I’m going to change the cliché in this post title to “So Many Good Books, So Little Time for Others.” Recently I’ve found myself reading two books, both by noted and established authors, that simply didn’t engage my interest. And I gave it the old college try, kept reading. No, I’m not going to reveal either author or title.
Somewhere I picked up the notion that it was well not quite immoral but maybe a minor sin not to finish a book once you started it. I’m here to tell you that is not true. Most of us have a TBR list that is too long to waste time being bored.
Both were fiction. The first was set in an area of Chicago I know and love, peopled with names and places familiar to me and in an era that I barely remember from childhood. I looked forward to plunging into that world. It didn’t work. The heroine, who had an interesting and suspenseful story, kept wallowing around in her own mind, blaming herself for all the ills of the world. It finally came down to God was punishing her through the Holacaust. Yes, bad things happened to her and her family, but no they weren’t God’s punishment to her. That seems almost egotistical to me. At any rate, I got tired of her extreme introspection.
The second book was a cozy mystery. I’ve enjoyed several books by this author and was surprised by this one. For nine chapters I read about the author’s background, profession, details of the field of work involved, places visited—it was an information dump. Finally, Chapter 10 introduced a body. I am not of the school that says a body is required on the first page or even in the first chapter, but I think almost a quarter of the book is extreme. I stuck with it but found even unraveling the mystery went slowly, with, again, lots of introspection.
I don’t think introspection is wrong by any means. And a book that was action only would be lightweight. We do want to get to know the characters, but we do that through their words, their attitudes, the way they interact with others, a thousand ways. We don’t have to spend pages in their minds.
Two lessons I’ll take away for my own writing involve basics: plot and character. I like to think I write character-driven fiction, but I’m also aware—and will be even more aware--of pacing, of keeping the reader’s interest. A well-known writing instructor has decreed that every scene must contribute to the whole—that may set a high standard but it’s good advice. I also believe chapters should end with a hook so that the reader can’t wait to start the next chapter.
I have a Facebook friend who was reading a book that bored her but she was determined to finish it. At one point, she posted, “Only 60 more pages.” I told her to give up, but she triumphantly soldiered through to the end. Not me. No more.
PS I see that I’ve used this title for a blog post before. Ah, old age—forgetfulness is one of the first symptom. If I repeat myself, forgive me. I guess I just feel the need to revisit the idea occasionally.