Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What Does It Take?



I'm reading the opening of a novel (that shall remain nameless) and I hate everyone in it.  Well, except for one minor (so far) character to whom I am pretty much indifferent. And there are situations (non sexual) that make me want to go take a bath -- and remember, I live on a farm where manure and chicken butchering are facts of life.

So I'm asking you all -- what would make you quit reading  something? (Beyond boredom or bad writing, I mean.)  Different people have different triggers for throwing a book across the room or deciding to read no farther. A few people have put my books down for the 'bad language,' With me it's animal abuse -- but that's not the problem with this book -- it's just a matter of a bunch of people I don't particularly want to spend time with.


I have finished some books that creeped me out -- and then wished that I could forget them, I have finished others, in spite of the animal abuse, or whatever, and felt that I learned something valuable -- but that I would never read that book again. (And mostly, if I really like a book, I do re-read.) The play "Death of a Salesman" is one that I read and recognized as powerful and moving -- so much so that I would never choose to go see it. 


As I said, the problem with this particular story is a bunch of unlikable characters and a pathetic/semi-crazy protagonist. I'm waiting for some redeeming qualities in the unlikable characters and some way of understanding or connecting with the main character.


A more or less standard rule of writing fiction is to have a main character that people like or identify with or somehow feel connected to -- so that the reader feels invested in finding out what happens to that main character. (An exception to this -- and of course there are exceptions, would be Ron Rash's Serena -- the title character is so staggeringly evil that the reader may well be hypnotized, like a deer in the headlights, into staying with the story. And Rash's beautiful writing doesn't hurt.)


So, I'm asking again -- what makes you put a book down? And can you remember a novel with a main character you hated but were fascinated by?

17 comments:

Ms. A said...

Beautiful images, Vicki! I don't think I have read an actual book since I started reading blogs. When I did read, the book needed to capture my attention early on, or there was a good chance I would put it down. My sister is a voracious reader and she could usually make a pretty good recommendation, based on what she knew I might like.

Carol Crump Bryner said...

I've been scolded in the past for not finishing books. But you're right. There are some books that are unreadable in a personal way. I couldn't read Isabel Allende's book about her daughter during a time when my own daughter was having problems, although I knew it was a well written and worthwhile book. It made me too sad. And I nearly threw a book by Salman Rushdie across the room. I could not make myself care about anyone in it.

June said...

I used to have a rule that I HAD TO finish every book I started. Several years ago I decided life is too short to do that. Still, I usually stick with almost anything. The test is: when I put the book down and think about not picking it up again, would I miss anybody in it? Would I wonder what happened?
If either answer is no, I'm finished.

Thérèse said...

I just give every book a chance till I hit the page 100. Are you there yet?
:-)

Juliet Batten said...

Gratuitous violence makes me put a book down. But then again, so does blandness and poor writing. But I don't think you would be in that category.

Mary Anne Rudolph said...

Over the top violence, repeated said violence, in the first few chapters will make me put a book down. A few authors I usually like have recently added blood to the point of being ridiculous. I love murder mysteries and forensic descriptions, but the new wave of more and more violence leaves me wondering if MOST people really want that kind of plot.

Brian Miller said...

i think it comes down to bad writing for me...or characters i just dont care about...when i give up on a book, you know it has to be pretty bad...

B. Rogers, Living in Black Mountain said...

Beautiful pictures, Vicki. On reading, if I can't feel interested it's usually the over-use of descriptive phrases, a philosophy that is totally "dark" being espoused, or no sense of purpose at all besides glorification of "evil attitudes" in whatever way that might be. I've gotten so I avoid the stories where you know all along how the vilian is doing things. I want entertainment, education, enlightenment, and maybe inspiration in my reading.

KarenB said...

Poor writing.
Finding I just don't care a bit about any of the characters and what happens to them.
Rarely, a book will hit too close to home, there was an Amy Tan novel I started that had a dying grandmother in it at the same time my grandmother was dying and I just couldn't handle it.
Graphic child abuse, particularly sexual abuse.

NCmountainwoman said...

Bad writing with errors in subject and verb agreement are deal breakers for me. As is evidence that the author has not done the basic research on the subject to make him/her at least as knowledgeable about it as I am.

Liking the characters is not all that important to me. I did not like Olive Kitteridge but I did like the book. And few of us really liked the dysfunctional Angstrom family of Updike's Rabbit books but Updike's amazing writing talent makes us love the series. I hated both the characters and the endless diary entries of "Gone Girl" but I had to read it to the end.

I will typically give an author fifty pages before casting a book aside unless the errors are so egregious that it angers me. I have a box of cast aside books I wouldn't even give to friends. Hopefully the used book sale can benefit from them.

Frances said...

Vicki, I rarely turn away from a book before reaching the final page, but sometimes I empower my reading self and just close the book and take it back to the library.

I sometimes feel as if the editor needed a stronger hand in the book's final version. I felt this way about The Goldfinch, which I found way, way overwritten, with uninteresting characters and an unrecognizable NYC.

Jonathan Frantzen (spelling?) is another writer whose characters did not interest me.

There are others I could mention, but two is enough for now.

xo

Tammy said...

Characters that I don't care about putting themselves in ridiculous situations that make no sense. When I find myself rolling my eyes or skimming paragraphs I know I might not make it to the end...

I've recently read two books I wasn't happy with. One was better written, and I liked the character, but felt I was 'tricked' by the outcome with no real clues to key me in--although I will admit it was a clever twist. The other one had me disliking the characters and very unhappy with the final resolution that was on all fronts just weird. That one is a series and I won't be reading the rest of it!

A really gifted writer can overcome bad and unlikeable characters to some extent, but sometimes there is just nothing there to care about. It's a fine line.

Tammy

Linda said...

I stopped reading a book on the first page when the author allowed a child to be murdered in a gruesome and graphic way. I also did something I've never done before or since--I wrote the author and told them. I liked the first book, but I'll never read another belonging to that author.

Merisi said...

I'd ditch the book immediately, why waste time?


Merisi said...

Oh my goodness, Francis, you too? I am referring to Jonathan Frantzen: I tried very hard to read his novel "The Corrections" and managed to plow through about 80 pages before I gave up. ;-)

I truly loved Frantzen's introduction to Paula Fox's novel Desperate Characters, one of my favourite books ever.

Merisi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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