June 24, 2011

good books and bad books

I am exhausted this morning, and I cannot wait to climb back into bed once this post is written and shared. My drooping eyes and wandering brain are a result of my late night endeavor: reading. Reading a terrific book.

Those of you that follow me on Twitter may remember my distaste of a certain novel a few nights ago (my brain is too fuzzy to remember exactly when this was). It was a book I had chosen for the Debut Author Challenge because it sounded promising. There's really no sense in withholding the book's title (Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari) since I was going to review it today anyway.

As it stands, I would have reviewed the novel at one star... if even that. Five pages in, I was so utterly bored with the main character and her situation, that I just wanted to close the novel and be done with it. But no. I had purchased this book. I had committed to read it. And who knew, it might pick up in the next chapter. By page forty, I wanted to hurl the book across the room. I closed it, and I don't regret my decision. I believe that reading that book would have bored me to tears if the first chapter and a half were any indication of the quality of the rest of the book. As terrible as it sounds (and I know I sound rather like a bitch saying it), the beginning of the book was just bad. I'm not sure how it was published.

Now, I know reading is subjective, and a book I might hate will be a book someone else loves. It happens. I just so happen to not like post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels. I've tried. Really. So my patience for the genre is very slim. As I said in my post on Wednesday, I find characterization to be the utmost importance. Give me a dystopian with stellar characterization, and you won't hear a complaint from me. But in this novel, there wasn't any characterization. There was a girl trying to gut a turtle (and failing) for about ten pages. The narrative was sloppy. I lost myself among the poorly worded sentences, even reading some bits aloud to my husband to be sure I wasn't the only one experiencing missing bits of narrative. I wasn't.

This is only the second book I have ever put down without finishing, without intending to go back to it later. The book even put me in a bad mood, and I couldn't read anything else for the rest of the night.

This brings me to the book I read last night--the fourth in a series written by a more established author. Of course it's going to be better than the debut author's book. That's a given (but that still doesn't excuse the poor quality of the debut novel).

I sat down with this book (Blackveil by Kristen Britain) at about nine o'clock last night. I had just gotten it in the mail yesterday and was super excited to read it. So I sit down, turn the first page, and start reading.... I did not put the book down until after five o'clock this morning.

Yes. You read that right. I read a book from sundown to sunup. Literally. I maybe set it down a half a dozen times for bathroom breaks, but I was so absorbed in the story, I couldn't bring myself to go to sleep. Before I knew it, it was midnight, one-thirty, three-fifteen, and by that point, I figured what the hell. I only had another two hundred pages to go. And at five-fifteen, I closed the book, craving the next in the sequel (which doesn't come out until who knows when. The title hasn't even been announced.).

I've been lucky so far in my reading endeavors. I've read mostly good books, or at least decent books. I haven't run across bad books. Like I said, I've now only stop reading two books. Ever. The list of books that I've stayed up for eight hours of straight reading is just as slim (there are maybe a handful of books in that category, including the last three of the Harry Potter series).

It just goes to show the difference between books, the difference a beginning or a cast of characters can make. Ashes, Ashes may be a terrific book. I'll never know. I don't care to know. I failed to connect with the main character, and that was that. The Green Rider series, on the other hand, is a set of books I will love for the rest of my life. Some day down the road, I'll even spring for a matching hardback set of the books. As it stands, I have two mass print paperbacks, one super huge paperback, and a hardback.

Reading is a magical experience for me. It has been ever since I opened the first page to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. To continue that reading experience, I don't have time to read bad books. I don't have time to read books I never really wanted to read in the first place. That's why next year, I won't be participating in the Debut Author Challenge. The number of books I wanted to read out of the hundreds of debut books reading this year numbered about six. The rest, I had to fill in the required twelve, so I picked some that were mildly interesting, some outside my usual reading comfort zone, leading to a not-so-magical reading experience.

In the future, I'll still read new books, old books, books I don't usually like, books published by debut authors, books published by indie authors, and books published by veteran authors. But I'll be more selective from now on. If I don't have an eighty-five percent interest in a book, it's not worth my time. There are too many books like the Green Rider series that I could be reading and loving instead of boring myself with books like Ashes, Ashes. 

That's my opinion on the matter.

So what are the books that you love, those you have to fill your bookshelves with? Have you ever stopped reading a book, or are you a diligent reader until the very end, even if you hate the book?


  1. I've given myself permission not to finish books. I have to read at least 20-50 pages, to be fair to the writer...but if it's fling-worthy, I stop. I know that different people have different tastes, so I tend to assume that someone else will love this book, and I'm just not that person. Why waste my time on something I don't care for?

    OK, and I really like turtles...I don't think I could read 10 pages of turtle mutilation.

  2. I've done that with one book, I think, and blocked the memory of its title. Several others I've forced myself to continue, thinking "it's got to get better" — sometimes they did improve, but never to the "good enough" point. I think that's one reason I have a soft spot for anthologies, if I don't like one story I can skip it without thinking I've wasted my time on an entire book.

    Now I'm glad I didn't ask you to beta my stories… the novels I've actually completed are definitely post-apocalyptic, except for a horribly derivative fantasy I wrote in college (and the handwritten manuscript survived 20 years and several moves, so I typed it up).

  3. Very interesting! But you're right--if you're not sucked in by the character and love his/her voice, it's all empty plot. Good thing to keep in mind as I/writers write.

    Yes, lately I've NOT finished books. I used to feel obliged, but I have a limited amount of time in my life, and I'm not going to spend it reading something I don't enjoy. More importantly, though, is to figure out WHY a book didn't work, and try to avoid doing whatever that is!

  4. I used to force myself to continue reading. Felt like it was something I had to do. I don't have time any more. Who does?

    As authors we HAVE to keep this in mind. There is just too much competition for our readers' attention, which is growing ever shorter all the time.

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone!

    Rowenna, It's a bit difficult putting down a book knowing that someone spent hours upon hours of their life pouring themselves into it. I know how much work goes into it, and sometimes it's hard to admit you'd don't care for something like that. But you're right. Someone else will love it, and we're just not that person.

    FAR, Yes, it's probably a good thing you didn't ask me to beta! I would have read it, and I would have done so dutifully, but my reaction would have likely been negative, but sugar-coated, just because of my genre bias. And that's not what a writer needs from his beta readers. I have trudged through some books that did get better, but like you, they weren't, y'know, great. I'm beginning to like anthologies as well, but I find that I can't read them like I would a book. I have to put it down between stories for a while so that I don't continue reading, thinking it's the same characters and such.

    Carol, As writers it is important to figure out what went wrong with a book we didn't like. It's also important, albeit extremely difficult, to pick out what went right with a book. And you're right, we have a limited amount of time in our lives. Might as well fill it with good books. :)

    Susan, There were many books I forced myself to read, thinking that if I didn't read them, I was a bad person or something. Like I said to Rowenna: I know what goes into writing a book, and to fling it away is like a shot against the person that wrote it. I would hate for someone to stop reading my book.

    A point I forgot to add in the post... I think that now with the ereader revolution, it will become easier to find books we'll love without wasting times on ones we don't particularly like. Since we can read a sample first chapter or few, in the comfort of our own homes rather than in a bookstore where we may not have that time, we can sift through book beginnings to find what really speaks to us, and we can not feel bad about choosing to skip over some books. One book is not for everyone as you too have expressed (even though as writers, we wish that to be true with our books). :)

  6. I've only had one book I didn't read all the way through. It wasn't that the characters were bad, it was 5 pages in I figured out the ending and that ruined it for me. Wait, there's been two books I couldn't finish reading. There would be a third book but I pushed through the end.
    Otherwise, I tend to read a book straight through. I rarely put books down half finished. But I'm also easily entertained so it doesn't take much to suck me into a plot.