Friday, March 7, 2014

Book Dumping

by Peg Brantley
Evocative Characters. Intriguing Crime. Compelling Stories.



My husband believes that if he begins to read a book he is somehow contractually obligated to finish the book. I used to feel that way. No longer.

I'm reading a book by an author I've enjoyed in the past. It even has an endorsement on the cover from one of my very favorite crime fiction authors, Michael Connelly. The first scene portrayed a deliberate death so naturally I was hooked.

Only now I'm about half-way through the book and am beginning to believe I might have been hoodwinked. I've gone back to the flap three times to read the story description and I'm stressed that this could be some kind of departure from the type of book this author has always written, and I missed the clues. Don't get me wrong, it's a good story. Just not what I'd expected when I forked over my twenty-or so bucks. I've decided to keep reading and see if I end up satisfied or disappointed and full of suspicion for the future books this author releases into the world.

Which begs the question: When do you back away from a book? When does it become a DNF? A Did Not Finish?

And secondly, if you have a DNF from a particular author, will you read her/him again?

Here's my list (at least for now):


  • Lack of tension. Who wants to read a story (any story) where everything is perfect and people are happy? I'm not even completely crazy about perfectly happy endings.
  • Characters without goals. Again, who wants to read a story where everyone is happy as things are?
  • Too much narrative. Give me visual space. Give me dialogue. Give me life. Let me breathe.
  • Characters I don't like. I know this is a new angle, but it doesn't work for me. I picked up a book in the middle of a wildly popular series, and the protagonist made me alternately roll my eyes and clench my teeth. 
  • Too many characters. After hearing about another much-loved author and her enduring series, I began reading her books, but from the beginning. In the first few pages, more than twenty characters were introduced. I closed the book and happily moved on to the next one in my pile.

What about you? Are there deal-breakers that cause you to dump a book?

29 comments:

  1. I'm with you on the "too many characters," especially introduced too close together. I admit, my stories tend to be complex, and in the long run, include a lot of people, but I space the introductions and use subtle reminders to help readers identify characters after a break from them.

    As for books I don't finish, I also share your concern about feeling "hoodwinked." I'm less bothered by a mediocre story than a novel that is not what it's described to be in the jacket copy and/or marketing. With the former, I'll give the author another try. With the latter, they lose my trust and I'm not likely to buy their books again.

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    1. I've read all of your books, L.J., and you do a wonderful job at reminding me who's who.

      The good news regarding the book I'm currently reading is that there was another murder in the bit I read last night. I remain hopeful. (No, not a serial killer. Just someone trying to cover their tracks...I think.)

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  2. I never met a book I couldn't finish until two years ago. I had a book recommended to me by a blogger and thought it sounded like the kind of thing I would enjoy (it felt as if it was going to be similar to a Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum novel, before that series lost its steam). I couldn't make it past the first chapter. Because I wrote a review for that book (a kind one), I analyzed what it was that made me put it down. Your points above applied, Peg. Namely 1, and 3-5. Too many characters too fast, a main protagonist that irritated me, scenes that did not move the plot, lack of tension.

    I then met my second and third DNFs last year (hmm, this is making me sound like a tough date...). They were by authors I discovered through social media and became friendly with. Points 1-3 and 5 were applicable once more. What made me sad was that both novels held incredible promise. They had been published before they were ready and before they had been lovingly ripped apart and put back together by a good editor. There was far too much telling and I couldn't connect with the protagonists. In short, I didn't give a damn what happened to these characters.

    I used to feel that it was sacrilege not to finish a book I had purchased. I still feel horribly guilty when I have to give up on a book, but I'm learning to live with that feeling. Life is too short. Also, liking a book is such a subjective feeling. There will be people who enjoy the books I DNF, and vice versa. I'm sure there will be people out there who will DNF my own books ;) (but I hope not too many!)

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    1. Unless I can read a sample on my Kindle, or try a new author at a ridiculously low price, I've begun looking for library support. The only problem is the library doesn't carry everyone's books.

      Even with those things in place, sad things with books still happen. Life is far too short and there are far too many books to spend time reading one I'm not enjoying.

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  3. I'm afraid I'm like your husband, Peg. I feel almost obsessed with finishing any book that I start, even if it's a horrid one. Sometimes I wonder if it's like that obsession to clean my plate because children are starving somewhere in the world.

    The only book I haven't finished is The Pickwick Papers, and I don't consider that a DNF. It's just that I pick it up, read a chapter, go away, and then have to re-read the chapter because I don't remember what was happening.

    Still, I have the same gripes as you, that IF I were to discard a book before finishing it, those are the reasons. I've encountered them all and suffered through them. Perhaps I should stop doing that. Life is too short to read bad books, huh?

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    1. There ya go... you're gettin' it. ;-)

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  4. Can't help being curious about these apparently big named authors you're talking about. I'll freely admit that I've been very disappointed with some of Elizabeth George's recent departures, and Patricia Cornwell's, too. It's as if the characters have the same names but are different people than they started. Well, I suppose you could say that's the character arc, but that's sort of like a bait-and-switch.

    As for your question, it depends. I've put down a few books recently, but they're mostly ones I've downloaded through BookBub--authors I was trying out on the cheap, and decided they were not for me. But when I invest more than $20 in an author I've been loyal to for years, I tend to finish.

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    1. To be honest, I'm not sure who the author is for the one whose character I disliked. The character was female and a private detective. I think maybe she was blond.

      The discussion about the one with way too many characters is best done over a glass of wine.

      The book I'm reading now is DON'T GO by Lisa Scottoline. I'm enjoying it, have had a suspense track in the back of my mind from the beginning, but I'm not sure she and I are going to the same train station.

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    2. A blond female private detective? Oh no! It's Peri! (LOL)

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    3. No, Gayle! I promise! This detective had absolutely no sense of humor. Or humility. I love Peri!

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  5. Excellent list, Peg! I heartily agree with all your criteria for giving up on a book. For me, I'd add "Too much graphic violence."

    I don't pay more than about $13 for a book, and rarely that much. I buy a lot of e-books and second-hand books and also use the library. I buy new paperbacks by my favorite authors or other bestsellers. I don't buy hardcover books anymore.

    Since I edit books all day, for my own recreational reading I'm very discerning - okay, fussy. Okay, demanding. If a book doesn't grab me by the end of the first or second chapter, I'm outta there! Totally guilt-free. Life is too short and there are too many other great books out there to waste time with a boring or mediocre one.

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    1. I was reading a book by Karin Slaughter awhile ago (another favorite), and she does have some rather graphic scenes. Not too many, but she doesn't shy away from them either. One day I want to go back and dissect them, but at the moment I was too into the story to want to get all craft-oriented.

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    2. I can take a few graphically violent scenes, interspersed through the novel, but don't hit me with one on the first page! That's a real turn-off for me. I need to work up to these things.

      I love Karin Slaughter - she's an excellent author! Other favorite authors of mine like Robert Crais and Lee Child do include graphic violence, but again, they're interspersed and infrequent enough that I still enjoy their novels.

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    3. I just bought one of hers this weekend, and a Koontz. Reading the Koontz now and absolutely loving it. Oh, and I purchased a much talked about non-crime fiction... THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN.

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  6. I've only just recently given myself permission to not finish a book I've begun reading. For me, there's no set criteria--only that if I do not find myself drawn to pick it up when I'd otherwise be ready to sit down and read, I know it's time to move on.

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    1. Smart!

      Blogmate Sheila Lowe just told me she does something along the lines of a food test. Read while eating, and then if she wants to continue with the story she's good to go.

      Did I get that right, Sheila?

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  7. Same as your husband, I used to feel obliged to finish the book, even when I had to go back to it a few years later (which happened with Pride & Prejudice, started it a few times, but forced myself to finish it until last year. I started to love it on chapter 31!).

    When it dawn on me that I may not have all the time to read all the books that I want, I've started to turn more selective in my reading, and feel no qualms about dropping a book if not engage. This year I began a two-column list: finished & unfinished. Will give you the results by December.

    My gauge as to when to stop reading is very empiric and far from rocket science. I'd sum it up by saying that if I reach 10-5% of it without me realizing it, it is a good sign. Other books I keep track of the % every page...that's a bad sign. (If printed then page 50 if the point of no return.)

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    1. Looking forward to that list! If you can, make a quick note of the reason(s) you quit reading.

      Btw, not liking a book until Chapter 31 is beyond my endurance.

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  8. I used to feel obligated to finish any book I started (probably because my mom brought me up as a member of the 'clean plate club') But lately, I've been following the rule: Subtract your age from 100. That's how many pages you should feel 'obligated' to read. And I've lost the guilt about giving a book a DNF. Whether I go back to that author again? Maybe, but I definitely wouldn't pay for the book. Libraries are my friend. I remember someone telling me that if I got past page 200 in Dragon Tattoo, I'd like it. I don't think it should take 200 pages to get to the 'good stuff' (and I only finished the book because it was a Book Club pick)

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    1. I've heard of that age rule before. Sort of reflects the "life is too short" philosophy.

      There's something about Scandinavian books that drag for me and I've learned to pass on them.

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  9. Your list has me mentally rechecking my current work-in-progress for symptoms of DNF. That's good, because the points are valid enough to stir wariness of falling into a pattern--one that paves the way to an author's worst nightmare.

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    1. Exactly why I'm trying to pay attention. *wink*

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  10. I have had more DNFs than I used to. And yes, too many characters and most of them are characters I don't like (big name author characters). I find using the Kindle hard when there are too many characters cuz I can't keep going back and forth to figure out who they are. But, to be honest, I'd probably not like them in a paper book either! I feel horrid about DNFs I've collected, especially when EVERYONE seems to LOVE them. (caps included!) Personally, if I want to ground your character in the first two chapters, I'm not gonna want to finish your book. I have cats and young adults in my house, I don't need fictional brats, too. Your first point is also one I can relate to. Heck, even Pollyanna was seriously injured at one point. Good stuff!

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    1. Thanks, Kris.

      My DNFs are also books others love. That just goes to show the wide variety of reading tastes out there.

      Thanks for joining the conversation!

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  11. I am a recovered "have to finish if I start" reader.
    As others have said above - life is too short! I usually give the author 75 to 100 pages before I bail. If at that point I really don't care what happens to the characters and/or the plot is lame...adios.
    I would add to your list - plots that are not credible or are founded on an errant premise.

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    1. Great addition to the list, Tom. I definitely agree with that one!

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    2. Tom, you reminded me of another issue some readers have, and that's presenting something (even if it's not critical to the plot) that obviously hasn't been researched and is totally incorrect. I have friends who have closed the covers on a wonderful book because the author got one tiny detail wrong.

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  12. I've only had a few DBFs. My first was some old paperback thing I picked up somewhere about vampires in Victorian England, and it was boring as hell. The next was John Jake's historical series. Around about book 3 I started to realize how dark his books were (to me, anyway). He had a penchant for killing off all the good characters I cared about, so I dumped him. My latest DNF was by an author I usually like reading - Dan Simmons. I tried to get into "Abominable", read about a 100 or so pages, but it was tough going. Too much of nothing going on but exposition and back story (to me, anyway. Others may like it).

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    1. Boredom is huge. Nothing going on is terrible. We're supposed to entertain, for crying out loud.

      Good points!

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