Reading a mediocre novel: finish it or fling it?Posted: February 11, 2013
In the highly subjective world of fiction, there are many ways to navigate. Some people always finish the books they start reading. They’ll chew through just about anything, refraining from judgement until they’re read the entire thing. Whereas some readers are quick to abandon a book they’re not thrilled about. Life is too short to spend their leisure time doing something they’re not enjoying.
I fall into the second group. I don’t mind being confused by a story; I’d rather deduce what’s going on from the subtle context cues, instead of sitting through a paragraph of dry, patronizing explanation. But if the prose seems cliched or stiff or bloated, or the characters aren’t interesting, complex people, I’m quick to drop the book and consider myself done. Sure, an author worked hard to write each and every story in existence. But my time is valuable, too. I’ve never found the completion goal to be worth it. Slogging through a book I’m not enjoying just makes me think of all the things I’d rather be doing.
I think I’m comfortable abandoning books for two main reasons:
1) I don’t mind disagreeing with popular opinion. Just because a book is a bestseller or an alleged classic doesn’t mean I feel obligated to like it myself. I do try to objectify why I don’t like it, though. Dune, for example, is a book I hated and couldn’t force myself to keep reading. That’s because it’s a very political story. It bothered me that the neat invented world wasn’t front and center: it seemed more like a thin excuse for the privileged rich people to betray each other, which I could watch on modern Earth news if I cared. But hundreds of thousands of people like Dune‘s political intrigue and found it a revelation. That’s okay. I’m just not one of them — and I don’t need to inflict all 800-ish pages on myself to prove that.
2) I read a lot of amateur fiction online. Fanfiction, original stories, artists writing backstory material for their drawings, quietly self-published experiments — all sorts of stuff. Little bites of randomness. More of my time goes to that than to reading Actual Published Novels. Sturgeon’s Revelation says that 90% of everything is crap, so everything logically has a 10% margin of goodness. Reading rough amateur work means sifting though a lot of the 90%, which has taught me to quickly ascertain whether a thing I’ve found is worth my time. Whereas if you’re used to buying books from big publishers, you might be more optimistic, assuming that this thing must be worth reading if someone went to the effort to publish a half a million copies. If you dropped $20 or $30 on the book or made a trip all the way to the library for it, you’re more invested in the story, literally and figuratively.
Ultimately, I think finishing vs. flinging is mostly a matter of taste. It’s as individual as your genre preference, or whether you like the feel of paperbacks better than ereaders. There’s no quantifying any of it, really. Sometimes we can’t even say for sure what we like or dislike — we just know it when it’s in our hands.
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