I’ve mentioned before that I’m generally pretty driven to finish books. I always want to know what happens, even when the book isn’t particularly good. That said, there are four books I’ve currently stopped in the middle of, all for different reasons.
The first will remain nameless. I picked it up from the library because it seemed like my flavor of fluff reading – I like steampunk, and I like hero(in)es who don’t necessarily make their way in the world by their abilities to mete out damage. Unfortunately, I found it uninspiring, or perhaps uninspired. Still, I kept reading until quite late in the book because I wanted to know what happened. And as I said before, hope springs eternal, at least in my breast. It might have gotten better. But it was late, I was tired, and finally I just put it down for the night. I woke up the next morning with no desire to pick it up again. I’m still curious about what happens, but I’d rather spend my time reading something I like more. It’s not that it’s a terrible book; it didn’t do anything egregiously wrong. It’s just also not that good. The characters (or characterization, or both) are fairly predictable, as is the plot, the worldbuilding is hazy, and the writing isn’t strong enough to make up for it.* There’s always a sort of vague dissatisfaction with these sorts of books for me, and a similarly vague irritation with myself for finishing them, or continuing them however far I did. They’re just good enough without being actually good, and I always wind up asking myself why I kept going.
The second will also remain nameless, for slightly different reasons. I really liked the concept for this one. I really did. (I’m not going to say what it is, because it’s considerably more unique than the concept for the last book, probably enough to identify it on its own.) But somehow, I’m having trouble getting through it, and I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why. I wouldn’t have said it’s a particularly dense book, yet it feels like a slog anyway. I pick it up, read a little, put it down again. The last time I picked it up, I flipped to the middle thinking that had been about where I was, and had to flip back several chapters to find my actual place, which was fifty-some pages earlier. I still want to finish it, and I probably will. But it’ll take me a while.
The third book is The Robber Bride, by Margaret Atwood. I picked it up at a used book sale, I think, because I’ve liked other works of hers I’ve read – The Handmaid’s Tale, “Happy Endings,” The Blind Assassins. There isn’t anything about this book not to like, at least for me.** I love the characters. They’re all so beautifully realized, so completely themselves. I’m fascinated by the relationships between them, which seem almost like the workings of gravity on planets. The planets are bound into one system, but immense gulfs of emptiness lie between them. And when some new object enters, their alignments shift in response, out of old equilibriums. The characters all seem similarly isolated from yet connected to one another, as if every other person is a vast unknown, interacted with but not understood. But as all this probably suggests, the book is in no way light reading. I set it down a while back because I just wasn’t up for the heavy stuff at the time, and I haven’t yet picked it up again. I will eventually.
The last book is Beasts of Tabat, by Cat Rambo. It has a simple, clean style I enjoy. Above all, however, I grew deeply invested in one of the main characters, Bella Kanto. She’s not exactly likeable, but she is profoundly compelling, at least to me. And then she did something that I just know is going to go terribly, horribly wrong. It’s not something that necessarily has dire consequences in the world. It’s not out of character, either. But Things are Going On, and I’m somehow convinced it’s a setup. I got so worked up over it that I had to put the book down. It’s like covering your eyes in a horror movie when you know someone’s about to be killed in some grisly way. Except that I stopped the movie, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to start it up again because I’m so anxious over what will happen next.
To be honest, I’m not sure what possessed me to ramble on about this. Just reflecting on why I continue books when I feel like I shouldn’t, and stop reading books I want to finish. I’m not sure my reflections have come to much, though. Sometimes I feel as if I ought to somehow read differently – be better at setting down mediocre books and better at continuing good ones, read more of this type of book and less of that type. I try to remind myself that I read because I enjoy it, not to fulfill some sort of rubric. If I try to change that, the result is likely not to be “better reading,” whatever that is, but less reading. That won’t serve either goal. So I will continue to read as I will – which is good, since I’m not sure I can do anything else. I’ll just try to worry over it less. That may not work out either, but I suppose reading habits, like everything else in life, are a work in progress. Such is lectitare.
* I don’t want to give so thoroughly negative an impression of this book. There are plenty of worse books out there, some of which I have in fact read all the way through, some of which are wildly popular. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would enjoy this book, and they should go right ahead. Importantly, this is so far as I can tell the first published novel by this author, which means that they are no doubt early on their learning curve, will likely improve, and shouldn’t be judged based solely on a beginner’s piece.
** Except for possibly parts of the cover copy. “Margaret Atwood reports from the farthest reaches of the war between the sexes.” ‘War between the sexes,’ really? And you started out so well, cover copy.