ever read.

I read on one writer’s blog – I think it was Màili but I’m not positive and apologize if I’m wrong – about a 15-page in-store test. While standing in the store, she reads the first fifteen pages of a book which gives her enough of an idea of whether she’ll like the book or not. I love that practice and I’m going to adopt it myself. There are many books that I know are not for me well by the 15 page mark, so this would save me some aggravation.

CORRECTION. Sorry to interrupt your normally smooth flowing blog-experience, but I've discovered that the 15-page in-store test is actually the brain-child of Candy from Smart Bitches. Sorry, Candy. I knew it was someone brilliant!

Problem is, what if the first 15 pages are well written? The premise is promising, the opening hook enough to pull me in. Then things fall apart. Do I keep reading to the bitter end? Do I give it up for a lost cause and toss the book in the USB pile?

I know reviewers for sites such as AAR are required to finish a book before writing any opinions, even if finishing it is akin to plucking every strand of hair from their head one at a time. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t pursued trying to become an AAR reviewer (because I’ve long thought that it might be kind of fun, and I think I could do an okay job). I don’t want to have to finish a book I don’t like. I don’t have enough time for that.

My next question is whether or not I even start Kenyon’s next book in the Dark Hunter series – Night Embrace. I picked up both books at the library (so at least I’m not out any cash), and I do still love the premise of these stories. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to give Kenyon one more chance.

And I now have my blog topic for tomorrow. My biggest pet peeve in a book ever…the Perfect Premise Gone Oh-So-Wrong.

Off topic, you just have to check out the 2004 Cover Contest over at AAR. Vote if you want to, but don't leave until you've taken a look at the Worst Cover nominations. Words fail me in describing the utter hideousness of these covers. And shame on both the artists and the publishers of these monstrosities for inflicting such crap on the eyes of faithful readers.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I loved Night Pleasures - very much enjoyed Kyrian as a hero, and was very intrigued by Acheron. But I was much less keen on Night Embrace. There were different reasons for that - the principal characters were ancient Celts and, being Irish, I had a problem with some of the language/mythology. Plus there's a major plot choice in there which hits one of my big no-nos.

But that aside, I think it's perfectly acceptable to write a review if you haven't finished the book! I've done it and have seen others do so too: the 'couldn't finish it' review. I do actually finish almost every book I start; if it's bad I start skimming, and sometimes it really is a 'train-wreck' kind of read, in that I'm reading it to see just how bad the book can get. Some of my reviews even reflect that. ;)

Anyway, reading's supposed to be about pleasure. Why torture yourself finishing a book when you already know you dislike it?

- W.

Lynn M said...

Know what is so strange? As much as I complain, I can't stop reading Night Pleasures. I had it in the car with me today when I went to the library and thought about tossing it in the return bin. But for some reason I want to finish it. I'm annoyed because Kyrian is so in love with Amanda for no real reason I've been able to see, and I have other concerns (such as why Amanda slept with Kryian again right after Talon told her that orgasming drains Kyrian of his powers and she should refrain), but even so, there is just something there that compels me to finish.

I guess that means something! In the meantime, I picked up the first of the Feehan/Dark series (Dark Prince, Dark Challenge) and am anxious to give them a go.

Candy said...

Heh, when I was bitching and moaning about how embarrassed I was to buy The Naked Duke I did mention my 15-page bookstore trial. I doubt it's unique to me, so it's entirely possible you read about that elsewhere too.

Before Sarah and I started Smart Bitches, books that were C or worse didn't get finished. Above and beyond the 15-page bookstore trial, there's my 150-page home trial. If the book isn't any good by page 150, I'm going to skim the rest of the book, look up the ending and toss it into the Donate to the Library pile. I definitely put a premium on my reading time, and my TBR pile overfloweth so why waste time on bad or marginal books?

Now that I'm reviewing for SB, though, I've so far finished every book I've started, which is something I haven't done in ages. To be honest, I think the anticipation of having fun snarking in the review is what is sustaining me through bad and mediocre books. Not sure how long this is going to last, but so far I'm having a lot of fun, even with the crappy books. When the time comes that even my love of writing a good snark will not sustain me through a book, I'll probably create a new Category at SB called The Dump and bitch about books I can't finish and why I couldn't finish them.

Anonymous said...

Omigod, Lynn, those covers were... *speechless*

I had to vote for the appalling clinch cover for "The Pirate's Jewel". But I'm desperate to know... did he just find it, or did he just hide it?

- Mere ;)

Lynn M said...

Big fat apology to Candy - sorry, chica, for messing up the attribute for the 15-minute in-store test. I've made note of it in the main body, but here's a personally apology! Like I said, I just knew it was someone clever :)