I’m an unrepentant bibliophile. I started reading at the age of four and never stopped. I prided myself on the number of books I read, even after I grew too old for the library’s summer reading program. However, increasingly, there are books that I just can’t read. (And not because my eyesight is bad. My e-reader makes up for that with its bump-up-the-type-size feature.)
No, the books I can’t – or won’t – read anymore are ones that manage to annoy me. I start reading them and can’t go on anymore. I don’t actually throw them across the room, but I am tempted to. (Except that, as noted, I read on a Nook or an iPad and don’t want to throw those across the room.)
So, what kinds of books annoy me enough to be figuratively tossed across the room?
I buy a lot of bargain e-books. I get multiple emails daily offering books that are not in their first flush of youth or frequently are self-published. Sometimes I even buy them, if the title is interesting or I recognize the author. I do try to check them out a bit before I hit “submit order,” but occasionally a clunker gets by me.
There was one, for instance, that was supposed to be about how stupid decisions affected history. It sounded interesting and only cost two bucks. However, when I started reading, I discovered that every example the author gave involved a stupid decision regarding a military campaign. I was disappointed. I was hoping for stupid decisions in politics, science, medicine, and other fields as well as war. I’m not a big fan of military history – with a few notable exceptions – and I lost interest so rapidly that I abandoned the book after a few chapters, when it became clear there would be nothing else.
I also abandon books with wretched writing. I recently bought a book by a well-known writer that was a sequel to a book I remember from a couple of dozen years ago. I made it about halfway through. I like foreshadowing and setting up a later revelation if it’s done skillfully, but this novel used the “had I but known” gambit that gives away the “surprise” twist. It also used the narrator to give backstories for every character and describe their inner motivations instead of letting the reader discover them through the characters’ words and actions. And these nuggets broke up what should have been a dramatic and suspenseful story.
Another book got on my wrong side because of its descriptions. It was a mystery with a literary setting, which I ordinarily like. But the author engaged in serious fat-shaming, describing an overweight character in not just unflattering but demeaning terms. It was gratuitous, too – had nothing to do with the plot or the character’s character (as it were). It was clearly meant to make the reader dislike the character for her appearance only.
Speaking of mysteries, I have been annoyed by ones that are too easy to figure out. One, for example, gave away the killer in the introduction. I noticed that the author avoided using personal pronouns (which makes the writing very stilted and artificial), and I knew that the brutal killer must be a woman because why else would they leave out “he” or “she”? Then when a female character gave another person a false alibi – thus alibi-ing herself as well – I knew whodunnit and spent the rest of the book trying to interest myself in another character. I actually finished that one, just to see myself proved right.
And I avoid altogether buying books that are the beginnings of series. Oh, I’ve enjoyed – even adored – series in the past, but anymore I want to read a stand-alone book. Maybe it’s because I can’t commit, but I no longer want to be sucked into thousands of pages of text or endless cliffhangers. If a book wants commitment from me, I want resolution. Fortunately, most series now announce themselves proudly as “Book 1 of the XYZ Series,” so I don’t fall into them by accident. At least I don’t have this problem when it comes to nonfiction.
Despite my newfound ability to discard books and refrain from ordering ones that violate my “rules,” I feel a sense of not just disappointment but a bit of self-criticism when I’m not able to stick with a book. I know this is ridiculous – I still have a TBR list that’s long enough to keep me engaged for the next hundred-plus years. Some of them may prove less than captivating, it’s true. But though I may have given up on certain books, I will never abandon my quest for better ones – or my love of reading.
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