Wednesday, October 19, 2011

on reading crap novels. and then not.

i have a problem. it seems pretty insurmountable. i've lived with it for years and i doubt i'll ever overcome it. once i start a novel, i am compelled to finish it, no matter how crappy it is. recent cases in point: iain banks' dead air. jennifer egan's a visit from the good squad. anything by hanne vibeke holst (i've recently read dronningeofret and kongemordet (HVH has her finger on the pulse of danish politics, but as a writer is somewhere between dan brown and steig larsson - in other words - mediocre at best).

it's actually rather strange, since what i studied for rather longer than most was literature. so what is it about a crappy novel that makes me unable to stop reading it when i discover it's crap?  why is it that a conscious awareness that life is too short doesn't even make me stop. in fact, i'll stay up late, frantically reading, rushing towards the finish. just to get it over with. why, oh why do i do this when there are so many good books in the world that warrant my attention?

when i think about authors that have truly captured my attention and deserved to be read to the end and then read again with a kind of manic attention, only two come to mind. only two authors have written stories and created worlds so compelling that i felt quite literally sucked into them...a part of the book and the universe it described. books i looked up from and was surprised to find myself in my own home (or on a plane or in a hotel room or in the car or the bathtub). worlds so deep that i felt i lost a little bit of myself there. and i mourned quietly when i was finished with the book and found that i wasn't inhabiting that world at all, except in the pieces of it i indelibly carry with me, because it was so well-written.

so why is it that when books don't do that, don't even come close to that, i still can't put them aside?

maybe it's because it's so seldom it happens.

there's only one dostoevsky and only one murakami. the rest don't even come close.


Magpie said...

i'm usually compelled to finish books, too. but i'm pretty good about starting only the ones i really want to read.

recently, i've been reading the beginnings of MANY books, because i can get them free on the kindle. it whets my appetite, and usually i feel sated. only occasionally do i spring for the rest of the book. just read "half baked" - non-fiction, but thoroughly fascinating memoir of IVF, pregnancy, NICU.

will said...

We change, modifying our tastes, perspectives and expectations.

I cannot comment on how to put down a mediocre book but I do know this: books that were once enthralling don't always remain so. Years ago I thought Ken Kesey's "Sometimes A Great Notion" was awesome. I recently attempted to re-read it and I gave up - the story no longer resonated.

On the other hand, Matt Rudd's "Bad Monkeys" - a simple tale - was a page burner, I devoured it because it was so well written and I had to know the ending. Is it grand literature? No, but it's one of those books that folds you into it's mystery and you're let down when there are no more pages to read.

Viola said...

Haha, I have that too :) What can you do...
I also adore Murakami, I love everything he writes! And Dostojevski... I've read crime and punishment, time to read his other work :)

d smith kaich jones said...

does this only apply to novels/books? do you watch bad tv shows all the way through? do you get up and leave the movie theater if the film is bad, or do you stay? are you laughing at the badness as you read or are you hoping it will improve?

SO many questions here. like bill, i have no advice - it is easy easy for me to stop something i'm not liking. and ditto bill on sometimes a great notion.

shall we have an intervention? ;-)

Snap said...

"there's only one dostoevsky and only one murakami. the rest don't even come close." There's something to be said for THE search ... perhaps there is another murakami or dostoevsky out there somewhere!!!!!!!!
Read on!

Spilling Ink said...

I used to feel compelled to finish books out of respect for the author.

I can't finish books anymore unless they really capture me. I want to be drawn into a story and be among the characters and in their world. If I can't have that I just don't want to read.

I don't read a lot nowadays...I miss it.

Indiri Wood said...

Somehow you keep hoping that it will get better. Especially if someone recommended it to you because what does it say about them that the book they likes sucks?

I still feel guilty about the book I didn't finish last year and annoyed about the one I did that was terrible. A solution to that problem would be lovely.

Katrine said...

I suffer the same problem. I think I was able to stop and put a to me disappointing book aside only twice in my whole lie. I think it is a weird mixture of respect for the author and the hope the story/the writing/the mood might still increase. Last thing happened to me once when I felt really bored and then, reaching the last third, everything gathered spped and the became a pageturner. Since that I always give them a chance until the last word. But most of the time it´s like you said; i read as fast as I can just to get it done.
And yes, it is the same with movies and tv series, though my thankworthy my boyfriend brings an end to it when I can´t.

julochka said...

strangely, i don't suffer the same problem with movies or bad television (sometimes i watch bad television on purpose - can you say "big fat gypsy wedding" or "toddlers & tiaras"). no problem not watching the rest of a film or a tv program. and i don't have the same problem with non-fiction - it's really just novels. i suppose it is out of some twisted respect/hope that it will get better...