Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Finishing, or, I Knew This Day Would Come

I started writing seriously, as an adult, in August 2007. Before then it was always something I knew I could do but never considered as something I should do; something that occupied my time as an adolescent, nothing more. Once I decided to give it a try, I discovered Absolute Write, writing friends, and blogs. Oh, the blogs.

One thing I noticed in my new, writerly friends (and even more so in the people who intimidated me too much to try to befriend) is a very low tolerance for books. Meaning, if something is poorly written, has plot or character flaws, or just doesn't interest them, they put it down. As in they don't finish it.

Don't finish it? I found myself wondering. Who doesn't finish a book?

In my life, I have only stopped reading a novel twice. The first was One Hundred Years of Solitude, but that's because it was in Spanish for a class where we had to read one novel per week. In Spanish. I just couldn't wrap my head around what was going on and that was the only time in my life I didn't complete an assignment (I still did okay on the test and I read it later in English). The second was Anna Karenina and I have every intention of reading it someday.

Now, I read a variety of books. I lean towards literary and mysteries, but I love women's lit (formerly chick lit), humor, memoir, some romance, the list goes on and on (but excludes horror - yikes!). As long as the story's well written, I'll read it.

My mom buys TONS of books so a lot of my reading material comes from her, and while I may pick up things I'd never buy myself, it's nice having that resource. She's introduced me to different authors over the years and if she says she loved a book, I grab it without hesitation. The books I buy tend to be treasures I find in the bookstore - often authors I've never heard of but the story sounds interesting. I do have authors that I follow, but quite often my purchases are based on word-of-mouth or my own discovery deep in the bookstore shelves.

I also go in spurts where I'll decide to read a book that I've heard about for years, yet never have. One such book was Catch-22. Some of you may have already heard this story, but about a year I decided to dive into the book that launched the phrase. Two weeks after struggling through the first 40 pages I came to a tough decision - I had to stop. I hated the main character, I didn't care what happened to him, and I was going to shoot myself if I had to keep reading. So I stopped.

I felt guilty. Not just because this was a book I was supposed to read, but what kind of person was I who couldn't finish a measly book? I've forced myself through worse things (Confederacy of Dunces) just to be able to say I finished it, so why couldn't I now?

Since then I've met more and more people who talk freely of putting a book down if they don't like it. (I realize that sounds like a normal response to a lot of you, but it really is a foreign concept to me.) I couldn't believe they would just give up. Maybe it goes back to my mom telling me I gave up too easily in ninth grade Geometry... I don't know... but I couldn't bring myself to stop. I'd rather suffer through and come out victorious for conquering the sucky book (yes, I'm realizing this sounds ridiculous) than give up. I didn't want a book to beat me!

But their logic started to sink in. As I've gotten more busy with other things, I started to resent wasting time on books that I didn't love. I started to think they may have a point, but I still couldn't give in to the dark side.

Until last week.

I'd started a book that my mom loaned me last fall, something I'd picked up several times but never felt in the mood for. It's a big book, a sweeping epic, and my mom said she'd loved it. Since coming off the Twilight Saga I needed another romance fix and thought this might do it, but two weeks and 40 pages later, I found myself watching stupid movies on tv instead of reading. I even reread Twilight. I'd pick up the book, carry it around, yet never open it.

So I finally put it back on the shelf.

What is this world coming to?

I'm assuming I'm in the minority, that most people will stop reading a book they don't like, but humor me - what say you on this? And do you have a certain point at which you normally stop (40 pages/2 weeks seems to be mine).

26 comments:

Melanie's Mom said...

All right -- which book is it??? I finish most books, but I've had a few over the years that I just couldn't finish. Apparently more than you!

Melanie Avila said...

LOL, I had a feeling you might ask that. Tatiana and Alexander. I really tried...

Melanie's Mom said...

You apparently feel worse about not finishing than I do. I love Russian history, so I would be more inclined to like this book.

Melanie Avila said...

That's true. I generally like them, but I was also just coming off Steve Berry and was a little tired of Eastern European stuff.

Janna Qualman said...

I've never hesitated to put away a book I wasn't enjoying. Now, as a writer, I see the sad side of it; that maybe I'm not supporting the writers' works. But I have to tell myself it doesn't mean I don't respect the work they put into it - because I do! I just don't feel anything for the particular story they chose to tell, or for the way they went about telling it. I guess it's along the lines as not liking the same movies as everyone else. We all enjoy different things.

Oh! And I see women's fiction and chick lit as separate genres. WF, to my mind, is usually of more serious content, with a chronicle of the lead character's journey through heartache/self-discovery/what have you, whereas CL keeps a lighter pace and plot, usually with a fun and sassy voice. Were they recently lumped together?

Melanie Avila said...

Janna, your comment made me realize I also rarely turn off movies that I've paid for. I'll flip the channel, but dvds and theater-movies get my attention.

They aren't the same genre, I don't know why I said that. And I like BOTH, so I should've just listed them separately.

Penguin said...

I will drop a book in a heartbeat.
Movies, I most often will suffer through them(I think I have turned off three in my life).
I love Russian history, is it a book about history or is it a love story based in Russia?
Do I feel bad about dropping a book, heck no, I supported the writer by buying the book, I do not feel I have to read it also if I don't like it.
So how many books have I not read? Many, many, many, not including manuals.
I also do not have a lot of time to read, so it is a most valuable time slot to waste.

Melanie Avila said...

Penguin, it has a lot of history, esp war stuff (from what I read on the description) but it's a love story at heart. Not a bodice-ripper though. ;)

I don't know why I have such trouble putting down a book. You're right though, if I already paid for it, I shouldn't fee guilty.

Nadine said...

Welcome to the dark side :)

I have to admit, there are probably 100 books I never finished. Even now, I can think of books from my childhood that I only read halfway (and I usually read till halfway).

And if you see on my Goodreads page, I'm currently reading three books, but two of them have been on there for over a year, lol. (And one of them was my mom's favorite book, which is why I keep trying to read it).

Sometimes I just get distracted and don't finish a book, but other times I don't want to waste my time reading something I'm not enjoying.

Melanie Avila said...

Nadine, no kidding. I've been mulling this topic for about a week now. You hit it when you said that I wasn't enjoying the story. The fact that me, who loves to read, couldn't get myself to pick up the book said something. I guess I'm in a new category of reader.

These online things actually help me because I kept seeing on FB that the book was STILL there and it annoys me to hurry up or abandon it.

Janna Qualman said...

Yeah, movies are something I'm definitely more apt to sit through. We watched all of Sideways, for instance, and it stunk to high heavens! :P

Melanie Avila said...

Janna, that movie DID drag, lol.

Pam said...

I'm with you, Melanie. I've read hundreds of books over the years, and I think there have been three that I never finished. I put them down after 70-80 pages, simply because I was bored with them.

I tend to stick with the same two or three genres, so maybe I've just been lucky finding authors and stories that interest me.

Melanie Avila said...

Finally! Pam, thank you for making me feel like a little less of a weirdo. :)

(not that I'm calling you a weirdo, not at all...)

I guess I just hate quitting.

colbymarshall said...

I do it all the time now...used to never do it. It all depends, but it's about 50 pages.

Turkey Lurkey said...

Most of the books I've wanted to put down were assigned reading for my English classes. (The Picture of Dorian Gray? Bleh!) So I try to stick to the genres that I know will be fun to read.

For the most part, I will try to finish it. If it sucks, I will usually stop reading at around 1/4 of the book, but it would need to be REALLY boring/bad.

Melanie Avila said...

Colby, I guess it's a good thing that my taste is becoming more discerning...

Melanie Avila said...

Turkey, I think the ones that bore me the fastest are the ones that move the slowest. I can read a bad action thriller because something is always happening, but if the characters spend twenty pages musing about the corner of a tablecloth fluttering in the breeze, my mind starts to wander. :P

Jenna said...

The less free time you have the less guilty you'll feel about this--unless of course it's more of a conquer thing :).

Years ago, when I was sans the crazy monkeys, I rarely gave up on a book. But now, I have to guard my precious little free-time like a momma lion so if a book isn't grabbing me within 30 or 40 pages I'm done with it--and only feel a teeny-tiny pang of guilt...unless of course the book really sucks then I actually get a little pissed I wasted any time on it.

Finishing a bad movie is one thing, what's it gonna cost you, 2 hours, finishing a bad book, now that's more hours than I'm willing to sacrifice.

Personally, I think aspiring authors have less tolerance for so-so books than your average reader.

Melanie Avila said...

Jenna, you summed it up perfectly. :) Especially the comment about aspiring authors. I knew in the back of my mind that I'd soon get to the point where I couldn't tolerate a bad (to me) story. Now that I'm here I don't know what to do with myself.

A side note, the book Reading Like a Writer has been sitting on my desk for a couple days now, but I'm a little hesitant to start it. If I've already changed how I read, what will this book do to me?

Robin said...

I'm totally with you. I find it tough not to finish a book. I usually don't realize I'm sick of it until I've already invested a certain amount of time, and then I feel like I might as well finish. Lately, I've been more picky, and I might stop if I'm not grabbed after 100 pages. I guess that's my cut off.

Melanie Avila said...

Robin, I think that's my problem. I generally read quickly so I figure I can get it over with in a short period of time. Probably not the best reason to read a book, lol.

spyscribbler said...

I never intentionally decide not to finish a book, but I will procrastinate it until I forget all about it, or keep starting other books until one catches, LOL.

Melanie Avila said...

I wish I could just forget about a book. It sits there and stares at me until I finally cave and finish the damn thing!

Michaeleen said...

You didn't like Confederacy of Dunces?!? I thought it was the perfect blend of humor and tragedy. It made me laugh so much, but then realize that maybe I shouldn't be laughing... Really made me think about whether there is humor in terrible situations...

Melanie Avila said...

Mike, I read it because a boyfriend LOVED it and I just couldn't get into it. I'm sure I laughed in a few places, but it just wasn't my type of book.