Friday, April 03, 2009

Setting Aside a Book

Have you ever started a book but just couldn't finish it? Maybe the subject matter made your blood boil. Maybe the characters were off-putting. Maybe it was too much gore or perhaps not enough blood and guts. Maybe it was just plain bad writing.

There can be a lot of reasons. But what is that point at which you say, this is enough, I can't read this anymore?

I reached that point recently. I see the book right now - it's sitting on a side table in my office, bookmark still in it, waiting for me to pick it back up. But I don't think I will.

I quit reading not for any of the reasons I said above - well, maybe the blood boiling part. I just could not take the author's depictions of Southerners. I am one. Born in Georgia, raised in Texas.

I used to hate the TV shows where the stupid policemen had Southern accents. Never New York accents (if they had that, they were most like a mob character). The Southerners were always the fat, slow, dumb characters. Grr. I feel my blood boiling right now.

This book, a huge best-seller, brings it all back. Southern women acting stupid and readers believing that represents the South. What makes it worse is this is presented as non-fiction, tongue in cheek, aren't we cute!

What this all boils down to is, in your fiction, make your characters believable. You can put some regionalism in, but don't depend on stereotypes. Deep down, we are more alike than unalike, whether we're from Alabama or Indiana, India or Afghanistan.
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  1. Since I live in the South, I'm always getting forwarded emails "You know you're a Southerner if..."

    And while yes, there are houses with broken down cars on cinder blocks proudly displayed in the front yard, we do not all decorate our lawn as such!

    L. Diane Wolfe

  2. Yeah, I've started books that I just could not finish. Either too boring, or too unbelievable, or just lousy writing. Or the style isn't my liking - I had this one book, a "Christian Romance" sent to me to review and the author "told" the whole story. I mean entire lengthy dialogs were summarized and told to the reader by the author rather than have the characters speak for themselves. Also, everyone was beautiful, wealthy, well-adjusted, perfect goody two shoes Christians without a fault, well educated and intelligent, successful, dressed to the nines, etc. A Disneyland setting set in upper middle class African American community. MAYBE 3-5% of the US population could relate to these characters. If that. Rather than post a review that would harm the book and author's career I sent her a letter with some constructive criticisms and suggestions for making her writing more appealing and believable.

  3. I tend to stop if the author just gets too confusing. Or if I'm not really into the book by a couple pages in. I'm a quick judge. Not sure if that's a good thing or bad...


  4. I have no problem putting down a book I don't like, I have no compulsion to finish it. Sometimes though, depending how far into the book I am, I'll read the end. This happened recently, I found the book too predictable and the premise I thought would be amusing was annoying. In another book a few years back the main character was a real whiner. I have kids - I don't need to read whining!!

  5. It's a major flaw if the author can't depict the characters as mult-dimensional people. I don't blame you for not finishing the book. There are too many others that are good to pick up instead.

    Morgan Mandel

  6. I am glad to know I am not the only one who occasionally can't finish a book.

    Amy, your comment about whining was so funny and yet so true!

  7. When I put down a book, it's usually because I couldn't get into it. If I can't figure out what will make the main character hurt or bleed early on, I lose interest.

    Mark Troy

  8. I usually try to finish what I start, but put down many a book over time.

    Two people I have tremendous respect for highly recommended a novel (best seller even). I made my way to about the 1/3 mark before chucking it. I could not stand the main character.

    I heard a non-fiction author on NPR. She sounded fascinating, the topic of real interest. So I bought the book. Got about 1/4 of the way through it and had to stop. It read like a PhD dissertation. Great cure for insomnia though. Still, I would never hesitate to go hear her speak.

    There have been many others. I'm a slow reader in the first place, so I can't afford to spend the time reading something that becomes either annoying or a chore.

  9. "If I can't figure out what will make the main character hurt or bleed early on, I lose interest." That's a good watermark, Mark.

    J.M., I know what you mean. If I'm going to read for pleasure, I want the reading to be pleasurable.

  10. I think that using stereotypes make the character flat. There are stupid people everywhere, but I've found that just because they speak with a southern accent, or have that good ole boy persona, doesn't make them one. It's a shortcut for some writers and not a good one.

    Yes, there are books I don't finish. It used to be, I finished every book I read. It was a matter of respect for the book and author, maybe? I started one a couple of weeks ago I thought I'd like, nice premise, and only got about 40 pages into it. But nothing grabbed me. She wrote well, but it was--bland? I couldn't connect with or care about the characters. Maybe if I run out of things to read, I might go back and try again. Then again, I'll probably grab a book I've read before and enjoyed enough to read it twice.

    Have a great weekend Helen! :-)

  11. There are so many books out there. Too many choices to slog through something you're not engaged with or enjoying!

    You have a great weekend, too, Sia. I'm going to take one day and actually clean the house!

  12. This happened to me not long ago, where a friend loaned me a book she just raved about--couldn't put down, she said. I literally couldn't even get a full chapter into it. zzzz.

    Well, I didn't want to admit this to the friend. So I hung onto it for a reasonable lapse of time, then tried to hand it back. "Oh, just go ahead and pass it on to someone else!" But how can I recommend a book I can't read more than a few pages of? So I still have it. Ah well.


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  14. I hate it when I just can't get into the book. I want to, I really do, but I simply can't. That drives me nuts because I hate not finishing a book.

    Lately, since I have so little free time, I don't give a new book as much of a chance as I used to. If I'm not hooked by page 50, it's time to move on.

    Lynnette Labelle

  15. Lisa, I've done that too! One time I donated it.

    I hate not finishing a book, too, Lisa. It's probably why I'll keep it for a loooong time, trying several times to finish it, before giving up.

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  17. I think those types of clichéd characters is also lazy writing. And yes, it's one of the reasons I set down a book.

    Do you have a set point where you don't continue? I'll usually give a book 50 pages (just in case it gets good).

  18. That made me smile, Conda - "just in case it gets good."

    Sometimes they do!

  19. I confess that sometimes it's my own mood that puts me off a book. It's not just the right book at that time. But then there are also a ton of books I've purchased (often sight unseen via the internet because I live in a very rural area where we have no bookstore) which I begin and immediatly think, uh oh. Since I've been buying fewer books in th brick and mortar stores, I've been getting a lot more lemons I don't finish.

    And I'll say that I enjoy some series books less and less as the editing has gone out the window for these 'made' authors.

  20. Sometimes you can't even trust the reviews that you read before you buy. They may be from friends. Or they may just be of a different mind set than you are.

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