Thursday, July 7, 2016

Editor's Notes #19: What Makes You Stop Reading a Book? Part 1 of 2


I don't know that I was ever formally taught this, but for most of my life, I believed if I started a book, I had to finish it. No one ever sat me down and said, "Wash your hands before eating, make your bed when you get out of it, and finish every book you start," so I'm not sure where I came up with this. (For the record, I do wash my hands regularly, though the bed-making is hit or miss, depending on whether I'm the last one awake. But . . . back to the book stuff.)

Perhaps it was easier back in the day when there were fewer books available for me to read. After all, there was no such thing as a digital book—or even a personal computer, for that matter—when I was growing up, so any books I read, I either owned or borrowed from the library.

My mother recently reminded me of something I'd said when I was very young: I was afraid of someday running out of books to read. She used to take us to the library on a regular schedule, since it was also one of her favorite places to visit, and on one particular visit, I remarked at how sad I was while looking for books because I was reading them all at such a rapid rate, I was convinced that very soon there would be no more. Our town library was pretty small, and I plowed through the children's selection in short order, followed by the juvenile fiction a few years later. By the time I moved beyond that, I had no worries about a lack of reading material.

The good thing about "those days" was that I read and reread so many favorites. I can recall certain portions verbatim, or remember where I was when reading a particular book. Much like a certain perfume can take someone back to a place or time, I can't think of Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass without picturing my large, annotated hardcover (complete with super-hip 1970s artwork) . . . a gift from a favorite aunt for my 8th birthday, along with Hans Brinker in the same format. I still have both of them, and in fact picked up similar copies of Around the World in Eighty Days, Treasure Island, and Call of the Wild at an old bookstore about ten years ago, simply because it brought back all those memories in a rush.

In more recent years, the sheer quantity of books available online caused a sort of overload for me when I first got a Kindle. All of a sudden I could have just about every classic at my fingertips, and most of them were free. I began to browse the "Top 100 Free" category with regularity and consumed fresh material at a rapid pace, finding new authors I enjoyed. However, along with those good authors came some clunkers. A LOT of clunkers. Apparently, "Top 100" means "most downloaded" and not necessarily "top quality."

It was then that I discovered my time was more valuable than I'd realized. I'm the person who can't be bothered to waste seven minutes watching a news video because I'd rather read the transcript of it in less than sixty seconds, and yet here I was, committed to finishing an awful book that was poorly written, with the (vain) hope that it would somehow get better before the final page. That was bad enough, but when I found myself doing this for one book after another, after another, after . . . you get the idea . . . I knew I'd have to change my "finish or die" policy before it became "finish and want to die."

Since those early, heady days of "ALL the books at my fingertips!" and the resultant letdown as I read a plethora of bad ones, I've come up with a few general guidelines that help me to know when to keep chugging along and when to just chuck it and never look back. These guidelines have helped me with my editing as well, allowing me to give better advice to the authors I work with.

I'll share those with you in Part 2 next time.

22 comments:

  1. I think as we get older, we also start to recognize poorly written books. It's been a long time since I finished one that I didn't enjoy. I'm already a slow reader. Life is too short for bad books.

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    1. I agree completely, Alex. With age comes a little bit of discernment regarding the things we're willing to spend/waste our time doing.

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  2. I'm laughing already! I can't wait to read part 2 to see what makes you stop reading them . . . though, I have some ideas. LOL

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    1. Well, you know Tim frowns upon it when I make the bed and he's still in it. All those tucked-in corners . . . he probably dreams he's in a straitjacket.

      And yes, I'm sure you're well aware of most of my triggers.

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  3. I always try to make it through a book, but usually something happens to take me away from it long enough to lose interest, if that makes any sense.

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    1. The same thing happens to me on occasion. I try to determine if I've lost interest because the book is lacking, or if I'm just distracted because there's a newer book handy—perhaps one that's easier to read than Moby Dick or something. There have been classics I've forced myself to keep slogging through, and most of them have been satisfying overall, but once in awhile a book is better off closed.

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  4. It's probably happened, but I can't think of a book I've stopped reading. I examine potential choices. I tend to stick to the same genres. Of course, I have favorite authors. Knowing what I want makes it easier for me to be happy with my selections. I continue to fear running out of books to read. What if it's midnight, I need a new book, I can't go shopping, and Amazon won't deliver in five minutes (I don't care for e-books)? I have a huge stack of to-be-read books, yet the fear never dissipates. I am obsessed. I admit it.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. That's a decent obsession, at least, as far as obsessions go. I am continually running out of space on my bookshelves, and my biggest fear for those books is that I won't find the time to read all the ones I "had to have" because they were a good price or a classic or whatever. I don't want my shelves filled with things I've not read.

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    2. This is actually Jamie...
      I agree- I have had the same phobia and continue to- that I will RUN OUT OF GOOD BOOKS TO READ! It's a real thing. Especially when it's the middle of the night or I have no cell reception. I'm with you Janie.

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    3. Hahah, I should have realized it wasn't Stephen. He never reads my blog.

      I'm no longer in fear of running out of books to read, but I am concerned that I won't make it through the must-reads I physically have on my shelves before I die. I have so little time for pleasure reading that I'm lucky if I can manage 1/2 hour a couple nights a week before falling asleep.

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  5. This is such a great post. I've been dealing with the issue for a very long time. I used to think that if I started a book I had to finish it. I've even re-started books, thinking I hadn't been in the right mood before. However, now I just have to face it. Some books do not fit with me. Also there are some very bad books out there. The old vetting system isn't in place and the new one is quite complicated and uneven.

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    1. I like your assessment! Some books indeed do not fit with me, either, and for the longest time I blamed myself or a lack of reading fortitude. I don't have to love all the classics, and I can enjoy a book that's silly and irreverent and pure fun as long as it's well written and decently edited. A bad book, though, is a bad book, and I'm not obligated to waste a moment of my life on it.

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  6. I'm a lot like Janie. I don't give up on books, purely because I research them so much and sample them before I buy. Like with Kindle, I'm the guy who reads the entire free sample. I figure by the end of that 1st or 2nd chapter, if it's riddled with errors or full of bad writing or the plot seems to go nowhere, that I can save myself the hassle of buying it, hating it, and then angrily leaving a poor review.

    And yes, Amazon only tracks most sold and most downloaded. They don't account for quality. So when I see something like "Romancing the Billionaire, Part 6" up at #5, I'm just going to assume that that's not going to be Hemingway quality writing.

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    1. Oh, my goodness . . . those billionaire books . . . if I'm ever destitute, I can write those in my sleep to make some quick money. Billionaire falls in love with his maid/child's teacher/father's secretary and gives her a Cinderella story, but only after realizing she's not going to put up with his crap, and that he does have a heart after all. Genius, eh? All I need to do is decide on hair style and BMW color.

      I'm pretty selective now, after getting burned so often with Kindle fare. Which reminds me . . . I'm currently reading Tuck Watley! The man is an idiot, lol. And a genius. And obviously obsessed with truth, justice, and the American way. I'm loving it and care not a whit that it's not Shakespeare. Tuck's perspective and how it meshes with reality—so cleverly done, guys. Really great! I'm trying to make time to read some every day before I get busy with edits again.

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    2. Don't forget that the girl is very plain and self conscious, because if handsome billionaires love anything, it's plain women who think poorly of themselves.

      Fun fact: an old coworker's daughter started writing an entire series devoted to that cliched billionaire thing. She's sold literal millions, with each book having roughly 1,000 4-5 star reviews, even though the writing is utter garbage. I read the sample. I regretted every moment of it, but I read the sample. And yet that one crappy book probably sells more in one month than all of our books have combined.

      We try not to let that crush our souls. We just take comfort in knowing that people whose opinions matter - like yours - are enjoying what we put out. So thank you, truly! And if you think he's dumb now, just keep reading. We assure you, it only gets dumber.

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    3. I can't wait! Mostly because I can't possibly imagine T. Watley any worse, lol.

      And that soul-crush thing? Save it for when it really means something, like if the world was suddenly deprived of good, authentic Mexican food.

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  7. OMG! I thought I was the only one who preferred transcripts to videos!
    Great post! So glad to see you blogging again!

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    1. Elle!! Glad to hear from you! I feel like I'm back to normal, blogging again.

      I'm not surprised that you share my preference for transcripts over videos. Between the lack of information, the dramatic camera angles, and the complete waste of time in general, I just have no patience.

      I've missed you in the blogging world! Hoping you'll be posting again soon.

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  8. When I commuted by plane every week, I found it much easier to finish a book (since they frown on drinking games even when your entire row wants to play). Honestly, I might not have gotten through all those classics if I had any distractions at all. But to your point, when i was a kid you read what you had and today the options are endless and the costs are low. Can't wait for part two.

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    1. Those uptight airline people. How dare they deny you some fun?

      I think I read more classics when I was younger, but if I only read them once, I didn't retain much. These days, by the time I have a moment to read for myself, I make sure I soak in every word so it's worth my time.

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  9. As a writer and a father and a husband, I can say time is very precious, so I understand what you are saying. I have quite a few books sitting unread on my shelves. Can't wait for part two.

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    1. When my kids were very young, I used to get up extra early to read before they woke up. And reading is a silent pastime, right? But nooooo. No matter how early I got up, they got up within ten minutes of me being awake, so I finally gave up and went back to reading before going to sleep at night just to make the time for myself. Now, I just grab the moments when I can, even if it's ten minutes while waiting for an appointment.

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