Why I don’t finish every book I start to read

Bookshelf full of booksI recently read an article that claimed you really should finish every book you start to read. Sorry, it has been taken down so I can’t link to it)

I’m not the only one who shouted RUBBISH. Life’s too short to waste your time on reading a book that has become boring, tedious, odious, eye-wateringly bad or eye-rollingly obvious.

But then I thought about it.

Sure, there are some books I would never touch again, not in a moment. Some of them were written by top authors. I remember ploughing through a Ruth Rendell novel while on the Indian Pacific train trip. (You need books for that – lots of them). I enjoyed her murder mysteries and this one seemed to be along those lines, although not her usual detective. Boy, was I wrong. This was about two mixed up kids from horrible homes, a psychological study, if you will. None of the characters were likeable, and the plot lurched from one unpleasant scenario to the next, and ended up with a Romeo and Juliet ending. I know this because I skim-read through most of it, hoping to find something I’d think worth reading. Believe me, if I hadn’t been stuck on a train, I would have given up long before. But I’d made an assumption about what to expect, and I was wrong. I did something very similar with an Elizabeth Moon novel, which turned out not to be the science fiction I expected. Mea Culpa.

I kind of read Dan Brown’s The da Vinci Code. People said it was good, and I liked the premise, with the little mysteries scattered around. But two-thirds of the way through I couldn’t take the over the top inanity anymore and skimmed to the end. My husband is more forgiving than I am (sounds a bit like Return of the Jedi, doesn’t it? That scene where Darth Vader arrives to hurry up completion of Death Star II) and he’d bought Angels and Demons, so I took a look. That got two chapters and a skim to the ending, which earned a resounding ‘what a load of bollocks’.

Sometimes I’ll buy a book – or download a free copy – of something outside my usual choice of reading. If it doesn’t suit, it doesn’t, and I don’t force myself to finish it. No book will appeal to everybody, and at least I tried. Again, that’s my choice. And no, I won’t be rushing off to Amazon to write a ‘meh’ review.

What does throw me out? Normally, if a book hasn’t grabbed me in the first few chapters, it’s an unapologetic DNF. I’m not against slow openings, in fact I rather like a bit of scene-setting so I can ease into a different world, but quite soon I want to be taken on a journey with interesting characters. So I’m not a great believer in the latest fiction-writing rule that thou shalt open in the middle of an action scene. However, I need to meet characters I like, doing things that I find plausible, and interesting. Action that immediately incites feelings of how is that possible, or why would she do that, will have my finger hovering over the ‘off’ button. The writing’s important, too. I can ignore typos in moderation, but if the author’s voice gets up my nose, that’s it. Terry Brookes comes to mind. Yeah, okay, I bought the novelisation of Star Wars I after much hesitation, even though he wrote it. I’d given up on him years before. I soon found my opinion hadn’t changed, and the book was off to the second hand bookshop. Once again, Mea Culpa.

However, sometimes I will return to a book I have given up on. Take, for instance, Jack McDevitt’s Slow Lightning. After a prologue, it winds up slowly, setting the scene. I’ll admit to starting it twice, both times ignoring the prologue because I don’t like them, and I found the prologue in the only other McDevitt book I’d read up to then (A Talent for War) a crashing waste of brain power. The third time, I soldiered on and was so glad I did. The novel soon became a clever page-turner. And I had to go back and read the prologue, because it was vital to understanding the book.  I wrote an article about it here.

But sometimes, you know, it’s just that I’m not in the mood for that sort of book today. Maybe I’ll finish it some other time, maybe it will remain unopened.

What about you? Do you finish everything you start reading? What throws you out? Have you ever been like me, and gone back to a book you’d given up?

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