Thursday, May 21, 2020

Hand-selling minus the hands. by Catriona

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

One teeny tiny silver lining from living so quietly (this is week 10 of my lockdown) is that my annual reading list is still intact. 

I always start when I'm taking down the Christmas tree the morning after twelfth night, shelving the books I read on the couch over the holidays, and moving the diary I get in my stocking onto my desk. "This year," I tell myself. "I'll keep notes of everything I read, so that when it's nomination time again I'm all set."

It usually starts to fray because of travel (i.e. by the end of April) and is in tatters by the end of the summer. But 2020 isn't like other years.

To save you zooming in, that's 37 books:

  • 24 crime fiction (3 because I was blurbing them; 11 because I was on panels or shortlists with the authors; 10 just because)
  • 5 memoirs
  • 3 'literary fiction' (I think:- Colson Whitehead; Ann Patchett; Hilary Mantel)
  • 2 horror (well, Stephen King) 
  • 2 Scottish escapism (well, Jenny Colgan)
  • 1 romance! (because I realised I had opinions about the genre and hadn't read any of it for decades. 

And so far this year I haven't abandoned anything I've started. Last year, I gave up on two before the end of January (when my reading list was still functioning).

One was a much-hyped and expansively blurbed debut mystery - no one I know; no one who's going to read this blog - that was so over-written it should have come with a free packet of Tums.

The other was the US edition of a UK author's London-set novel that had been translated so that these English characters were swanning about talking of highways, vacations, deductibles rather than motorways, holidays, and excess. That's one sure fire way to make me close a book:- bad editing. 

And it really is bad editing. I've edited eight and counting contemporary UK-set novels for an American market and there's always a way around the problem of pants, fannies, and fags that doesn't make your British characters inauthentic. Always! 

Really glaring research errors sometimes make me give up on a book. If the author clearly doesn't have a grip on the world they're writing about I feel the same way as when a taxi driver won't stop scrolling through his texts and keep his eyes on the road. I can't realx and enjoy the journey.

Then there's the problem of finding out an author is a horrible person. I don't mean a flawed human, a holder of alien political views, a sloppy drunk, philandering spouse, or tax cheat. I mean a really awful stinky shameful wrong 'un. Basically, if I'd move away from them on a bus I don't want to spend 300+ pages in their world. 

But even if a book is full of errors, shoddily edited and written by a sociopath, I give it 100 pages - out of respect for the time it took, how hard it is to get published, even the carbon used up in making the object I'm holding (never mind that I want to shred it and stamp on the bits). 

Which brings me to the last reason I close a book and move on. If I'm still checking what page I'm on, on page 100, it's over between that book and me. 

Looking at my TBR pile right now, I don't see anything that looks touch and go. Maybe this year I won't abandon a single one.  Certainly my recent book mail is looking good and also looking pretty typical:

  • A mystery by an old friend (Jessie Chandler)
  • A missing series entry by a new-ish friend (Alexia Gordon)
  • The latest by a co-nominee for this year's MHCl (Carol Goodman).
  • And the obligatory new Stephen King.

Then there's this new category of book purchase that only just started ten weeks ago.  Don't you miss browsing? I do. And I had a hunch that booksellers probably miss hand-selling just as much. So when I'm ordering form an indie I get what I'm after and a wild-card. Hannah Jameson's THE LAST is a wild card from Devin at Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis. And she's the one who first put Kristen Lepionka in my hands, so expectations are high . . .

Happy reading and/or guilt-free giving up,



Paul D. Marks said...

Catriona, about page 80-100 is my benchmark too. If something doesn't grab me by then I will most likely give up on. Though sometimes I can be stubborn and trudge on. And I'm usually sorry that I did.

Triss said...

A good read about reading, Catriona. I usually give up around p. 50. If I am not interested, I"m not, and I know it by then. (There are exceptions, usually books by authors I have loved in the past or that have. been highly recommended, so hope springs until about p. 100) I am baffled by people who feel obliged to the author to complete the book. Nope.Life is too short to read a book I don't find interesting. It's the author's job to keep us interested. I worked in business research for many years and literally read industry journals/newsletter for a living. On my own time? No. ( I do recognize sometimes that the book is fine and it's just not right for me at the moment.I'll go back another time)

Kim W. said...

I'd say 50 to 100 pages depending on how painful the going is going! If I'm dreading the next page, I'll put myself out of my misery around the 50 page mark. If it's dull, I'll keep going to a point where it either picks up steam or I finally decide I have too many other books to read to keep wasting my precious reading time.