I’m always interested in how people read, what works or doesn’t for them and why. Here are three books I recently failed to finish. None of them are bad books, they just didn’t draw me in.
Shelly Laurenston, The Mane Event
I had previously tried one of her G.A. Aiken dragon books, and given up in the middle, bored–it seemed like all sex and fighting and I didn’t find it funny. And paranormal romance is not really my thing. So my hopes for this weren’t high, but I picked it up after a discussion between Robin and Meoskop (which led to Meoskop’s own DNF). This turned out be be two novellas, which maybe wasn’t the best thing to try. I liked it a bit more than I expected, especially Dez, the tough cop heroine. But it came mighty close to fated mates, a trope I hate: Mace and Dez hadn’t seen each other for 20 years, since they were in their teens, yet he was determined to make her his, and in love and sniffing her neck the moment he saw her again. I just found it was too over the top, too exaggerated for me. And since it was a library book, I gave up without guilt. To be totally honest, I think my own classism is a factor in my response. Picture me making a prunes and prisms face and sniffing “It’s a bit vulgar, isn’t it?” I don’t mean the sex; I didn’t get that far. But the language/dialogue, the characters’ propensity for aggression (and yes, some are shifters, but does that have to mean finding bar fights fun?), that kind of thing. I’m not saying this is admirable in me, but it’s there, and it didn’t feel worth overcoming for these stories.
Fiona Lowe, Boomerang Bride
Sunita liked this contemporary romance set in small-town Wisconsin, and I found it in my library’s e-collection. The hero, who looks like a Viking, is coming resentfully home from the big city and finds a woman on Main Street dressed in a wedding dress and holding a cake. It quickly becomes apparent that the fiancé she’s come from Australia to meet (and to whom she’s given her savings) doesn’t exist. I read two chapters and thought “this woman is an idiot and this set-up is so artificial.” This response had a lot to do with my mood. Tons of romance novels begin with an artificial/implausible set-up, and usually I’ll go with it to get to the real emotion that it paves the way for. This time, I couldn’t push through until things got real, though I could see they would, in the interactions hero Marc has with his sister and nephew. After that experience, I eyed up some of the much-anticipated contemporary romances I had just added to my TBR and decided to wait until I was in the mood to give them a fair shot. (And I might well pick this one up again then, too).
Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette
I read about 80 pages of this one. It’s largely epistolary, which I love, and much lauded. I was really looking forward to it. So this was a big disappointment (and I was glad it, too, was a library book). I was fairly engaged while I was reading, but when I put it down, I had no desire to pick it up again. I thought the targets of its satire–the privileged, somewhat bohemian classes of Seattle–were too easy (um, possibly I saw some of myself in those targets, but I don’t think that’s what put me off). It was funny and clever, but in a way that felt shallow and brittle, with no underlying heart. Quite possibly there is going to be heart to the story eventually–it’s about a girl’s quest to understand her missing mother, after all. But I wasn’t feeling anything by p. 80, and I wasn’t willing to wait longer. Readers whose views I respect, and whose taste I often share, gave it 5 stars. But I think I’m with Rohan, who gave it 2.
If these DNF experiences have anything in common, it’s this: I will stick with a book that I find off-putting or difficult in some way if I think there’s going to be a payoff, whether emotional, intellectual, or both. Am I going to learn or feel something I value?
I’ve stuck with books I found a real slog to read, and where I didn’t really care about the characters, because I admired what the author was doing or was interested in the ideas or themes. A lot of books like that are literary fiction (Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, Zadie Smith’s NW, and Philip Hensher’s King of the Badgers are some examples from this year). And maybe it shows some lingering genre prejudice that I’m much more likely to DNF a romance I’m not enjoying, to figure it’s not worth going on (though sometimes I do: Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold, for instance). Even though I will bring a critical eye to romance, I think of it as my “fun” reading and am not that interested in stretching myself, in having the patience to see if there might be a payoff in a book that doesn’t immediately engage me–or to see what others find of interest in it, even though it’s not for me. I can’t treat all my reading like work, I guess, and so much of it is already.