Saturday, June 05, 2010

Finishing books


Phil at Shakespeare and Company in Paris (and yes, they had Megan's books!)

Last night a friend (an English professor) told me that she'd just finished a mystery by a fairly famous writer, now dead, and it was horrible. Despite her expertise in nineteenth century literature, she reads a lot of crime fiction and is especially fond of Laurie King, Larson and Nesbo.

I asked her why she finished it since she admitted seeing the flaws in both the solution and the writing early on. She said she almost always finished a book unless it was objectionable in some way.

I never finish books unless I am really enjoying it. In fact, I've discarded books on the first page, midway in and during the last 20 pages. I've also given up on movies on DVD at every point.

She said that she would feel she had truly wasted her time if she did that. Perhaps by finishing it, she's giving the writer time to remedy the flaws.

Do you finish every book? What percentage, if not? Do you give up on page one or two sometimes if the voice or style doesn't grab you?

33 comments:

John Weagly said...

I'm like you, Patti. I'll stop reading anywhere at any time.

I don't waste my time on books that don't work for me. There are too many books that I know I'll never get to.

I tore up one particular book that I couldn't get into and hung it in a bag over my desk to remind myself that unimpressive writing shouldn't be tolerated.

George said...

I have a 50 page rule: if a book doesn't engage me in 50 pages I stop reading. Like your friend, I like to finish what I start so I'll read a book to its conclusion even if it's mediocre.

George said...

And Phil looks rather dapper outside Shakespeare & Company!

pattinase (abbott) said...

The one of me was much less impressive. Phil always takes a good picture.
I've never torn one up, but the annual book sale to raise money for scholarships gets a boatload of bad books.

Richard R. said...

I don't, I use a 40 page version of the 50 page rule, and even when I go beyond that, I'll set a book aside if I'm not enjoying it. The wife always finishes a book she starts, no matter how little she likes it, she'll slog on to the bitter end. She says she'd always wonder if it might have gotten better if she stayed with it, so she does. Thus she makes more of a commitment than I do when she starts a book.

I don't suppose you ran into James Joyce while at Shakespeare & Co. did you?

pattinase (abbott) said...

No, but Marilynne Robinson was there. I couldn't get in the door though, but they broadcast it so you could hear it on the street.

Richard R. said...

Oh, and congrats to Megan on her Edgar nomination!

Naomi Johnson said...

I'll give a book a while to work up some interest for me, unless it's clear from page one or two that the 'writer' does not know how to write. I recently stopped one book half way through when I realized I didn't care whodunnit, I didn't care about any of the characters, and the writing just wasn't special enough to keep me reading on that basis alone. There are too many books, and too few reading years to spend them on books that don't hold my interest.

Kent Morgan said...

When I was younger I always finished a book and that included Sylvia Beach's book about Shakespeare and Company. Still have it lurking somewhere. These days I can stop and have done so even after reading 150 pages or so. I should have given up after about 20 pages on the last book I read titled The Lifeguard Murders. I bought it on South Beach during a recent Florida trip and only stuck with it because I recognized some of the locations. Maybe 20 pages would have been too much. At least the CD that accompanied it was better.

Charles Gramlich said...

If I get past 10 to 15 pages I finish the book. I always have. I can't imagine I'll stop doing that. I might speed read parts of the book but I will complete it. It probably is a waste of time but I've always kind of been this way about everything I start. Except stories. I will let myself quit some of those that I've started. :)

Sandra Scoppettone said...

When I turned 40 I stopped finishing bad books. Sometimes I can tell after 10 pages (certainly if the writing stinks) but, like others, I quit at 50 if it doesn't engage me.

I wonder what I'll do at 80?

michael said...

I have no problem abandoning any book that fails to interest me. But with mysteries, I may not read more than a few chapters but I always read the ending before tossing the book aside.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I wonder if your age and the number of books you read affects this. For instance, I read one book a week at most. If I kept on going with bad books, I might not read any good books in a year. Also as Sandra notes, we have less time left to read.
Does the ending have meaning if you've only read 50 pages. Sometimes the conflict isn't clear yet.
Yes, I am always seduced into reading books about places where I am or have been. I remember reading the book about Sylvia Beach, too.

Dana King said...

I used to make it a pojnt of honor to finsih every book I started. A few months ago I started two books that I couldn't bear to read, even asked to be let off the hook for the review. Maybe I'm just getting old and crabby, but there are too many good books and life's too short to read shit. New policy: if I don't feel like reading after fifty pages or so, out it goes.

Chris said...

I pretty much read everything I start. If it isn't really engaging, it may take me a while since I'll often read another one in the midst of a slower one, but I get through them. I can't really think of any books I've read that I'd call BAD anyway, there are just plenty I've liked more than others.

Evan Lewis said...

Seems to be a pattern here. I'm another of those could once brag I never left a book unfinished. After I did it for the first time (with the highly touted Kavalier & Clay, no less) and was not struck by lightning, the practice became much easier. I still don't toss many aside, but I'm more selective about what I start.

Anonymous said...

I have trouble reading, with reversed letters now and then, so a novel has to be compelling for me to finish it. I don't finish many.

Loren Eaton said...

I usually finish something I've started, but if it's really flawed or offensive, I've been known to bail.

Scott Parker said...

I finish only if the book is enjoyable. If not, I'm done. Life's too short to plow through books I'm not enjoying.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I wonder if it takes more for us to enjoy books now than it would have twenty or thirty years ago. Had the Internet, computer games, etc. made reading seem dull?

Anonymous said...

Great picture, Patti! Phil looks very cool.

Yes, I give up on books and movies. Like you I've done it early, middle and late. I used to have a flexible limit of 50-75 pages, but in recent years I've read half to three-quarters of a book and said (to myself) "if I dislike this so much why am I reading it?"

Sometimes it's because it's an author I've previously liked and I keep expecting it to improve, but usually it doesn't. I really liked the first two or three books I read by Laura Wilson so I kept slogging through her Telling Lies to Alice (Hello, Bunny Alice). I only wish I had thrown it across the room rather than finish it as I can't remember a book I've disliked more that I actually finished.

I think your friend is wrong. It may seem like you're wasting time when you stop reading a book you're not enjoying but aren't you wasting more time by finishing something you hate? Life's too short and there are too many books out there you do want to read.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Jeff. First time he's worn a hat other than a baseball cap so he was self-conscious.
I can't help but wonder what you disliked about it. Just that it wasn't very good or something else? I don't think I've read her at all.

Deb said...

I have the 50-page rule: If nothing has grabbed me by page 50, I give up--life's too short. As for "wasting your time," isn't it wasting time to continue reading something that is not moving you in any way rather than getting started on another book that you might actually enjoy?

Anonymous said...

Patti, I don't remember the details of why I hated it so much other than the extreme wimpiness of the protagonist.

Here's part of a review from the amazon.uk site that sums up what I remember about it: I simply could NOT relate to our heroine, who lay down and allowed herself to be treated badly by the men in her life at every opportunity. What a wuss. Give me a strong, no-nonsense female protagonist every time!

I'm finding there are so many "dark" books out there now that I've gotten a lot more selective.

Two first novels I've read lately that I can very highly recommend: Rebecca Cantrell's A Trace of Smoke, set in 1931 Berlin, and Tarquin Hall's Case of the Missing Servant, set in present day India.

The Cantrell does a wonderful job with period detail and when she introduces an amazing little five year old boy the book just takes off. Hall's New Delhi and Jaipur comes vividly to life and his protagonist, Vish "Chubby" Puri, is a terrific character.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have heard great things about Cantrell.
You can imagine a heroine like that (Wilson's) being interesting under very skilled hands but it's hard to pull off. Perhaps if it was set in the past it might have worked--when women were expected to be passive.

Deb said...

Just had to drop by in and second the comment about TELLING LIES TO ALICE which not only had the dimmest and most passive of heroines, but implausible actions explained away on very flimsy pretexts. For example (POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT), when Alice gets a chance to escape, she decides to go back to her home where a psycho awaits her because she "can't leave" her animals? WTF? She could have escaped, got the police involved, and (after the police had carted off the psycho) been able to return to her home and her animals. Then (and this is definitely a SPOILER) the whole story is neatly wrapped up when an audio tape explaining everything is conveniently discovered.

On the other hand, something must have held my interest, because I finished the book.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Maybe it's like being unable to look away from an accident?

Mike Dennis said...

I will put a book down the moment I don't care what happens on the next page. The most outrageous example of this was when I put down James Ellroy's THE COLD SIX THOUSAND seven pages before the end. And this was the 600+ page hardcover!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Wow Mike. I have come close to that--maybe forty pages before the end. But doing it that close sort of states your contempt for the ending.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I almost always finish a book, even when it's a stinker. Oddly enough, however, I just set one aside for good because I couldn't stand the writing. But this happens maybe once ever two or three years.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I won't even ask which one.

michael said...

Sorry, I am late in responding to you, pattinase. I am 55 years old and have been reading since before I could walk. Then I "read" picture books and Life magazine, now I read all genres. But this is a blog about mysteries and crime fiction. There is something about every book we start reading that appeals to us. It could be as simple as who did the crime or as complex as why.

Recently I was reading "Volk's Game" by Brent Ghelfi. My interest in the plot quickly vanished but I kept reading for the interaction between Volk and the other characters, especially Valya. Quickly Valya's story interested me more than Volk's or who the bad guy was. Then Volk dumped Valya, repeatedly. Without Valya in the book I lost all reasons to continue to read it. But I was curious about who was the bad guy and does Valya come back. So I read the ending. Did I understand the ending, yes. Did it matter to me, no.

But one of the reasons I read mysteries is the ending, when order is restored from chaos. There is no other form of fiction where the ending is as important as it is in mysteries.

Al Tucher said...

More and more lately I have thought I was home free, thirty or forty pages from the end of a book, when something happened to ruin the whole experience. I just read a book by one of the biggest names in crime fiction that had a jarring, clanking, squawking change in POV. I finished the book, but I couldn't recommend it to anyone.