Sunday, June 29, 2014

Quitting a Novel Before Its End

I am subbing for fellow blogmate Linda Rodriguez who is recovering from some health issues life decided to send her. So, before reading my offering, please send healing thoughts, white light, prayers, whatever your preferred approach is to helping Linda get well quickly. ~ Jim

In the beginning...

Until recently, if I started a novel, I finished it. No longer. If I’m reading for pleasure and stop being interested, I’m on to the next book…and next author. If I wasted my time reading something I didn’t finish, I will not read anything else by that author. (It’s the old: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”)

That said, during the last year I only stopped reading four books. I’ve read a number of mediocre stories during those twelve months, so a book has to have egregious issues before I give it up. I should probably be more selective so I can spend more time reading really good books.

At least I didn’t buy any of these books. One I received as a Goodreads giveaway. The other three were freebies from conferences.

Four Rejects

Here’s how those four books lost me. The first book hit the Daily Double: terrible copyediting that repeatedly pulled me away from the story and a layout that was disruptive.

Book two had poor copyediting and consistently used “passed” when “past” was intended.

Book three had an entirely different set of issues. The author used multiple points of view. I’m fine with multiple POVs; I wrote Cabin Fever that way. As long as each POV is set up well and reflects that POV unique character, I’m happy. This story, however, had so many POVs I couldn’t keep track of who was who (and it wasn’t a Russian novel where each character has four different names). I might have struggled through, if for no other reason than to see how the author pulled all these POVs together into a coherent story. However, the writing was, at best, pedantic. The combination was too much for me and I bailed.

Unbelievably Bad

The most recent book, Look for the Body by Matt Christopher set a record for me. I lasted exactly two paragraphs. Here they are in their full glory:

If the kid hadn’t died in the operation, I probably would have continued living a living the quiet, normal life of a county physician, being simply Dr. Brooks Carter, and not somebody whom the newspapers were finding hilarious enjoyment in printing about.
     I wouldn’t have minded the publicity, except that it wasn’t the kind I relished over a breakfast table. Or a dinner table, either, for that matter. A wild, fascinating woman linked with my name isn’t exactly my dish. Add the nefarious business of crime to that, and Dr. Brooks Carter turns into Dr. Mud.

I stopped after the first sentence, which remember is supposed to make us want to read the second sentence. I read it again to make sure it was as convoluted as I thought and did include the extra “a living.” Yes and yes. I decided to overlook what might be one honest problem and give it a second chance.

The coup de grâce was the misspelling of “Dr. Mud.”

Dr. Samuel Mudd spelled his name with two ds. He’s the doctor convicted and sent to prison in the Dry Tortugas for conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln. President Andrew Johnson pardoned him after he helped stop a yellow fever outbreak at the prison.

Why does no one care?

If the author and the publisher and the editor and whoever else was responsible for this book care so little about a book that they can’t catch a typo in the first sentence and don’t check to find out that Dr. Mudd spelled his name with two d’s, I can’t find any reason to support them by reading the book. [I checked the current Kindle version and neither error had been corrected.]

In fairness, the book could be an otherwise excellent read. Matt Christopher has sold millions of books. However, I am reacting as a reader to this particular book. I’ll be recycling this one rather than giving it away and subjecting anyone else to those two paragraphs.

What makes you quit reading a book before its end?

~ Jim


  1. Jim, I used to feel compelled to finish a book once started - not every one, of course. I still have books on my shelf with bookmarks where I left off and planned to go on. However, since I became a writer and actually have accrued so many books on my shelves just waiting to be read, I'm more likely to put the book aside unfinished or give it to a library or Goodwill.

    What causes me to stop reading? Numerous typos and other errors, especially ones where I realize the author doesn't know much about what he/she is writing about. Or characters I can't relate to. In most cases, I do read far enough into the book to find out if it's worth reading, especially if it's a book club pick and often I find a book that didn't grab me at first, turned out to be a good book.

  2. Jim. I also used to read every novel I started. That changed some time ago when I realized my mortality. One of my indicators of a book I will not enjoy is three !s on the first page. To me it reads as if the author is shouting. Description by punctuation is a definite sign of bad writing.

  3. If I starting reading a book, I will read until my attention drifts off or I am jarred out of the book by errors of some kind. Sometimes copy-editing problems, sometimes content problems. I stopped reading one book when, in the 1400's, a protagonist rode by a field of potatoes. In England.

    If the story continues to haunt me, I will go back to see what happened, sometimes skipping to the end.

    By far the most damning factor to me is tedium. If I find a book tedious, I will stop reading it.

  4. I will stop reading a book if I don't care about the characters. If I am invested in the main character's life, I can overlook errors and skip over information dumps to find out what happens to the character.

  5. I'm still stewing over "Matt Christopher"!
    I used to finish every book I started, but after awhile I realized that a weak beginning was a reliable signpost. Many authors start off a book with a bang, or a body, but that's not what I mean by a strong beginning. I love an author who does a slow build of suspense - Rebecca, for example.
    Typos and grammatical errors are also reliable indicators that I'm going take the next exit ramp from reading that book.

  6. I apologize for any confusion the introduction to the post might have caused. It was originally written to cover for fellow blogger Linda Rodriguez, but when she did not end up with a gap in her schedule, this moved to my normal slot. But, I forgot to change the opening.

    ~ Jim

  7. Changing tenses isn't my favorite writing. I know some authors have no problem with it, but it takes me out of the story.

    I recently read a story that I loved, except that I almost didn't finish the book because the author had built a house on fill dirt over a swale, which is against building code--no county would issue a permit to build on fill dirt. So lack of doing research is another reason I'd quit reading. I didn't because I liked the author, but I almost gave up.

    Lack of copy editing is another. I recently read an author who wrote "taught" when she meant "taut." I have my sympathies since I'm an auditory learner and have the same problem, but I don't want that type of mistake in my books, and she shouldn't have them in hers.

  8. If I realize at any point in a book that I don't care what happens next, I stop reading. If I don't care who did it, I stop. If the main character becomes so annoying that I hope the killer gets her, I stop. If the storyline is boring, I stop. If the writing and editing is atrocious, I stop. ... With all this stopping, it's amazing I read anything through to the end. But I do. Often. Thank goodness for all the authors who put in the effort to get things right.

  9. Jim, interesting post. 1) Copy editing and errors. If an author doesn't care about submitting a professional product, why should I invest my time?

    2) What E.B. said. The characters. If the characters don't interest me, I'll put the book down, or switch off my Kindle, as the case may be.

    3) Gratuitous anything. If an author throws in a sex scene because she/he suspects the story isn't interesting as is, or if she/he appears to think it's expected in today's market.

    3a) Gratuitous, over-the-top violence. One book I recently put down had a cop and a coroner investigating a beach scene. I was stunned at the amount of needless expletives or the amount of violence done to the corpse (no thanks.)

    Perhaps a blog on what we love instead of what we dislike--keeping in mind that everything we read/write is subjective? I'd really like to know what keeps readers turning pages instead of their complaints.

    Discovering that might be eye opening, rather like finding the key to the Holy Grail :) Thanks for making me think today.

  10. I frequently stop reading a book. I usually read the first chapter and then the last chapter so I can see how the author constructed the book.

    However, you may have, or not, jumped the gun on this book over the "Mud" thing. I'm very familiar with "Dr. Mudd" but perhaps the author wasn't referring to "the Dr. Mudd" but to a Dr. with Mud on his face sort of thing.

    Anyway, glad to see I'm not the only person who stops early in a book if it's too terribly written to read on.
    Steve Brown

  11. I recently came across a book that I thought was horrible. I don't know if it was my state of mind at the time. I am a person that likes to finish a book I start so I actually suffered through the book, though I admit I swiped my Nook and read every third page or so. I did read that last 20 pages.

    This was a mystery. My first problem with the book was how the characters acted. To me it was completely unrealistic. If someone betrays you I don't really envision going to bed with them in the next chapter. The ending was not great. The so called twist, I guessed in the opening chapters. So the review of this book was completely misleading. Again, it might have been my state of mind, but I doubt very much that I will read this award winning author again.

  12. While I agree that the paragraphs you listed for Matt Christopher's novel were flawed, and I would've stopped as well, I read the last sentence differently. I didn't see it as him referring to a specific doctor. It read as though his name was being dragged through the mud. I've heard the expression, "Your name is mud" before, and that's how I read what the author was saying. The character was "Dr. Mud" because his reputation had been destroyed. But if later paragraphs clarified that he was referencing that specific doctor, yeah, that's pretty egregious.

  13. Here's what I like in a new book: Appropriate humor. As in cops joking with each other over work load but not making fun of an innocent victim; detectives who are funny when crabbing about red tape but don't beat up a guy to get info. Humor that avoids cliché is also appreciated. Errors in the law: not funny at all. Laura H.

  14. The older I get, the more I give myself permission to quit. I still keep on too long, though, on many of them. I get 1/3 to 1/2 way through and if I'm looking forward to anything and none of the characters are engaging me, ciao.

  15. I have also recently started "giving myself permission" to give up on a book. This month I gave up on three because of excessive descriptive scene-setting that delayed the action for several chapters, plot holes, poor writing, characters I couldn't bring myself to care about, and others who were TSTL - too stupid to live. I expect I've become jaded, picky, and hard to please. But who knows how much time I have left?

  16. I've given myself permission to stop as soon as I start thinking I'd rather be doing something else. That could be the first page or a page in the middle. There are too many good books to waste time on anything that doesn't hold me.