Monday, June 11, 2012

How to lose this reader in 25pgs or less

It's no secret that I'm not a book finisher. There are too many books in the TBR pile to waste time reading a book I'm not enjoying. I do try very hard to give books a chance, though, so I've got a 100 Page rule. If I'm even mildly interested in it, I'll give a book 100 pages before I put it aside. There are ways to get cast aside early...

For this book (that shall remain titleless), it should be noted that it had a lot going for it at the get go:

Cover - thumbs up (this being the most important attribute of any book:)
Historical fiction - thumbs up
Set in under-represented region (in the US publishing world anyway) - thumbs up

And, before I knew how fast and loose the author (who shall remain nameless) played with adverbs and adjectives, I thought this was a pretty evocative choice: "mules and horses exuberantly defecating."

Anyone with a hoofed pet can appreciate just how much poo they create. But this was quickly followed by: "Rachel's eyes popped at the size of the turds, longer than her arm..." Whooops! Couldn't find a horse or a mule to observe? And, as I mentioned above, this is historical fiction. Author can actually observe one of these animals now to see that their turds are not the size of a 5yo's arm so how much faith can I have in the historical part of the fiction. I know this seems a small detail but really, it's so easy. And, ok, it annoyed me so I nitpicked the next part, "...and she giggled when the trolley's wheels squished them underneath." If you've got a trolley pulled by mules/donkeys/horses you probably have at least two animals and they will definitely have shafts attached to the outer portion of the harness. Wheeled vehicles being what they are, the wheels of the trolley will also be towards the outer sidewalls of the vehicle. When the animals poo, their approximately golfball sized turds will fall in a line because the animals are walking. Their butts will be between the shafts and wheels and so these not arm-length turds will be left for the next vehicle to squish.

But, whatever, it seems a stupid mistake to me but Author has much more important things to research so I'll pass this one by (on pg. 2) and continue reading.

Pertinent to the rest: It very much appears that an older teenager or adult is remembering her life when she was ~5yo.

-Up next we've got overly idyllic descriptions of home life complete with descriptions of activities a person would never bother to describe (great fault in historical fiction just to include more details). Historical fiction writers have a lot in common with spec fic writers: you are building a world. Make it real by making it natural. An artificial creation detracts from the story rather than impressing me with all the mundane details of diet you happen to know.

-Awkward and inconsistent dialogue which I think is a result of attempting to re-create a "local" dialect.

-Disturbing hints of single female protag getting most of her support and sense of community from men rather than women or at least a mix of both. News flash authors: women like each other and are friends with each other and support each other. In fact, it'd be much easier for me to name five women I can call on in a pinch than five men. (This trend in stories bothers me only because it is a trend: I've nothing against stories about women who are in a community of men but it's not every woman all the time. Where are all the women?)

-Using 5 words when 2 would do.

-A tendency to go through the story with this type of construction: this happened, and then this happened, and then this other thing happened, and so on.

-Last and most detrimental for my reading eyes: nothing for me to do. Lemme 'splain. "Rachel sat, as she often did at such gatherings, on the lap of her tall, rangy Uncle..." There's not much wrong with this on its own but "as she often did" or its ilk was peppered throughout almost every paragraph. I never had to figure anything out. I didn't need to observe what anyone was doing, infer how they were feeling, or try to figure out why they did what they did because every damn detail was laid out for me over and over again. In the technical sense of craft I don't like this much, but I dislike it even more as a reader who wants something to do while reading a story. If you don't give me anything to do I may as well be watching a movie. Movies are nice, I watch them a lot - and even enjoy them from time to time - but when I'm reading I expect a different experience.

What gets you to put a book down?


  1. I enjoyed your description and analysis, Rachel, of what doesn't deliver for you in a book. Excellent points. I, too, will stop a book/audiobook before reaching or coming close the half way mark. I can't say if it's as clear to me as you recounted, though. The last one I abandoned was due to the tale's disjointed storytelling. Started cleverly, added a non-linear parallel track (with the protagonist), but then kept adding other characters (as villains) who were stock; rinse and repeat. So, I decided to read someone who I knew well and immediately as the next book and felt better for it. I'm too old now to waste time on things I don't get pleasure reading -- no matter if the book is "important" or the author new and exciting -- it's not worth it. Fun post, Rachel.

  2. I am actually fascinated by readers being able to define what works for them in books and what doesn't, it's often the highlight for me during book club to hear that someone else couldn't stand a book I loved or vice versa, and why.

    I have complete empathy for why you let this particular book go and am of course now dying to know which one it was.

    The last book I stopped reading promised "funny" on the cover and actuallly delivered twice within 10 pages, but then a long drought of nothing for the next 40 so I gave up. Also a very famous author who can be great but didn't let me crack even a smile for the entire first audio-disc so that was that. Oh, and my most common two reasons for putting down romances in particular are: repeatedly talking about broad shoulders, and going into huge detail about the way someone looks when it's impossible for the describer to make out such detail at the distance they are from the describee. Makes me nuts.

    BTW: read the Libba Bray post and broke out in cold sweat at first couple's story (let alone the ones that came later) because my parents, as a non-ethnically-homogenic couple, got married in the States in 1963 too. Seems like it was sheer dumb luck they did so in Massachusetts instead of some other places.

  3. I agree with you: too many books, not enough time. If you're not getting anything worthwhile out of it, move on to the next book in the pile.

    P.S. I don't think anyone's giggling at squished poo once the odor hits...

    P.P.S. I'm one of the people you'd call in a pinch, right?

  4. Hey Michael, I see we use the same philosophy. And I, too, seek out my comfort authors after a string of bad experiences. :)

    M.! Your name is all grown up. ;) One of my favorite things is articulating how I feel about books. When I have a response that I can't describe it drives me nuts. Ditto on the romance annoyances.

    Libba Bray's post was sobering and frightening. It's amazing how many people are persecuted for what boils down to simply wanting to live. I hope your parents experienced less of that rather than more and what a happy circumstance that they were in the right place at the right time.

    Brooke -

    P.S. Agreed!
    P.P.S. Naturally!