Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Skim, Skip or Merely Glazed-eyed

David Brooks wrote a piece today about things in an article or book that make people glaze over. I began to think of what sections in a novel do that for me. Here is a list of possible ones. Which ones do you skim or skip? Let's assume they are well written. But not so well done that you couldn't skim it.


A car chase
A stampede
Complicated financial dealings
minutia of prison life
The abuse of a child
The abuse of an animal
Mechanical information-such as how to change a tire, fix an electrical outlet
Mortuary science-how a body is embalmed, forensic stuff
Description of a sporting event
Description of how gloves (or other domestic garments) are made
Descriptions of how a job is performed
A long stretch of dialogue without any narrative
A long stretch of narration without any dialogue
A long flashback to childhood
Rape scenes (not gratuitous)
Torture scenes (not gratuitous)
Gambling, descriptions of how to beat the odds
A horse race
Physical descriptions that are longer than a sentence or two
Excessive profanity
Poetry, purported to be written by a character
Descriptions of artwork, architecture, fashion
Descriptions of a place. Las Vegas, Calico Falls, Nebraska
Union Dispute
Battle scene told in great detail
A cattle drive
Someone preparing a meal from soup to nuts

What did I miss?


Dana King said...

I might skim any of these, but it would depend on how well they were written. In the right hands, the description of a relatively tidy closet can be worth the read. So long as it doesn't go on too long.

On the other hand, if the writing isn't so good, I've skimmed plot a hundred pages at a time. (Yes, I know, why didn't I just quit reading the book? I'm OCD that way. I've only not finished about four books in the last ten years, and three of them were doorstop-sized anthologies.

R/T said...

I confess to skimming and/or skipping every now and then, which makes me guilty, but I try to discipline myself to avoid such disrespectful shortcuts with this notion: if the good writer considered it important enough to write it, then do I not owe the writer the respectful effort involved in reading it? Consider a couple of extreme examples: ULYSSES and FINNEGAN'S WAKE. Each has plenty that tempts readers to skim and skip with a vengeance, but almost certainly we are missing something if we do not make a commit to Joyce's language.

David Cranmer said...

If it's well written, I can read anything. But being specific here, I'd say a long stretch of narration without any dialogue.

R/T said...

CORRECTION: Change "commit" in the last sentence to "commitment." Sorry for the hasty keyboarding.

Deb said...

Too much gore. I recently read a crime novel where the killer was an expert at butchering corpses--and this was elaborated in excruciating detail. Although the storyline was interesting, whenever the killer got down to work, I skipped over those pages.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I love detail usually. But not gore, not torture, not car chases. Anything with complicated financial information, I just don't get usually. Same happens with movies or TV. Just mention money and I drift.
I am more likely to toss a book than skim it.
If I chose more carefully I might avoid this.

YA Sleuth said...

Heavy narration and description I skip. Trust your reader to have the imagination to fill in the blanks, I say.

I'm also not big on car chases, or other drawn-out action.

George said...

Believe it or not, I try to read every word. My wife, on the other hand, is a notorious skipper. She hates long descriptions of what she terms the "flora and fauna." My wife also reads the ending of a book before she starts reading it (her only flaw!).

pattinase (abbott) said...

A number of people in my book group read the ending first despite our constant chastisement.

George said...

I NEVER read the ending of a book first. It's unnatural. But, my wife does it and has always done it so there's no changing that. We have an agreement that she's NEVER to reveal the ending of book to me. And, over 31 years of marriage, she's kept her word.

Randy Johnson said...

I'm like George. If I'm going to invest time in reading a book, I don't skip anything. I have my own plan of dealing with books that don't hold my interest. But in my sixty years, I think I've given up on only twenty or twenty-five books.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think people who finish every book are much more selective in their choices. I have a friend who has only put one book aside, but she studies a book assiduously before choosing it: reading reviews, knowing the author. And she is patient-a trait I lack.

George said...

I abandon about 10% of the books I start. I have the 50 PAGE rule: if the book doesn't engage my interest in 50 pages, I stop reading it. But once I'm committed to a book, I finish reading it even if things go south.

Rob Kitchin said...

If you're skim all of that lot, I've no blummin' novel left! Your post for tomorrow should be, what do you never skim ... I need to know those to replace all the stuff you're going to skim!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I never skim most of these-being in love with details of people's jobs, for example. But this is a list of what turn people off.

Richard S. Wheeler said...

All of William Faulkner.

George said...

I'm with you all the way, Richard! Other than LIGHT IN AUGUST, I struggled to finish the rest of Faulkner's oeuvre.

pattinase (abbott) said...

LIGHT IN AUGUST and AS I LAY DYING. That's it for me.

C. Margery Kempe said...

Hmmm -- I don't know that I would rule out any particular kind of passage. It really is in the writing. I can read a lovingly detailed passage about a kind of craft that I would never in a million years do, if it were compelling enough and infused with the passion of true advocate. I'm not bothered by gore, but I do skip over fashion. One of the reasons I joking tell my students in my medieval lit classes that it's "all downhill after 1066" -- that's when clothes start getting way too much description. But I've known many writers who make even clothing fascinating because it tells me much about the character.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I doubt that many have the skill to make a wardrobe interesting. Except perhaps to contestants on Project Runway.

Richard S. Wheeler said...

Male-reader sex. Female-reader sex is usually more interesting, focusing on seduction.

Cap'n Bob said...

The flora of a region if it goes on for more than a few lines. I'm not much of a skimmer as a rule, however. My least favorite scene in a movie or TV show is childbirth. All that sweating and screaming turns me off. I prefer it as the beginning of conception rather than the result.

Richard Prosch said...

The line about poetry caused me to recall my high-school and college reading of Tolkien. I skipped every last one of those various Hobbit, dwarf, elven songs/poems.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

I love Faulkner. The only one I had trouble with was The Sound & the Fury. You should read Intruder in the Dust-its more along the lines of To Kill A Mockingbird. The writer I had trouble with was Henry James.
I will occasionally skim a book I have become bored with just to see what happens but not very often.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Okay, that is a lot of skimming. It makes me want to take the chase scene out of my novel. You know, sometimes when I write I think about whether or not I will be able to maintain engaging a reader through certain sections. I guess it depends on the reader though, doesn't it?

Kitty said...

One of my peeves is too much detail. I'm a slow reader as it is and details bring the story momentum to a crashing halt. Do I honestly need to know what every strand of her hair looks like? That her eyes are the color of blah-blah-blah? Will the story suffer if I don't know where she purchased every thread of clothing? I quit reading a book in which the writer gave an inch-by-f'n-inch account of a twenty-mile hike. You got to be kiddin' me!! (I'm gritting my teeth, and trying not to be profane, just thinking about this!) Give the reader some credit and let their imagination fill some of the details.

Also, I do appreciate the very basic he-said-she-said qualifiers. But I absolutely HATE HATE HATE it when the writer kills a conversation with unnecessary jibberish linked to the qualifiers. So I tend to skip over all the yadda yadda yadda between dialogue.

I really don't like to skim/skip, but sometimes the writer forces me to.