Quitting Time

It’s not that I’m quitting reading, oh, no. What I did was learn how to put a bad book down instead of letting it suck part of my life away.


Yeah, there have been books that painful…

Only, sometimes it’s not that the book is painfully bad. Sometimes it’s me, not them. That’s a horrible line for a break-up, but it’s true in this case. I’m not always in the right place to read and appreciate a book, and I have learned that attempting to force myself to read a book usually winds up with me disliking the book. It took me several attempts to read Huckleberry Finn, and Anne of Green Gables. I knew I was supposed to like them, but I was young and for whatever reason couldn’t break into the story.. and then when I did, I liked the books. I went on to read everything LM Montgomery had ever written and to realize how much like Anne I was as a girl.

I’m a mood reader. When I’m in a mood, I want a certain flavor of book, and trying to read outside that, even if it’s a book I’m supposed to read for a good reason (like, say, to review on this blog) is usually a bad idea. So I’ve learned to put books down if I’m not in the mood, and not judge them unfairly. The books I intend to review I pick up again later, but if it’s just a random novel that caught my eye I’m likely to not give it another look.

Like I talked about last week, I just don’t have enough time to give some of it to an unworthy book. Sarah Hoyt wrote about things that throw readers out of books in this post, explaining why she doesn’t like certain books:

Well, ten percent or so are unexplained.  I just don’t get into them.  No, I have no clue why.  Why do you like some dishes and not others?  Why do your tastes vary with season and mood?  I don’t know.

However, for the other 40% I’ve found that there are broad categories of errors, from the massive to the small that just lead me to fling the book against the wall (virtually, since they’re on kindle.)  And I thought I’d post them here, for the benefit (eh) of those of you working the word vines.  I mean, whether you’re going traditional or indie, you REALLY should not pop your reader out. Read the rest… 

The Titanic in snow
With some books, you can just tell things are about to go horribly, horribly wrong…

I think for me, the two biggest things that make it quitting time are boring, and bad characters. If I don’t care about a character, but the pace is fast, I may keep reading. Even if I like a character, if the book is rambling on for pages about how they are dressed and nothing is happening, then I’m likely to wander off to check facebook, read a blog, draw a doodle.. and when I come back, I’ve forgotten that I was reading that book and start on something else. Even on the Kindle, where in theory you open back up to the page you were reading, I’ll come out of the book to browse my library. The First Reader has had a recent problem with his Fire, in that it wants to always open to the very end of MH: Sinners, instead of the book he was trying to read. Makes it hard for him to keep on that book.

Which brings me to another point. My quitting time is not his quitting time is not your quitting time. My resident curmudgeon is much more critical of his reading material than I am. He’s also super-sensitive to certain tropes that make him prickle up like a porcupine, and about as happy as one (I’m sure porcupines are sometimes happy. Why is it that hedgehogs are always pictured cute and cheerful, while porkies are bad-tempered? They need a new PR rep) when he encounters it in a book. I’ve pointed out that I’m sure most of the time the authors weren’t trying to be tropariffic, but it doesn’t matter. He’s quit, and on to another book.

As a writer, I try to keep some of this in mind. Putting the reader hat on, I know that if I bore my readers, they’re out. I know that my most specific negative reviews on my books have been from readers objecting to my writing a positive male character, or from a male POV. I’m not going to quit including men in my books who are strong, competent types that love well and work hard for their families (inspired, by the way, by my husband and father, and uncles and cousins, and…) so I’m going to ignore those readers while I’m writing. Because if that is their quitting time in a book, there are plenty out there with men being denigrated or relegated to the shrinking pansy role. I just don’t want to write it, personally.

Now to flip it around. Sometimes a book does get better. It can be worth doing a bit of slogging, to find a buried treasure waiting. So how to decide that this book, this time, is the time to keep digging? Personally, I rely on word of mouth. Also, because I’m an author and part of a community of other authors, I rely on my personal knowledge of that person. If I trust them to tell a worthwhile story, I’ll keep reading through the rough parts. I did this with the original unedited version of Mackey Chandler’s April, and was rewarded with a great series I’ve enjoyed ever since. He’s taken care of the editing since then, so if you haven’t tried it, go check it out. Does it still have flaws? Sure, but those are philosophical and important only to me. And I have the ability to ignore elements in a book, up to a certain level, before it hits a wall. If you’re a devout Evangelical Christian, there are elements in April that will set your teeth on edge, namely the portrayal of churches. For me, I could see the extrapolation from Westboro Baptist, and it didn’t bother me (except that I really don’t believe there’s that much connectivity outside the Catholic Church, certainly not among the Baptist sets. But that’s because I grew up in them).

Where do you decide it’s quitting time? What books have you pushed through a tough reading spot on, and then been rewarded by?

41 thoughts on “Quitting Time

      1. I did use Walden to go to sleep with for a little bit. But eventually, my urge to throw it against the wall overrode my tiredness. (It was for a school assignment, so I just Sparknoted the rest and wrote the bloody paper)

  1. For me it is the characters, plain and simple. What engages me in fiction is wanting to know what happens to the people in it. If I don’t care about the people, or if nothing significant seems to be happening to them, I won’t read further.

    I may have a little different view of finishing books than many people, since I grew up surrounded by them. My mother had a large collection of books and we made regular trips to the local library, so I grew up with the feeling that there were always more books to read. I never felt any obligation to finish a book just because I had started it.

    I think that feeling has helped my own writing, actually. I try to never take the reader’s loyalty for granted. I think of myself as a guest in the reader’s home, and she or he can tell me to leave any time. I am less concerned with an “opening hook” as I am with delivering a consistently interesting story. I may have the reader’s interest for ten chapters, but that doesn’t mean that I can get away with a dull chapter eleven.

    I can think of two books that I had to push myself through that ended up rewarding me–Samuel Delany’s “Dhalgren” and Philip Dick’s “VALIS”. Both of them are very philosophical works, and “what is really going on” takes some digging to unearth.

    However, I can think of dozens that I pushed through on the recommendation of friends that I never found engaging at all.

    1. I have learned that there are people whose reading taste meshes with mine, and there are those who like stuff I can’t stand.

      And for me, a whiny character is death on toast. I can’t stand angst and won’t read it.

      1. I followed one whiny character for a while because she was very well written, but then realized the character was NEVER going to pull herself up by her anything and grow up, and didn’t understand why so many people kept enabling the whining.

        I gave up on it – but should never have started a novel with the title ‘Veronica’s nap.’ So it was my fault. The author told me what was coming, and I couldn’t believe it. What a waste of time!

        I need at least one character I can care about, right up front and center. Not everyone needs this.

      2. Generally I’d agree wholeheartedly but I just re-read a series for what was probably the tenth time (Empire of Man series by Ringo and Weber), and the central character in that series starts as a whiny entitled prick. But since the point of the story is how the whiny entitled prick grows into a legitimately effective and dangerous man I’ve always given it a pass.

        Though I wish (as a writer) I knew how they pulled that off, Roger is the kind of character I dislike but even when he was being a whiny entitled prick I still liked and sympathized with him. He changed, grew, but stayed the same essential person. Heck, even though I liked Roger, I still liked the Marines who hated and resented him. Remarkable character work from those two writers.

      3. Robin Hobb had a character in her Liveship Traders series that still drives me nuts every time I read it, even though I know she improves mightily by the end of the series. Whiny, yes. Her elders figure out the right tactic to force her out of it, but oh, how she bothers me until then…

  2. I’m not really sure. Perhaps it’s that I’ve been rather selective in what I pick up.. or was just utterly voracious (or maybe just plain stubborn). The one book I can recall as being too dull to continue was ‘The Vertical and the Horizontal’ about a shrink who saw a shrink (he was vertical at his job, horizontal when another did it — and that’s all I recall of the text) It. Dragged. Badly. for me. maybe it got better, but I had more exciting things to do, like vacuuming.

    I have given up on a series (Xanth) that I started reading for the puns (yes, really) but after the n-th text that seemed pretty much the same as the last or worse, I wound up stuffing the last book I’d bought in the car trunk. It was down to “in case of being stranded, here’s reading material.” Some years ago I cleaned out the trunk and that book finally got chucked.

    Even a great author can have low or slow points. I knew going in that it was not recommended to start with the ‘first’ discworld book, but I did anyway. I knew it got better/faster – largely from hearing $HOUSEMATE chuckle, plowing through the backlog. I bogged down again with Small Gods… but, well, stubborn and there was was Pratchett record of payoff.

    One book I did finish, I no longer recall author or title, but there was a WWII pilot, long after the war, and his P-51D… and someone up to no good, and some lady investigator. That was fine. Then the baddie was the stereotypical computer geek and if it hadn’t been very close to the end anyway (call it reader’s inertia) it might well have hit the wall. It screamed mindless cliché at me. That book went back to the library fast, and I looked for something better.

    1. I stopped Xanth years ago, when I outgrew it. It’s one of those that has an obsession with sex that I didn’t notice when I first read it, but oh boy, it shows in retrospect.

      1. I did notice it (I think I was older that the age group it was meant for, really) and it grew tiresome. Sure, kids are curious and about that, but despite claims, the majority of time is spent on other things.

  3. ” it wants to always open to the very end of MH: Sinners” This sounds like an anti-Amazon hack, in which Kindlesomething pays by the page, based on the highest-numbers page that you have read,. Putting Chapter 1 at the end means you appear to have read the entire book, and the parasite, I mean, noble author, is paid accordingly. This stunt is dishonest and immoral.

    1. I have a Kindle. I think it’s more the glitchy software, that loses track of where you are in the books sometimes and which drives me up the wall.

      1. Yes, it’s definitely glitchy software. he’s had some other issues crop up, as well. I use the app on my phone or tablet and occasionally have to uninstall and reinstall to get it working again. I really wish they’d put some effort into improvement, but on the other paw, it’s better than a nook by a mile.

    2. I have a similar glitch on my Kindle with audio books. Usually it will automatically default to my current book, at the place where I left off, but every now and again it will decide to play something from my library instead.

    3. My Fire occasionally opens the wrong book, usually if I rotate it from landscape to portrait while it’s.opening.

  4. It takes a LOT to throw me out of a book, mostly because I’m a stubborn young cuss and tend to stick with what I think I’ll like.
    Series-wise, the only two I’ve never finished were James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series and Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon. I can’t explain the latter, but the former went from being a perfectly acceptable YA trilogy to a wall-banger with book 4, which took the “Global Warming” subplot of the first three and turned it into the main event, and included some truly ludicrous writing.

    1. Novik’s main Human character started to turn me off.

      He seemed to become too whiney.

      The fact that he was always on the “bad side” of his government didn’t help.

    2. People keep recommending Novik to me (because dragons) and I keep resisting it, because I was picking up themes in the book blurbs I knew would be cranky-making.

  5. I picked up Huckleberry Finn in the book depository my mom was in to select books for her third-grade class. It was the summer before I started fourth grade. Loved it. This was many years ago. The first book I remember giving up on was van Vogt’s “Fury”. Just couldn’t get into it.

    1. I think the book you’re thinking of was written by Henry Kuttner, not van Vogt.

      For what it’s worth, I didn’t think much of it either.

  6. I heartily endorse your notion of not wasting your life finishing bad books. I did manage to read The Fifth Season, because I had promised to do a review of it.The little fragments can be good — let’s skip the obligatory sex scenes — but the writing style and organization were abominable.

  7. My trigger to not start (as in reading a blurb and the first few pages and putting it back on the shelf), is the characters who cannot possibly do the kinds of things the author is going to be demanding of them.

    They have main characters that no one would ever follow into battle but their magical charisma somehow inspires everyone to put them in charge. Then they whine and complain some more but magically (not through magic) make the right decisions and win the war.

    Written by writers who have never been that (a leader), never gotten somebody to do that (follow them), and never done anything in their life other than to dream of the ‘honor’ of being ‘put’ in charge (it is flattering when the poop hits the spinning blades and everyone looks at you to fix the problem but you know no matter what you do you’re going to end up covered in poop, and you don’t get ‘put’ in charge it’s just clear to the group who the person who is in charge at that moment actually is).

    You can feel the difference between a character that people would follow and gravitate to and a character who would be shunted to the side and ignored. A lot of writers seem to me to be the kind of person that would jump up to take charge when the situation calls for it but then would get the hairy eyeball and the sniff of derision as the person that everyone knows is the one who is in charge in that situation (different situations cause different people to be elevated briefly to that position) steps forward and takes charge.

    I’m not sure if this is a ‘write what you know and don’t write what you don’t know’ problem though because the readers that are left seem to have no problem with that kind of thing. Probably because they don’t know either. Still, if it sells, and it has readers, and people like it (other than me), is it really wrong?

    And if it did appeal to people like me (big, blue collar blunt guys), would it still appeal to the majority of the readers out there? Probably not, so the writers write fake characters, but the actual readers like and empathize with the fake characters and that’s fine for them. Getting it right might actually be getting it wrong.

    1. Nah.
      Real stories of leadership still work. Take Larry Correia’s “Son of the Black Sword”, for example. There is no shortage of actual leadership there! Jagdish takes my top marks, but nearly every major character has leadership qualities.

    2. Michael Stackpole had a character who was prophesied to be a big warleader, stars in the heavens, all of that stuff. So his tribe got him the best military education that money and practical experience could buy. I loved that.

  8. I quit when one of three conditions are met:
    1) I finish the book.
    2) I know how the book is going to end, and the path it’s going to take to get there.
    3) I realize that I don’t care how the book is going to end.

    I make an exception for options 2 & 3 if the trainwreck is entertaining enough. Especially if it’s done earnestly.

    1. I had an interaction with a bookstore clerk once, where I was looking for the next book in a series, (Dragonships, I believe) and he informed me that he never even finished the first book, because he knew how it was going to end.

      I pointed out to him that by the time the Fellowship left Rivendell, I was pretty sure how the book was going to end. Not that the Ring would be destroyed – that was a given – but the character arc (Strider is a King, Boromir would die, Merry and Pippen would grow up quickly, and Sam would get Frodo to Mount Doom). It’s not the destination – it’s the journey

      1. Some journeys aren’t worth taking.

        Why continue to read a mystery when you already know who the killer is? Watching a detective bumble past clues you’ve caught isn’t entertaining.

        Sure, I know the hero’s journey, and appreciate it. I always love to see someone put their own spin on it. But unless the protagonist is actively protagging, there really isn’t even a journey to enjoy.

        1. I have a reverse way of looking at it – if a book isn’t worth reading twice, it’s probably not worth reading once. So I try to read mysteries where I’d read it even if I did know who the murderer is.

          I re-read Pride and Prejudice every so often, and every time, I worry that Lizzie and Darcy may never run into each other, up at the Lakes. 🙂

    2. I remember reading David Eddings’ Belgariad sequel series (the Mallorean) and having to put the middle book down at one point for a long set of giggling, since I had figured out a major plot point at the end of that series. Still finished it; still read it again. I don’t read Eddings for plot but for characters.

  9. There are a few things that stop me reading.

    First, disgust. Hugo award winner Ancillary Whatsit hit the wall when I discovered what “ancillary” meant in the book. Ew! I’m out.

    Next, boredom. I’ve been trying to read The Clown Service by Guy Adams. There’s very little happening. I skipped forward to see if things pick up, and I haven’t found the part where the Main Character finally puts his boots on and gets down to it. Zzzzzzz….

    Finally, SJW virtue signalling. Instant out at the first hint. Charles Stross held me the longest, but even he managed to dump me out of the Laundry series. Life is too short.

    Post apocalyptic wastelands, anti-heros, ‘everybody sucks’ stories and anything with Communism in it stops me at the cover blurb. Also cats. I don’t mind cats in real life, but I really don’t want to read about somebody else’s.

        1. Schmitz really understood the cliches of his time (both the writing and the ones in real life.) That enabled him to ignore them or subvert them as appropriate, and that also made him a lot more timeless than many of his contemporaries. (When I was introduced to his writing, I had no idea that it was decades old by that point, because it didn’t feel like the other stuff I’d read from the same time period.)

  10. I have a bad tendency to make judgments on the first page. That saves me from starting a lot of unsuitable works. Other than that, boredom and eye-rolling are the two big reasons to toss something. Lately I’ve noticed a tendency to dogged prose and unpleasant characters that also puts me off. I need to like somebody, for Pete’s sake, or there’s no reason to keep reading.

  11. The first book that I remember being completely unable to get into because of style of prose was Lord of the Rings – yes, I tried and kept bouncing off the style of prose. It took being stuck in an airport with nothing else to read on a very long layover to finally get into it. Loved it once I was in, but that took eight years.

    The next book I absolutely couldn’t stand – first one I remember physically hitting the wall – was one of the Clan of the Cave Bear series. Stuck on a friend’s couch, no other books in the house, this newfangled internet was down. I kept picking it up out of boredom, and then chucking it.

    The last one that I felt I really ought to finish was one recommended to me by… something Jeter. I don’t remember the title. But the main character was unlikeable, even though the world was interesting (if according to physics, utterly unworkable.) I kept trying, and finally skipped to the end to find that the character hadn’t grown, changed, or learned anything at all, and the world was worse off than when he started. That was when I stopped even trying to finish a book, and picked up the habit of just deleting things off the kindle so they didn’t hang around to be accidentally read again.

    As for whiny: I read the Twilight books because my godkids loved ’em. I couldn’t stand the main character, because she was a pitch-perfect rendition of that emotional ball of hormones and drama that is right on the pre-teen/teen cusp. I only got through the first two books, and couldn’t stand the character enough to pick up the third, not even for love of the girls.

    When they were tearing through Harry Potter, I followed along with a whole lot more delight and glee, right up until Rowling did a perfect rendition of Harry & company hitting that self-centered whiny angsty teenage male stage. At which point I couldn’t stand the little idjit. That’s really a credit to Rowling, though – because I can’t stand the whiny angsty teens in real life, either, when they hit that stage. I really ought to just skip that book, and pick up where he grows out of it, because she’s a fantastic author…. but once knocked out of the series, and the godkids on to other things, I haven’t gotten around to it.

    (Side note: there’s a lot of whining in coming-of-age stories. Seriously. I never noticed it as a teen, but watching / reading as an adult… I want to slap the stupid out of Luke Skywalker when he’s whining about the farm and shirking off, and Sarah when she’s whining about taking care of her baby brother before the Goblin King abducts him… I wouldn’t have made it through the start of Ringo’s Prince Roger books for the whining, if I hadn’t liked the supporting characters. Teenagers fail to notice whining in the way fish don’t notice water.)

    1. I was working at a bookstore when the fifth Harry Potter book came out, and of course worked the midnight release party. One of my friends read the first chapter aloud to the people standing in line (once midnight came, of course; we were very careful about the release details.) Once the two-hour (!) line had snaked through and all the staff were selling each other their copies, he said to me, “Harry’s a dick.” I thought a minute, and replied, “He’s a sixteen-year-old boy.” My friend replied, “But he’s still a dick.”

      I had to break it to him that “sixteen-year-old boy” and “dick” were often synonymous terms, and that he probably hadn’t noticed at the time when he was sixteen.

      Um… I’m not really sure when would be a good re-entry point, since Harry does act like a jerk on quite a few occasions after that. The jerk behavior does lead to quite a few good scenes, though, as various and sundry people put him in his place.

  12. For me, I start with the first page. If I can’t read it, I stop. Then I read through to page 50. If I don’t care what happens on page 51, I stop. And, usually, if I get past that point, I’ll read through until the end. For ebooks, since “pages” aren’t as fixed as with paper books, I approximate those points.

    If it’s a book that’s gotten good recommendations from people whose judgement I trust, and whose reading styles are close enough to mine that I believe they can predict how I’ll react, then I’ll give it longer.

    And if it’s a book that’s doing enough worldbuilding that it’s clear it needs more time for the plot to develop, but is building an interesting enough world that I want to find out more about it, then I give it more time. This most often happens in Hard SF, so that Alastair Reynolds’ _Revelation Space_ kept me going through the slow unfolding in order to realize it was one of the finest (Hard) SF novels in decades.

    And if it’s an author that has done well in the past, I’ll give the book a lot more time, since the author has a track record of producing, although enough bad books can move an author from “must read when the next book comes out” to “I’ve run out of cereal boxes to read, and am getting really desperate so I’ll try this author again”.

    I’ve got lots of “to be read” books sitting in the queue — I’m not willing to waste time on a book that won’t give me a worthwhile return on my time (the money is already spent, so it’s a sunk cost for me to ignore)..So, as I get new books, I put them someplace on the pile that seems about right based on past history, etc. — but I’m always willing to stop if I’m wrong.

    And if I end up with a bunch of clunkers in a row, then I need to figure out if I’ve gotten into an “I hate SF/Fantasy” mood, or if it’s the books themselves. So I then have a mixture of reading outside the genre, or rereading my genre comfort reading (some of which I reread every year or so, just to remind me of how great the field can be at its peak), before I go back to my genre pile.

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