I’ve had a string of bad luck with my reading choices for the last while. I haven’t given any of the last four a rating higher than a 5/10. (I gave one 5, two 4’s, and one a 2.) No, I won’t tell you which books they were, but I will say that they were well reviewed. One has even picked up some major awards, so I had high hopes for it. My disappointment is what led me to want to write about this topic.
I typically wouldn’t finish a book I’m enjoying so little. I’d set it aside, give it no rating, and move on with my life, because who has time to read books you’re not in love with? Except I also have this goal to finish a book a week. When I’m under the gun to keep up with the pace, then that means abandoning a book partway through is abandoning the progress I made in finishing it. I think I need to come up with some sort of a compromise to solve that, because I know from experience just how easy it is to dislike a book you’re being forced to read. (Even if you’re the one forcing yourself to read it.)
But even setting that forced reading experience aside, I wasn’t going to like the book in question. I respect the fact that others did, but it didn’t work for me at all, and I wanted to figure out why. I’ve come up with a few possible scenarios.
First off, a book can have a bad start. If I don’t find a reason to be engaged with the characters right off, I start getting bored. Scratch that, actually. It doesn’t just have to be the characters. There needs to be something about the book that digs into me. It could be the style or the humor or the mystery or the characters. But it needs to engage me. Ideally, it compels me to keep reading.
This book had that. I liked the setting and the character development at the beginning, but sometimes that’s not the case. So much can hinge on getting a reader’s buy-in right from the beginning. Once an author has made me care about what’s happening, there’s a lot more leeway for him or her to work with. I can be much more forgiving about some things like pacing or believability because I’ve invested some of myself into the text.
That leeway is not inexhaustible, however. In the cast of this book, I couldn’t swallow the plot, the character motivations, and the magic system. I don’t think it was all three of them that turned me off, however. I think one of them likely began to not sit well with me to the point that I began to lose faith in the others, like a disease spreading from organ to organ. If I were pressed to identify one thing . . . it would probably be the plot. There were a couple of romantic subplots that felt like they’d been shoehorned into the book, and every time they came up, I gave them an inward eye roll.
And they came up many times.
After enough of those times, I didn’t want to read the book anymore. But I was so far into it that I felt I needed to finish it. A bad combination. But whenever I have a bad or good experience with a book, I try to figure out what it was about the experience that caused it. Mainly so I can avoid it or use it in my own writing. For example, I’m always amazed by how good Stephen King is at writing characters and putting them in relatable, compelling circumstances. If I could pick one thing that I could get better at, that would be it. So I’m paying close attention to books and character introductions to see how the good ones really shine.
In the meantime, I’ve just started a new series, and I love it so far, which is such a refreshing feeling after such a long run of the doldrums. Here’s hoping it keeps it up!
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