Monday, May 18, 2020

The Clock Is Ticking

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

-from Susan

There is a right answer and then there is mine, which leaves me scratching my head at my own lack of common sense.

There are fiction books I know after 10 or 20 pages just aren’t going to cut it for me. Bad writing, cliché-ridden prose, vapid characters, torture porn, illogical in the extreme – and all in the first chapter! Those are easy to put down. A few are these free or 99-cent Kindle specials so it doesn’t cost me anything to say, “thanks but no thanks.” Some I paid more for, so damn them. Occasionally, I am disappointed in a non-fiction book I didn’t research well enough before buying it to realize that it’s either too facile or too dense for my moderately intelligent brain. Oh well.

There are way more books that tease me with a promise of being good reads but fade away at about page 100. Now, I have invested mentally in them and I get stubborn. Maybe they’ll get better? Maybe the protagonist will see through the crap the author is drowning her in? Maybe I’ll have that light bulb moment when I actually get what the scientist or historian is explaining? So I struggle on. Looking at just the fiction, I have to say that it’s rare the author recovers her story if she’s lost it by page 100. So, I am annoyed but grit my teeth for some reason and at least skim it to the end. Once, I was so annoyed that I not only gave up at page 150 but stood up, marched to the trash can, and threw the book in with force. But that’s too rare. 

One reason I’m not quicker to let go of something that’s not working for me is that I buy virtually all the books I read. At $15-$30 a pop, that’s a high cost for my mistakes. I’d use the library except that, if I do, the library book jumps to the head of the queue on my shelves, and reading doesn’t work that way for me. I’m attracted to a book because of my mood at the moment, and book return deadlines get in the way. If you could see my bookcases, you’d realize I cannot possible finish all the books I own if I read several a week until the end of my life. The real puzzle is why I keep buying more. 

Right now, good books in play with bookmarks in them:

Anil’s Ghost,by Michael Ondaatje
Timefulness,by Marcia Bjornerud
A Taste of Paris, by David Downie
A Killing Fire, by Faye Snowden

And there are authors and books I dearly want to re-read if I can squeeze in the eyeball + brain energy:

Anything by John McPhee
Ulysses,by James Joyce
The entire Forsythe Saga, by John Galsworthy
At least 6-7 Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout

…oh, the list goes on. How will I ever finish the books I’m trying to write?


Paul D. Marks said...

Like you say, Susan, if something isn't working by page 100 or so it's unlikely it's going to get better. I used to stick things out till the bitter end. And maybe once in a while was surprised...once in a while.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

I agree, Susan. There are far too many books that I want to read, and that I probably will never have the time to read, so why spend time with one that doesn't light me up? It doesn't mean that the book is bad, but it's just not for me.

Susan C Shea said...

Paul, Is about page 100 the go/no go moment? Sounds as though you're like me. Unless it's really bad, you give the author that long to get in full swing.

Susan C Shea said...

Dietrich, Yes, sometimes it's just not to my personal taste. And sometimes, it's just not a good book! But I am a softie, and may stick with novels far longer than makes sense.