Friday, May 22, 2020

I’ve Still Never Seen the End of Gravity’s Rainbow

Do you finish every book you start? Why (not)? And how do you decide when to give up?

by Paul D. Marks


And ditto for movies.

I used to feel not only compelled but obligated to finish any book I started. (Okay, a little compulsive I know.) But as I’ve gotten older that just doesn’t work anymore. Life is too short. There’s too many books and too little time. I won’t even say there’s too many good books, because I won’t claim that every book I finish—and even like—is a “good” book. It might just be something I enjoy. A guilty pleasure.

I read a variety of things, non-fiction and fiction and various genres within that. These days I don’t often read a non-fiction book cover to cover like I used to. I bounce around, sometimes looking at the table of contents or the index for subjects I might find particularly interesting. And sometimes I just open to a page and start reading.

Fiction is, of course, different. You really have to read it from head to tail if you want to get the full flavor and depth of it. I’ll usually give a book about 80-100 pages. But I have to admit that I might read beyond that even if I’m not enjoying the book because hope springs eternal. And I guess I still have that expectation that it will get better. Unfortunately on some books I’ll read all 400 pages until hope turns to despair.

For movies I’ll give them about a half hour. That should take me to the end of Act I, give or take. If it doesn’t grab me by then: Hasta la vista, baby.

However, when I’ve been a judge for various competitions I have felt obligated to read every story from stem to stern. And I’ve pretty much succeeded at that, though it can be extremely time-consuming. But I have to admit there was one contest story that I just couldn’t finish. Because it wasn’t a “story” but more of a political diatribe disguised as a story and the characters were just mouthpieces for the author. But one clunker out of the tons I’ve read for various contests isn’t a bad batting average.

There is one very well-known book that I have still been unable to finish. Three times. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I really want to read this book and I really want to like it. But I can’t seem to get past page 100. But maybe the fourth time (if there is one) will be the charm. Or maybe I should just read Gravity’s Rambo instead (and no, I didn’t make up that cover).

Sometimes I’ve started a book and for one reason or another just couldn’t get into it. Picked it up later and wow, what have I been missing.

A book doesn’t have to be a fast-paced rip-roaring page turner either. One of my favorite books is The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati, about a soldier who is stationed at a remote outpost and spends his life hoping and waiting for the glory of battle. Though that’s really just what it’s about on the surface. Now, I admit this book is a slow read, so you’d think I would have stopped at some point. But I just loved it and it’s well worth the slowness in my opinion.

On another note, I don’t always finish novels or stories I start writing, but I guess that’s for another time.


And now for the usual BSP:

My short story "Fade-Out On Bunker Hill" came in 2nd place in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Poll. In lieu of the pre-Edgars cocktail party, we had a virtual awards ceremony. You can see the whole thing (including my bookshelves) on YouTube. I want to thank Janet Hutchings and Jackie Sherbow of Ellery Queen and, of course, everyone who voted for it!

I'm very happy to see that LA Jazz Scene features an excerpt from The Blues Don't Care on their current home page. Check it out if you have a minute.

The book drops June 1st and can be ordered at Down & Out Books, Amazon, B&N, iTunes and other places.  And I'm also running a GoodReads Giveaway. Enter to win 1 of 5 signed print copies.

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website


Bobbi C. said...

I'll give a book ten pages, or maybe the first chapter (if it's short). There are too many books to read.

And with a movie, I'll maybe watch fifteen minutes or so, if it's boring or too violent, I'll move along, I might fast-forward through it if I've heard good reviews, etc.. But once again, there's so much to read and watch, I don't waste time. :-)

Jacqueline Vick said...

As I've gotten older, I'll give a book maybe three chapters if I'm not liking it in case it just has a rough start. If it doesn't improve, it goes to the library bookstore. I have an easier time walking out of movies at home, but I don't think I've ever left a movie at the theater.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

I like to give a book a chance, but I'm with you, Paul. If it hasn't grabbed me by about 100 pages, it's time to move on.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I entered your giveaway and so far you have 750 people who have entered as well. Hope that makes you feel good!

As to reading a book, I give a book at least halfway but I will usually read through. I'm patient. I'm not as generous with movies.

Madeline Gornell said...

Agree with all, especially if reading a "new to me" author, but when reading an author I know and am fond of, particularly if I've enjoyed their other books, will hang with it even if opening doesn't grab me. Never been disappointed. Enjoyed your post!

Susan C Shea said...

Part of the reason for giving up may be misplaced expectations. My two mysteries set in Burgundy were marketed by the publisher as "upmarket cozies," whatever that means. But because they were slotted into the cozy market (which was not how I thought of them), true fans of the sub-genre were disappointed, I think. Set in France but no recipes? Visits to the flea market but no antiques? And - what - no visits to the regions vineyards complete with descriptions of the wines? If we expect a particular kind of read and don't get it, then we may give up on good books for reasons that don't have to do with the writing.The converse is true: If I read a blurb that says the story is about a vicious serial killer who goes after pretty young women, my first thought is, Nah, not for me. But if the story is nuanced, if there are surprises that empower the women, if the writer doesn't linger on the gruesome bits just for effect, I might miss an intriguing, psychologically fascinating tale. Long comment, I know...

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Bobbi. You’re a tough judge. I agree ther’s so many books and movies, but I’m not sure I could get a feel for something in just ten pages.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Jackie. I’m smiling cause I’m wondering how long those three chapters are ;-) . I can’t remember if I ever walked out of a movie in a theatre. Though there’s some I wish I had.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Dietrich. And it sounds like we’re on the same page (cue laugh track).

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Jacqueline. And for entering the giveaway. Last time I looked there were about 612 or so people, so it does make me feel good to see more. I used to read to the end all the time, but lately I’m not as generous.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Madeline. Glad you enjoyed the post. And I’m sort of with you re: authors I know and like. But I have, on occasion, been disappointed by them, too.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Susan. I agree with you about expectations and marketing. If something is marketed in a way that disguises what it is or doesn’t really say what it is then readers might approach and expect one thing while getting another.