Thursday, 14 July 2016

Why I give up on books

My worst reading habit is buying a book, reading the first few pages and then giving up on it. I've done this a lot over the years (there's at least 50 unread books on my Kindle), so I have by now managed to get some idea about what causes me to abandon a book. Not that it stops me from buying a book and subsequently adding it to the "failed to finish" pile, mind.

Anyway, these are (some of) the reasons I give up on a book.

1. Takes ages to get to the flipping point
I don't mind a slow burner, and actually avoid fast-paced thrillers, but I have no patience for a story that hasn't got any further (or even not as far) than the description on the dust jacket by a quarter of the way in. I mean you, Moby Dick. You're supposed to be an allegorical tale about hunting a whale but when I was at "25%", according to my Kindle, no-one had left dry land, Captain Ahab had just made the briefest of cameos, and the eponymous Moby was not even a blip on the horizon. 

2. Characters that don't act like normal human beings
I like weird and wonderful characters and have no problem with characters that have mental illnesses (so perhaps act in bizarre ways). What I hate is when a character doesn't act in a way that makes sense for them or their situation. I lost the will to live with To Rise Again At A Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris for several reasons but mainly because the main character, Paul, reacts in a really stupid way when he discovers that someone is faking his identity online (such as getting into petty arguments)  - ignoring the most obvious solutions to his dilemma (like contacting social media sites etc). OK it is as my mother used to say "just a story" but, urgh, THAT'S NOT HOW ANYONE - EVEN THE MOST CLUELESS PERSON ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA - WOULD BEHAVE!

3. The characters are people I would actively avoid in real life
I couldn't bear Michael Faber's The Crimson Petal and The White because one of its main protagonists, William, is this arrogant, self-obsessed, tool of a man. Admittedly, he's supposed to be this way as Faber is showing (very successfully it has to be said) how "captains of industry" could be complete prize doofuses. Thing is I read to escape life, to escape the prize doofuses I come across in real life (I am speaking generally not about anyone in particular in case anyone gets paranoid); therefore, why would I actively choose to spent time with an idiot? The Crimson Petal and The White is a pretty large tome, so reading whole the book would be like sitting next to, and having to make chit chat to, Michael Gove (So Mikey, how does it feel to have banjaxed your career by being backstabbing toad?"), on a long haul flight.

4. It's pretentious
As someone who comes out in an allergic rash should I spend too much time in hipsterville areas like Shoreditch, any suggestion that a book is going to be pretentious sets my teeth on edge. Recently, I attempted to read Tom McCarthy's Satin Island for my book group. The Guardian, in a less than glowing review, describes it as being "packed with daring cerebral insights" and calls it "avant-garde" - which would normally be enough for me to say "nope" and move on. But, given it was a book group book, I persevered... until page 23 and then said nope after confirming that it was indeed incredibly pretentious. Too clever by half is "too clever" for me.

5. All doom and gloom
I don't need a happy ending (or even happy beginning or middle), but I do need hope when I am reading a book. Life, particularly given what's being going on at the moment, can be pretty depressing. Therefore, I have never understood the desire to read fiction books that are completely negative. Surely if you want to read something bleak, you should buy a newspaper? For this reason, I've given up on many dystopian novels - including Margaret Atword's celebrated novel, The Handmaid's Tale. That said, Kazuo Ishiguro is my favourite author and his books aren't exactly renown for their optimism, but I think his books are a better reflection of real life - a mix of both negative and positive (and we all have to muddle along the best we can).

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