"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Sunday, February 01, 2009

When is it OK to stop?

Oh wait - before I forget, there's an awesome new group blog just getting started by a bunch of writers of speculative fiction. And since my stuff pretty much falls into that category, well, I'm a member :)
Check out my post over on The Spectacle on post-apocalyptic fiction.


OK, on to the big question I have for you. When you start reading a book, do you always finish?

My answer - I do not always finish. In fact many times I stop. And normally it's for a variety of reasons. I've put aside books in the last year that were too slow, too depressing, had characters I didn't care less about - all that kind of stuff.
And just this weekend, I put aside the book I was currently reading and funny enough, swapped it out for one I'd put aside last year after about 50 pages.

So why did I put it aside? I tried to analyze this, and the reason I came up with was that I did not want to get inside the main character's head. It was so well written (the voice was right on), and I cared about the character, but it was sad and kind of depressing, and it wasn't a happy place I wanted to dwell in.

I put it aside and picked up Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. I'd put this one aside last fall after about 50 pages because it was a little slow getting started. And I'm so glad I picked it back up as I finished it in two days and thoroughly enjoyed it. I do think it could have been about 2/3 as long as it was, but it was engaging, beautifully written, and wonderful all around. I totally recommend it to anyone who has yet to read it.

Party of me is sad when I put a book aside. I mean after all, there was a reason I picked it up in the first place. I wanted to enjoy it. But that said, when I put a book down it reaffirms something very important to me:
Not all books are for all people.

Simply put, what one person loves another won't be able to stand. And what one person can't stand, another person will love. And the beauty of it is that there are enough books out there for everyone to find something they love.

Next up on my reading list: Shift by fellow-Class of 2k8 member Jennifer Bradbury. I've been wanting to read this one for a year!

So what's your opinion about stopping reading? Do it? Never do it? What's the last book you put down mid-way?

And Happy Monday!


Patty P said...

I agree, it's a sad feeling setting a book down. Although I do it all the time. I read for enjoyment and if the book doesn't entertain me on some level, I just chalk it up to it not being my cup of tea.

yellow_gin said...

no never well only if I'm completely at a loss of understanding which has happened a couple of times. But I once read a whole book on native Americans that was so old and so boring but bc I started I had to finish. I admire ur ability to save ur time :)

Christine M said...

Life is too short to read bad books.

I mean there are so many wonderful books out there, why read ones you are not enjoying.

That said. I hardly ever pick up a book that I don't finish. (Not counting some of the non-fiction sitting on my night stand).

The last book I started and didn't finish? Antony and Cleopatra by Colleen McCullough. It wasn't that I didn't like it. But it was a two week book from the library and as soon as I started it I got my galley to proof and knew there was no way I'd finish it in that two weeks. I returned it - and I haven't seen it in the library since.

PJ Hoover said...

Exactly, Patty. And there is just so much out there to read.

Ack, Victoria, that sounds awful. My start/finish ratio used to be better, but I've become a way more critical reader.

Yeah, the library does have a way of imposing a deadline, doesn't it, Chris!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I stop. I never used to. Never. But there just isn't time anymore. Part of me hates this, that I bring books home from the library & take them back. Part of me knows that, well, there are just books out there that aren't going to grab me and I might as well stick with the ones I fall in love with. It's tough, though--definitely a different stage to be in.

Lapillus said...

I do but it happens rarely. I think there have been about five books in the last five years I haven't finished. It really bothers me to give up on a book, and strangely, I have found myself thinking about the books I never finished months or even years later.

I got about halfway through Septimus Heap (book 1) last year and gave up on it. It kept creeping back into my mind though, so I'm reading it again now. I'm enjoying it much more, but I'm getting through it rather slowly. It's just not a page-turner for me.

Christina Farley said...

I really really try to finish every book that I read because some books have a slow start and end great. Or othertimes, I like to analyze what went wrong. Or it must have some redeeming value to have been published, so I try to find what that is.

But if it's really bad, I won't put myself through the pain of it. There are so many books on my shelf to pick up next.

Beth Kephart said...

I think it's important to read what we love, when we can. I know that I write books that aren't for everyone, and I also know that some books that are embraced by many simply do not work for me. And that's all okay. The world is wide and rich.

beth said...

I do put aside books. Life is too short. I very nearly put aside Goose Girl (it was too long!), but I finished it because I like that fairy tale, and because everyone raves about Shannon Hale. Since then, I've picked up a few of Hale's books in the library...and put them all back down. Big, hefty and I couldn't see a plot in the first ten or so pages. I'm just not willing to put the time in for these characters. I think I may be the only person on Earth who didn't like Book of a Thousand Days, but, there you have it.

Keri Mikulski said...

I put aside ALOT of books.. I'm an extremely picky reader.

Usually, if I'm not completely drawn in to the voice or story, I skim to the end to understand the plot structure. Then, I grab the next one.

Great question.

Devon Ellington said...

If I'm being paid to review it, yes, I see it all the way through, no matter what. And some of them are painful, let me tell you. But I believe that's the gig, and it's part of my responsibility.

If I'm reading just for me, and the book loses me, it loses me. Sometimes I'll put it away and try to go back. Other times, I'll put it up on BookMooch, so someone else can enjoy it.

Working Mom said...

I never give up on a book. It frusrates my Husband because he agrees with Christine M-- life is too short for bad books. I am reconsidering my policy though. In the past few years I struggled through at least two books that were just torture to read. I did feel a sense of accomplishment when I finally finished them.

lotusgirl said...

I have a hard time putting aside a book. I'm better about it now. Life's short and I'm not able to read all the books out there, esp. now that I'm writing, etc. I tend to pick them back up at some point and give them a second or third chance. I keep wanting to like the book--like you, I picked up initially for a reason.

I loved Goose Girl. I'm a big fan of Shannon Hale's books.

The last one I put down is Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I feel like that is almost sacrilege. He's so popular these days. I've read 2 amazing books since I put it down. It' not even long and it's really well written and I will go back eventually and finish it. I'm about 2/3 of the way through (I believe it may be the first book I've ever put down that far in). I was just not that engaged, and I had these other books calling to me.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

I can see where someone reading strictly for entertainment could "give up" on a book, though I generally recommend giving it at least one more try.

Sometimes it's just a matter of the reader's mood, and for less experienced readers, the actual literary elements may be a bit much of a stretch (at least for the time being).

That said, in reading as a writer, it's been a tremendous help to my craft to read outside of my comfort zone, to read--and carefully consider--books that ultimately didn't work for me, and to read with a comparative eye in genres I may never write in.

On a related note, reading within one's preferred genre is critical--to understand and appreciate what's come before, to know when to nod thoughtfully to one's predecessors, and when to add something fresh to the conversation of books. But going more broadly, too, may provide the inspiration for those innovations that set one's work apart.

PJ Hoover said...

Yes, Becky, I used to be much more apt to read any book. But there's just so much I want to read. Choices these days are amazing!

Casey, I may pick up a few books I've put down and try them again. Five books in five years is not bad at all. And I've been meaning to read Septimus. Please let me know how you end up liking it!

They all do have redeeming values, Christina! And I'm with you on trying to analyze when something isn't working for me. Which I find totally helpful.

Beth K., I find it a totally freeing feeling to know that every book is not for every person. It takes pressure to please the world off my shoulders.

Beth R., I am really glad I picked Goose Girl back up. I read Rapunzel's Revenge, though I'm not sure that falls in the same category, but other than that I haven't read any of her other books.

PJ Hoover said...

So you skim, Keri? Interesting. I might skim a few more pages, hoping to find something to keep me going, but I generally don't skim the rest. But I feel like I'm getting pickier with each book I read.

Yep, Devon, getting paid to review something would be a totally different story. And I've heard great things about BookMooch.

Interesting, Working Mom. There have been a couple books that have felt torturous to me. The shorter ones I finished. The longer ones I just couldn't do.

Funny, Lois! I loved Coraline. It was like a creepy delight and short enough that I nearly read it in one sitting (which is rare for me these days).

Cynthia, I find my mood is a huge factor in how much I like a book or whether I want to finish it. And I couldn't agree more on trying to really think about why something didn't work for me. It seems the books I enjoy reading the most (and writing for that matter) are the ones that put me in a happy place.

Thanks for visiting, and for all the great comments, everyone!

Tabitha said...

Hmm, it's rare that I don't finish a book. Even rarer if I don't pick it back up. The last book I set down was Breaking Dawn, last year when it first came out. I was about fifty pages into it, but it was annoying me so I set it down. I'll pick it back up, but there are so many books calling to me! :)

I'm of the same philosophy as Cynthia. I can't tell you how much my craft has improved by finishing books I don't particularly like. When I'm done, I break down the book and figure out exactly why I didn't like it. If it's just personal preference, that's one thing. But if it's because the craft could have been better, then I learn not to make the same mistakes.

Miriam S.Forster said...

I know what you mean, PJ. I've set down three books this month for that exact reason. Some I want to go back to at some point but others I probably won't.

(If I feel giving up on a depressing book, the first thing I do is go and read the ending. If the ending is hopeful enough to outweigh the bad stuff, I'll probably finish it.)

My verification word is lenthoon. Weird.

PJ Hoover said...

Tabitha, BD is on my list. I haven't picked it up yet, and will probably get to it sometime this year. And I hear you on writing improving by analyzing what doesn't work. I also note when and if I get distracted while reading something and try to figure out why. Plot strayed? Characters not pulling me in? Whatever.

Yes, Miriam, depressing reads seem to be my weak point, especially when dealing with kids. I hugely attribute this to having two kids now as I NEVER used to feel this way. And hopeful endings help...sometimes.
Lenthoon would be cool in a book :)

Jeanie W said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeanie W said...

I used to set books aside when the characters or the style did not grab me. My reasoning was that life is too short, and there are too many good books out there to waste time on the bad ones. But now that I am writing and revising my own work, I have discovered the value in pushing my way through books I think are substandard.

While I'm reading a book that particularly don't like, I analyse why. I pay close attention to what bothers me and try to think up ways the writing could be improved. It takes me a lot longer to read this way, but it's a good educational exercise. I find it especially helpful when I discover something that's not working for me in someone else's book, and then I turn around and identify the same flaw in my own manuscript.

PJ Hoover said...

Hey Jeanie! It's rare that I think of a published book as substandard. I think I just think it's not my cup of tea. Some readers like slower, less plot drive, more character driven, less action, more action. There are just so many choices!
And it is great when I can take what I'm reading, analyze it, and use it to enhance my own stuff. Love that!

Thanks for visiting!

adrienne said...

I follow the "life's too short" philosophy. I've given up on lots of books.

Kelly H-Y said...

It's rare ... but, I have to admit, I've not finished a couple books. One caused too much sleepiness, and I just couldn't make it through (probably doesn't help that reading is the LAST thing I do every night before going to sleep!); and the other was too disturbing.
Congrats on the post on The Spectacle! :-)

PJ Hoover said...

It's good you know when to quit, Adrienne!

The disturbing ones seems to get to me, too, Kelly! I put those aside the quickest.
And thanks on The Spectacle!

Thanks for visiting!

Marcia said...

Yes, I put books down regularly. I'm of the "life is too short" school. BUT as a writer I make myself define why I'm giving up on the book, and at what point it lost me. (I usually also define points at which a book has hooked me.) My reasons for putting a book down fall into three categories: (1) I can't or don't want to get into the MC; (2) The action is too slow and/or I have no sense of the overall goal; (3) The writing is poor. #3 doesn't occur very often.

PJ Hoover said...

Totally, Marcia. I am making myself analyze when I don't want to keep reading and justify putting something down. And yes, there are definitely different reasons!

Barrie said...

I definitely stop reading a book. For a variety of reasons. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the book, but more to do with what's going on in my life and where I'm reading. I used to read whatever I started, but my TBR is too tall for that now. :)

Anonymous said...

Like you, I'm usually reading several books at a time so I flip back and forth between what I'm in the mood for that night. Last night, I was reading a nonfiction biography on Robert Frost. The night before that I was reading your awesome mg novel, The Emerald Tablet. Sometimes, I get to a point in the book where I can't put it down and I have to keep reading. If I find myself losing interest in a story, I try and push myself through. I feel every book has something in it for me. I may just have to dig a little farther to find out what it's trying to tell me or teach me.

Stacy Nyikos said...

I've only ever not finished one book (and that was the last twenty pages I didn't read). I'm OCD like that. I figure if I've invested the time and money, I may as well finish the book. I may actually learn something. But my "excuse" for that approach to reading is having to read all those books for my PhD. I had to finish them. They were really boring. How bad can anything else be?

PJ Hoover said...

There are so many books out there, Barrie. And they all look so delicious. And you're like me - it more depends on me and not the book.

Aw, you're sweet, Carmen. Thanks!
Maybe I should push myself more. Or maybe I'll just get better about giving books a second chance.

LOL, Stacy, yes I can't imagine anything is more boring that testbooks and reading for academia.

Happy Tuesday!

Solvang Sherrie said...

I used to force myself to finish what I started. But now that my reading time is limited, I do not hesitate to set aside a book that doesn't capture me from the start. Like you said, sometimes I just set it aside and try again later when I'm in a different frame of mind. And others, I take to the used book store and trade 'em in for something better :)

I just ordered the Goose Girl from my local book store on Thursday. Looking forward to reading it!

Kim Baccellia said...

I used to stick it out and read the whole book regardless if I didn't like it or not. Now if the first chapter doesn't grab me, I put it aside. Why? For one thing I'm busy with reviews and writing my own stuff. I just don't have time. Which is kind of sad because I do remember this one urban fantasy that I had a hard time getting into but after the first 100 pages it really got good.

This whole business is so subjective. Something I love, others will hate and vis a versa.

Carrie Harris said...

It's very rare that I put a book down. I can think of two instances in the past year; both were situations in which the mature content was just too much for me. I figure if it's making me sick to my stomach, I shouldn't read it. :)

Sometimes, I think the best thing in the world for my ego is to read "bad" books. Because then I know there's hope for me.

Angela said...

It's very rare i'll set down a book, and I'll usually stick it out to the end. However, if something is annoying me, I'll start to skim, hoping to get back on track with the action of the story.

PJ Hoover said...

You'll love Goose Girl, Sherrie. It was really well written. And it's funny how we change over time, isn't it.

Kim, you are a super avid reader! I can see how you have to put aside stuff just to keep up with all the reviews and the Cybils!

Wow, sick to your stomach bad, Carrie! That must be pretty graphic! And I hear you on the ego boost, which in this business, there is nothing wrong with at all. Our egos take hits enough!

i'll stick with annoying books if there isn't that much left or if they're pretty quick reading, Angela. Otherwise, I'll skim a couple pages and move on.

Thanks for visiting!

Vivian said...

If I keep taking breaks from reading a book, it is a sure sign I'm not going to finish the book. That's not to say it's a bad book, just one that doesn't suit my taste.

Having said that, I will finish the book if it is similar to my writing interests, so I can study it. And, I will try reading the book again at some point later on.

C.R. Evers said...

I'm with you on the "stopping" I have no problem taking books back to the library if I'm not "into" them. I don't write the books off as something I don't like, but think of them as books I can go back to at a later time. I find that different books appeal to me at different times. Just because I don't get into one now doesn't mean I never will. That's one of the wonders of the written word!

PJ Hoover said...

Yeah, the breaks do seem to be a sign, don't they, Vivian. That and when I start making snide remarks at the characters :)

That is an amazing wonder of the written word, Christy! Well put!

Amy said...

Life is too short for books that you don't connect with. I stop books all the time if it's clear it's not going anywhere.

I really hate when people say, "Well, just stick it out until chapter x, it really takes off then."

If that's so, why didn't the author START there?

I'll also stop reading if a book is clearly taking me someplace I'm not prepared to go.

PJ Hoover said...

Amy, that is funny when people say that. It always makes me wonder so many things, many of which I'd never put in writing :)