Once upon a time, I was much more meticulous than I am now in many areas of my life. True, I still alphabetize my books by author; and recently, for the first time ever, I shelved all of those alphabetized books by genre. And yes, I do stack the glass bowls in a certain order every time I put them away. But it’s only because that’s the most efficient way to get them into the cabinet! I swear!
Anyway. I have, indeed, retained some of the picky preferences of my youth. But I’ve also relaxed quite a few of my personal rules over the years, especially in regard to books I read.
By The Book
Once upon a time, if you borrowed a book from me (read: if I most generously lent you a portion of my treasure), that borrowing came with the strictest of rules: Don’t dog-ear the pages. Don’t even think about turning down the corners. And whatever you do, you’d better bring that book back to me with an unbroken, unmarked spine — because after I read a book, it still looks like it’s fresh out of the bookstore, and you had better return it to me in precisely that condition!
As you might already have guessed, gentle readers, not many people even wanted to borrow any of my books. Much less gained my approval for a loan.
In the meantime, I have grown older, mayhap a bit wiser, and most certainly less anal. Borrow my books. Break all of those rules — please. Because none of those rules exist anymore. I’ve finally figured out that if you return my book in broken-spined, dog-eared condition, it probably means you’ve enjoyed it. Heaven forbid. 😉
But onward and tally-ho. Another book-related rule I’ve always followed is that even if I’m not enjoying a book, I must finish reading it. After all, I’m not a quitter, right?
The One Where I Give Up
I’m a quitter. I’ll admit it. I’ve decided that I don’t have time to finish books I’m not enjoying. I read for fun, not for intellectual exercise. If I finish a book I don’t like, then yeah, maybe I’m learning what not to do as a writer. But I’m having a hideous, miserable time doing it. Why torture myself, when I can learn just as much from my writer’s bible (read: Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft) or from UnstressedSyllables itself — and enjoy every moment of that refreshing, well-writ prose?
Over the last month, I have picked up and almost immediately set down again two novels in particular. I won’t name them, because that would just be sad. But I’ll tell you a little bit about them.
The first was a sci-fi fantasy epic (although according to Josh, I need to revise my personal understanding of “epic”; revision is dutifully in-progress; and Josh, you’re makin’ me want to write one; thanks 😉 ) — where was I? Oh yes, sci-fi fantasy “epic” with oodles of potential, what with an entire planet’s memory getting erased and so forth. As Mr. Spock would say, with lifted eyebrow, “Fascinating.”
But I don’t care what the jungle looks like or what Minor Character X did with his financial holdings twenty years before the story starts. And even if I did care, I certainly wouldn’t want to read about it for fifteen pages. Halfway through this book, I was so bored and so desperate to find the tiny bits of Story contained within it, I flipped to the last chapter, read that the hero kills his enemy and gets the girl, and then closed the book one last time with a sigh of relief.
Uffda. Somebody preserve me from fellow fantasy/sci-fi writers who indulge themselves so generously in world-building, reading them is like watching the most boring documentary you can remember from high school.
The other book I picked up and then dropped was an urban fantasy involving flying horses. Sadly, I never got to the flying horses part because the characterizations in Chapter One made me want to cry. And not because they were so tragically good that I was overcome by the empathies they elicited within my heart. Can we say “wooden dialogue” and “paper doll cutouts”? Yes, dear inklings, I do believe we can. I didn’t even get to the end of Chapter Two.
I’ve Just Had An Apostrophe ( — I think You Mean An Epiphany)
And that’s when it hit me: If I’m not enjoying a book, I don’t have to finish it. Nobody’s pointing a gun at my head or threatening me with dismemberment if I refuse to continue adventuring into the realms of a poorly-written novel. The Evil Imps Of Noveling Retribution are not going to swoop in and tattoo “I’M A LOSER” on my forehead.
No. The only consequence of permanently closing a bad book is that I gain more time to delve into books containing quality writing.
I’ll make no complaints about that.
And The Moral of The Story…
Perusing the Unstressed Syllables archives, you’ll find plenty of helpful hints on how to grab a reader’s attention and keep it. Get in late, get out early. Craft a baiting first line and a killer first paragraph. Know your characters so well, your readers fall in love on page one. And so forth. You don’t need me to reiterate, dear inklings. This site is ripe for your picking.
So when you come across a book that doesn’t hook you from the get-go, remember all the stuff you’ve gleaned from this site and from other writing resources. Pay attention, put your own stories to the test, and be honest with yourself about what’s interesting and what’s not. Commit to your art and write a story that makes your readers want to devour the next chapter and the next and the next — instead of skipping to the last page to find out how you cleaned up the mess.
Make them want. And that’s WILAWriTWe!
(For more on the subject of “liking” or “disliking” a particular book, check out Aaron’s series on reading like a writer, especially this article.)
Photo credit Julie V. Photography.