Are books failing me or am I failing them?

There’s something I miss about reading only physical books. I can’t throw eBooks or audio books at the wall when I don’t like them (Well I could I guess but I’m not prepared to hurl several hundred dollars worth of gadgetry at a wall to make a juvenille point).

Although I am willing enough to stop reading a book I am not enjoying it doesn’t happen that often these days. This year there had been about 10 incidents before yesterday but as I have read over 150 books this year it’s not a bad rate (and half of them were books I tried for the Eastern European Reading Challenge which has, I admit, stumped me). But I stopped 2 books this weekend. Is it my mood I wondered? Or coincidence? And whose fault is it anyway?

The first book was a debut one by an Australian author and I picked it because it is set in my home town (partly at any rate) and is very topical. Billed as a thriller about the escape of some inmates of the one of the detention centres in which successive governments have chosen to house people who arrive on our shores seeking refuge from turmoil in their own countries I was looking forward to the book. It actually started out fairly well, introducing a few credibly Aussie characters and setting the scene for something interesting. But at page 121 (of 343) I realised absolutely nothing of interest to me had occurred. And the book was getting clunkier by the minute. Large tracts of preaching disguised poorly as exposition had started to make my blood boil by that point and so I gave up. I should point out for the record that I agree wholeheartedly with the political leanings of the novel (I am deeply ashamed of the way we treat these refugees) but, by crikey, if you must lecture me while I read at least have the decency to entertain me as well. I figured the author had definitely lost me when I realised I was only engaged by counting how many of my home town’s major roads would be named (we were up to about 11 by the time I threw in the towel as the two main charactes drove randomly all over town doing nothing that could be remotely interpreted as thrilling).

The second book I gave up on today was also Australian. Or sort of. The author has lived here for years but this book is set partly in his native South Africa, partly in England and partly  (I think) in Germany. Or maybe Austria. Or somewhere else in Europe I really wasn’t sure. Which is the point. I was at 17 of 42 relatively short chapters of the audio book – so near enough to half way – when I realised I had virtually no idea what was going on. Not a clue. I had listened to the opening 3 or 4 chapters three times and had replayed other parts twice but if you held a gun at my head right now I could not give you a sensible synopsis of the plot. My non-sensible synopsis is that there were two blokes in two different story threads. One was a bodyguard who lost all his clients on one particularly bad day (which happened in the first 2 minutes) and then he went to England and made some phone calls. The other bloke had been a hostage (?) for a long time in Beirut. And he wasn’t happy. Some might say the problem is with the audio format but nearly one third of the books I read are in audio format so by now I’m a pretty good listener. The book just didn’t make much sense.

If you are a non-finisher of books do you blame yourself for not being smart enough to get the meaning? Or do you blame the author for not writing a better book? Or do you just chalk it up to chance and move on to something else? Want to share your latest non-finished book and the reason you didn’t finish it (you don’t have to name the book or author if you don’t want to).

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18 Responses to Are books failing me or am I failing them?

  1. Sorry you’ve had a bad run.
    I would rarely blame myself for not being able to finish a book. Sometimes it is that the book is just too difficult but even then I usually believe I could finish it if I tried harder. Most of the time though I think it just comes down to mood. Sometimes you just aren’t in the right mood for a book and there’s nothing wrong with that. You might come back to it at a later stage and find that it fine.
    Its particularly a shame about that first book you mentioned. Sounded like it has great potential, but I agree that there is something awful about reading a fiction book and feeling preached at. Last book I read like that was The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham. Luckily I still enjoyed the book but there was too much of the author’s philosophy for my tastes.


  2. I used to persevere with finishing a book but by God The Da Vinci Code cured me of that and how. I agree with what Becky says about having to be in the mood. I think of certain movies as ‘mood movies’. It’s incredible to me that I can have such divergent reactions to the same movie, depending on my mood. No, I don’t blame myself as being ‘not smart enough’ to get a book. Even the most overtly literary works should still be readable for the story alone, whether or not one gets the deep and meaningful of it all. Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh is a good example. I’m sure I didn’t get the half of what was there to be got, but it could be read purely for the story and it was a very memorable story to boot.


  3. Cliff Bott says:

    I tend to blame myself if I persevere with a book too long. There is no shortage of choice and life is too short to spend reading stuff one doesn’t enjoy. Unfortunately I seem to be becoming less decisive about non-finishing. Reading the comment about ‘The da Vinci Code’ reminded me that I abandoned it after two pages. Lately I’ve become too tolerant.

    The last murder-mystery I abandoned was ‘The Snowman’ by Jo Nesbø. By the time I got up to here:

    ‘When Harry got home he tried to masturbate into the sink but spewed instead and peered up at the calendar hanging on the nail under the top cupboard.’

    I felt like throwing up myself. Not because I found that passage particularly offensive, but rather because it seemed to sum up the standard of the writing to that point. I have to admit that it was only half an abandonment because I did skim-read the rest to see if the murders were explained satisfactorily (they weren’t).

    Another good post – I don’t don’t think our tastes in books (or our political leanings) are too similar but I do enjoy reading your blog. Thanks.


  4. Maxine says:

    I’ve just given up on three (all print) – at least one of which had received positive reviews by those whose reviews I trust. Before that I’d gone through a very good phase, so I suppose I mustn’t complain. I don’t think it is anyone’s fault as such, if a book doesn’t gel. The three I have just stopped (after about 100 pages in each case) were not badly written, in one case is well-written in fact, but they simply failed to engage me on any level – mainly I couldn’t care less about what happened or about the characters. I always have plenty of books around so I just move onto the next.


  5. Barbara says:

    Sometimes it’s just chemistry – a book that clicks with one reader may leave another cold. Sometimes the books are just not very good – which seems to be the case here!


  6. Sarah says:

    I used to plough on to the bitter end with my books but no longer. I have too much I want to read to bother any more. My only gripe is when I have spent money on the book. I think I’m more likely to carry on reading a print book than an electronic one but I’m not positive. I will keep an eye on this and see!


  7. Keishon says:

    I’ve never blamed myself or thought it was my fault for not “getting” a book that I can’t finish reading. Some books are just flat out unreadable and boring and why should I waste my time reading them? Reviews at sites like Amazon and such are not to be trusted because friends/family and fans can leave five star glowing reviews and when you read the book yourself, it seems as if you are the one out of the loop when you can’t even finish it. My motto is: life is too short for bad books. It’s even worse when you’ve spent money on them, too. But one person’s trash is someone else’s treasure so I agree with Barbara – it’s just chemistry.


  8. Barbara says:

    I rarely fail to finish a book although the ones you describe would defeat even my patience. When I do, I might figure it just isn’t well written or the characters are a failure. On the other hand, sometimes I’ve stumbled into a genre I don’t like by mistake. If it’s simply that I’m not in the mood for it, I’ll put it back in TBR for another day/another mood.

    Even though it’s so hard to get a book published these days, there are still a ton of poorly written failures, insomnia cures, and books that have no plot or such an inane plot you can’t bear it. And that isn’t new. In other words, you aren’t failing them and one of these days you’ll get on a roll with a series of books that just blow you away.


  9. Norman says:

    I have just finished a book that if it had not been on my Kindle I would have chucked it at the wall several times. I will be posting about my feelings in the next few days. All the reviews of it are good, the book is well researched and I thought at the beginning I would really like it; but as I got further along the style and the frenetic pace of the storytelling drove me mad. I have decided that sometimes even if you are in a minority of one you just won’t like a particular book.


  10. First book sounds like the fault of the author to me. Irritates me to no end when the author’s voices or opinions come through loud and clear and not the character’s. Poor choice of format -you want to preach to your readers – write non fiction.


  11. Nan says:

    There is no failing! You like a book or you don’t. It suits you at a particular time of your life or it doesn’t. Books that someone else likes may not be for you, and vice versa. Your reading is for you. Period. It is for fun. Period.


  12. Kathy D. says:

    Definitely never stick with a book you’re not enjoying. Books are basically for personal enjoyment, learning, distraction — and, for me, the armchair traveler, they provide stressfree vacations.
    Whatever the reasons, don’t waste your time with books you don’t like; there are so many out there to read.
    I don’t like books that have “bestseller” hype, or that are geared to fifth-grade reading level or less. I don’t like books with gratuitous violence, brutality towards women, and bad writing.
    Sometimes I begin a book and it’s off to me but I give it 80 or so pages. Usually I get into it then. If I start a book and 5 or 10 pages in, I’m bored silly, then I throw in the towel. I try to tough it out if I’ve read rave reviews, often speed reading through it.


  13. sue says:

    I do not bother with books I don’t like. The fault may well be with me, but I don’t care; as I get older there is only a limited number of books I can read so I don’t want to waste time.

    But I do think that authors should be given every chance via attentive and courteous reading and every benefit of doubt. I know how I would feel if I were to be criticised – I would want it to be fair and based on a reasonable sample…


  14. Maxine says:

    PS to prove your point, I really liked In The Evil Day (print format) 😉


  15. Kat says:

    I never blame myself. 😀 Although I don’t always blame the author, either. Sometimes the book just isn’t the right fit for me.


  16. Pingback: Books of the Month – November 2011 | Reactions to Reading

  17. Yvann says:

    I generally just think “this book was not for me, for reasons x, y and z” and move on. What I might decry as bad writing or terrible characters, might really appeal to someone else.


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