October 5, 2009

The Mondays: Unfinished Business

We've all had them. Those books we open expecting a good hook, an enticing story, and/or an interesting style of writing, only to feel a sinking sense of disappointment within the first few pages. But we slog on, hoping to grab onto something in the story that will keep us going. There's nothing there, though, just wisps of what we trusted to be another enjoyable read. We then close the book and toss it over our shoulder to find the next book, optimistic we won't give up on it within the first hundred pages, too.

When I read a book, I try my damnedest to finish it. After getting back into reading, I devoured every word. I felt I owed it to myself as a renewed fan of literature and an aspiring writer to read a book in its entirety, whether I enjoyed the story or not. The joy from reading was secondary to soaking up as much of the written word as possible, as a way to help improve my own writing. After all, what good is a writer if he/she doesn't read voraciously.

Well, my reading habits have changed over the last few years. A decade ago, it would have taken me about three weeks to plow through a five hundred page novel; it was a trait I carried from high school. Nowadays, it takes less than a week to read the same amount. I get to read more books, and subsequently get to cast a wider net for the kinds of books I read--Stephen King was the order of the day in the beginning.

My reading habits have also changed in the sense that if a book doesn't "hook" me within fifty pages or so--a hundred if I'm particularly hopeful--I'll give up and look for another book to read. I figure I have a lot of catching up to do with the more ravenous readers out there, and I can't be bothered to read a book I simply don't care for. This year alone, there have been a handful of titles I've abandoned in relatively quick fashion.

Cormac McCarthy's The Orchard Keeper, Terry Pratchett's The Truth, Earle Wescott's Winter Wolves, David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Ronald Kelly's Fear, John Farris' The Fury and the Terror, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, and Marley Gibson's Ghost Huntress: The Awakening are the handful of titles I've quit reading within the first hundred pages over the last year or so (three hundred pages in Twilight's case). Are these bad books? Considering the majority of the authors I mention are highly praised by critics and fans, and have even won awards, it would be an obtuse statement. They are, however, books that failed to hook me for various reasons.

Still, I don't like leaving a book unread. I mean, I took to the time to seek it in the first place, and there's the very real possibility I was merely not in the mood to read that particular novel. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that certain books require me to be in a certain mindset when setting out to read them. That's especially the case with science-fiction novels.

I feel like those books deserve a second chance, a fresh perspective. The Farris novel I gave up on because I hadn't read the prequel and couldn't connect with the characters. Gibson's novel had too much "teen speak" for my tastes, so I put it down. And Mitchell's novel used that journal entry style I dislike in almost any genre. If I could jump back into one of these books knowing now what to expect from it, I might have a more appreciative reaction. And it's not like I've soured on the authors at all, either. McCarthy's No Country for Old Men is now one of my all-time favorite novels, for example.

What do you think? Does a book deserve a second chance? Are there books you've tossed over your shoulder that you would consider rereading in full, or at least make the attempt? Have you read one of those books I abandoned and think I'm missing out on something?


  1. I'm enough of a hardcore Discworld fan that I'm aghast at The Truth being one that you gave up. I guess it didn't hook you :(

    I struggle with classics, something I'm trying to overcome and I've been trying to give some a second chance.

  2. Ha, yeah. It surprised me too, but I just couldn't get into the story at all. I figure that'll be the novel I give a second chance, though.