I ran into a little snafu with my plan to read and review all the books on the short list for the Sarton Literary Award . . . what do I do if I don’t like a book? I tend to only write reviews for books that I feel I can give 4 or 5 stars to–books that draw me in and make me want to read more. While a 3 star book, for me, is something that I liked (or at least enjoyed elements of it); it isn’t one that will stay with me forever or one that inspires me in some way. Anything below that, is either painful for me to get through or I found simply awful.
Now, I’m not saying any of the Sarton books will fall in the 1 or 2 star category (I hope not) and I still have every intention of reading all the books on that list. But, what do I do if something is–in my opinion–a 3? For example, one of the books I have read so far is filled with rich, beautiful, powerful description. I would love to have that capacity to provide that sense of place, and develop an atmosphere that almost becomes a character itself. But, in terms of plot and characterization, the story didn’t work for me. I didn’t find myself caring for the characters, and the story seemed over-dramatic without very much ever really happening. While I wish to support my sister authors, I also don’t want to lead people into reading books that I wouldn’t really recommend.
Yesterday I read an article written by Sadie L. Trombetta on Bustle called “10 Signs You Should Give Up On a Book You’re in the Middle Of (No Really It’s Okay)” and she lists the following 10 reasons:
1. You Hate The Main Characters
2. You Keep Falling Asleep While Reading It
3. You’ve Read Other Books In The Meantime
4. You Keep Getting Caught Up In The Grammatical Errors
5. You’re Only Reading It Because It’s Hot Right Now
6. You Haven’t Laughed Once
7. You Already Googled The Ending
8. You Keep Eyeballing Your TBR Pile
9. Your Daydreams Are More Entertaining
10. You’re Dreading Bedtime, AKA Reading Time
[Bonus points for anyone who finds the glaring error in her article, which kind of made me laugh.]
I’m not sure I agree with her entire list, but it did get me thinking about when I stop reading. I used to read everything, no matter how much I hated something. I believed that someone put hard work into it, so I should at least have enough respect to finish it. Or sometimes there was just enough . . . something . . . to make me see a book through to the end. Recently, however I’ve started to say “No” this book is not for me and put things aside, even though I might slog my way through half the book before I give up.
What makes me give up? For me, it is a combination of three things:
- An inability to empathize with any of the characters:I don’t have to like the character, but I do have to understand the character’s motives
- A confusing plot: It all comes down to story for me. If I can’t understand what is happening, or find any through line that keeps me moving forward, then there really isn’t any reason to read.
- Poor editing: Face it, it is easier than ever to publish a book nowadays (if you aren’t trying to break into traditional publishing). Often, books are put out before they are ready, without editing, copyediting, or even revision. Heck, even traditionally published books seem to be suffering from speed and less care. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read recently that made me wonder “why could this person get a publishing contract, when other people can’t?” But, I digress. If a book is filled with typos, misspellings, poor grammar that clearly isn’t a choice, or long rambling passages that do nothing to further the story and could have been cut, I think it is perfectly fine to set that book aside.
Still, there are times that I stick it out. Maybe I am intrigued by how the author is going to pull this off. Maybe I hope that somehow it will get better. Maybe I see a glimmer of possibility. Usually, however, I am disappointed and end up wishing I had stopped.
What makes you stop reading? When do you draw the line for writing book reviews?