Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why Put a Book Down?

Ariel’s post on Monday was provocative. She mentioned several factors that cause people not to read a book, and she noted that many times we make such decisions based on recommendations from others.

But perhaps now more than ever, a prospective book buyer can evaluate before buying: Some online booksellers give you the opportunity to read a sample chapter or to search within a book you might be interested in.

But of course you don’t buy (or, if in a library, check out) every book you sample.

Why not? I’d like to get the discussion started with--

Eight things that will cause a reader to put a book down

1) Nothing itches enough during the first chapter that would make you want to scratch the second chapter.

2) There is no compelling reason to care about the protagonist. He or she could go straight to hell and you’d wave goodbye, because they’re just characters in a book.

3) You can predict the next plot development. And the next

4) The protagonist (or what she loves) is in tepid water.

5) The story isn’t believable – either illogical or not true to life.

6) The story is too true to life. (Most of life is quite ordinary and doesn’t make good reading.)

7) The book’s outer appearance – art, cover copy, endorsements—writes a check the writer can’t cover.

8) Stereotypes. Of any type.

How about you? What causes you put a book back on the shelf?


Wendy Paine Miller said...

I just put a book down and I was sad to do so. I loved the prologue and the first chapter, so much so I made a friend read it when she came over to visit.

The story progressed slowly.

And then never really went anywhere. The conflict didn't intensify or make me itch, as you say.

I was so disappointed to put it back on my shelf, but I did. Maybe someday I'll pick it back up again. Or maybe I won't.

Jan Cline said...

Actually, for non fiction I'm a real Table of Contents reader. Don't like the Chapter titles - probably wont pick up the book. For fiction, I rely on the back cover and the first page. If the back cover doesn't entice me, I probably wont get it - unless the first page is a hook I cant resist.

PatriciaW said...

I might put a book down if I find that I'm not in the right mindset for it. Maybe next in the TBR pile is romantic suspense or thriller, but I'm in a place mentally and emotionally where I need comedy or women's fiction. At times I've found that when I've started a book but I'm not enjoying it because I'm not in the right space for it, if I put it down and come back to it later, it usually turns out to be an enjoyable read.

Nicole said...

If the back cover copy doesn't grab me, I won't get the book. If the cover doesn't propel me to pick up the book in the first place, well, I won't.

I once reviewed a good novel for the CFBA Tour. However, if I'd seen the cover before the copy, I'd never have picked up the book. The cover (and the title, for that matter) when it arrived made me cringe because it sent the message of "chick lit" which I don't read. The story was not at all that genre, and I enjoyed the book.

I wish I could put down a book. I'm one of those saps who trudges on to the end even when I hate the book (only fiction). I can quit non-fiction in a heartbeat and do.

What makes me want to put down a book is whiny characters, shallow faith in supposed Christian characters, uninteresting writing which sticks to all the rules or writing that seems to break all the rules without realizing it, and total predictability in a mystery, suspense, or thriller.

Latayne C Scott said...

Wendy and Patricia, I appreciated what you said about the condition of the reader -- and not focusing on the condition of the book. You both made a very good point.

Jan, I was talking to my 20-something niece last night who is a nursing student and she told me about a medical bioethics textbook that she described as "mind-numbing." One thing that made the writing all seem alike to her was the fact that each chapter had no title, just "section one" or "section five." She pointed out the importance of chapter headings in giving the reader some insight into where the subject matter is going. (Her prof agreed with the mind-numbing part, BTW.)

Nicole, I thought your list of additional things that will make you put down a book were excellent.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Introducing a huge cast of characters at the beginning can make me lose interest, especially if there's no apparent connection between them. If it's too much work to keep their story lines straight, I'm out. You have to care about one of them to invest yourself.

Latayne C Scott said...

I agree, Debbie. I call that "the overcrowded world syndrome." I'll choose a mental world that's populated with a few great characters any day.

Sarah Forgrave said...

You know that saying, "Don't start a book with weather"? Well, the latest book I picked up started with weather...and 3 pages of introspection. Yikes! And it was published in the last two years. Thankfully it was a gift so I didn't spend my own money on it. It currently sits on my TBRBNL (to-be-read-but-not-likely) pile.

Latayne C Scott said...

Sarah -- you mean it wasn't a dark and stormy night? Except inside the introspective character's head?

Now, there are exceptions of course. I can think of several very good novels in which the weather is itself a character. Any chance this could have been the case there (you could probably answer this just by thumbing through the book)?

Or does anything you've read about the book indicate that the weather was a symbol or other literary device?

Just trying to understand why an editor let the author start a novel that way.

Carla Gade said...

Like, Patricia, sometimes I just have to be in the mindset for that particular book. Other than that, sometimes in the hero/heroine conflict I find one or both too ornery for my liking. If I can't warm up to them in the beginning, I have a hard time accepting their change later on. Also, repetitive writing - same thing said in various places and by various characters.

This is an interesting topic!

Carla Gade said...

I have another . . . sometimes a novel reads like a first draft. Sentences explaining what the previous one was supposed to mean, Lack of creative writing, etc. This really bugs me and insults my intelligence as a discerning reader. Sometimes things are so simply put that it seems like it is meant for a younger reader, not an adult.

Lisa Karon Richardson said...

I've become much pickier since I started writing myself. Partly because it has to be really well written in order to blind me from the mechanics. (It's hard to ignore the man behind the curtain once you know he's there!) And partly because I have less time to devote to reading, even though I love to do it.

I can't always put my finger on what turns me off to a story. Sometimes it's a matter of mood, or just simple preference. But what does pull me in is a sense of storyworld and character and possibility. That feeling of being transported and the anticipation of where this unknown path is leading.

Anonymous said...

Nicole, I'm with you. The back cover copy has to draw me in, but I usually won't get to the back cover copy unless the cover appeals in some way. The exception is if it's an author I know and enjoy, I'll at least turn to the first page. If something hasn't intrigued me, even with the hint of something worth my time, I'll put it down -- or won't order it. And like you, once I start a novel I'm in for the long haul. I may trudge through very page, but I use it as a learning experience.

Sarah, (I'm chewing my nails here) I hope you weren't talking about Lying on Sunday. Started with the weather, with a point and a purpose, followed by a good deal of introspection. But my novels often contain a good deal of introspection. It's just my style.

Latayne C Scott said...

Carla and Lisa, I think you've both identified something I hadn't considered: All of us are inundated with words, and swamped by the opportunities to read. If the writing is amateurish, we don't have the time to wait for it to get better.

Latayne C Scott said...

Sharon, I have to tell you that Lying on Sunday got my attention from the first paragraph-- I didn't even remember you talked about weather.

I, Flavia said...

I think I'm with you, Lisa, if I've interpreted your comment correctly. The writing style has got to be fresh and surprising, or I lose interest very quickly. One interesting thing I've noticed is that, in many of my favorite novels, very little actually happens--and yet, somehow, the author's style makes it captivating. On the other hand, I may initially be inticed by the idea behind the plot, but if it isn't conveyed in an interesting way, the reading process becomes almost wearisome.

Also, I admit (somewhat shamefully) that I often steer clear of the books that Everybody is raving about. Popular hype distorts my vision when approaching what are probably very good books. Maybe it's the horrible cynic inside of me, but if I hear too much about a book I have a hard time isolating it from the hype and thinking of it as a singular work of art. I never seem to make it beyond the first few chapters because I've convinced myself that it can't possibly be as good as Everybody says it is. So, for me, I confess that some books get set aside without a fair chance.

Marti Pieper said...

I agree with the previous comments. I'll also add add that too much backstory too soon causes me to put down a book (or at least close my eyes in disgust.

Something else that turns me away is an expression of faith that's contrived and thus unrealistic. Don't TELL me about your character's faith; instead, allow him to live so it SHOWS.

Great discussion!

Latayne C Scott said...

Flavia, you hit on something that Edgar Allen Poe wrote about and I've never forgotten -- that little imp of the perverse that causes us to resist doing things. I never thought about it affecting reading selections, though.

Marti, I couldn't agree more about the sledgehammer approach that some writers think is necessary to get the "Christian" focus across to readers. It makes me run away, throwing the book far from me!

Lynn Squire said...

I've become very choosy in the last few years. I know what publishers print books I don't like. I know what authors I don't enjoy. When I get past those two things, if the book is written in first person I set it down immediately.

I love reading stories where the writing is beautiful, almost lyrical. I'll read a story like that even if the plot isn't great. But if the writing is clunky, I won't press on.

If description rules, I won't read. I want emotion and action, not the various details of the character's dress.

Subject matter is another win/lose item. I love historicals and I love mysteries, but both will be put down if I suspect the writer's worldview will clash with mine or if it has anything to do with cowboys and horses and ranching. I end up not enjoying those books because I find myself critiquing them.

Latayne C Scott said...

Lynn, our tastes are similar. (Except for the first-person thing: Nobody is more surprised than me that I'm actually writing a first-person novel. Go figure.)

And I love the word "clunky." I'll put clunky writing down so fast you'd think it was on fire.

Lori Benton said...

I usually finish books I start, unless they fail to hold my interest enough to remember to keep picking them up to read another chapter or two. The older I get and the more I write, the broader are the genres and author world views and subject matters I find myself interested in reading. I want a better understanding of how a person very different from me thinks. How they approach life, why they believe what they do. So why do some books get buried under my TBR pile after a few chapters, to make room for the books I can't put down? The answer is probably unique to each book. Something failed to engage, whether it was character, writing style, story urgency or a combo of those.

Latayne C Scott said...

Lori, I like that. The books we put down are broken engagements.