Big Name Books We Don’t Love

Last week’s post on why a particular book didn’t draw me in ended up generating quite an interesting discussion! And, according to my stats, last Thursday got more hits than any other day so far. Most of my blog followers are readers (many are also writers), so we all love discussing books. But when it really got interesting was when the author of the book in question outed herself in the comments, after we chatted on Facebook. It hadn’t been my intention to identify the book, but I had to give enough detail to discuss why it didn’t work for me, and who would know the book better than its author? I only hope I’m as professional and willing to learn as Elizabeth West was when bad reviews come in for my book – and I’ve no doubt they will. I’m not sure who said it, but one of my favorite quotes is, “Nothing is so good that someone, somewhere, won’t hate it.”

The comments also made me realize that Elizabeth is in some pretty prestigious company when it comes to books I didn’t like enough to finish. Prestigious as in, I am talking J.K. Rowling and Stephen King!

Yes! Harry Potter was a DNF for me! I love a good fantasy novel – in fact, I just read an absolutely wonderful untrained-mage-goes-to-college story: Fire in the Mist, by Holly Lisle. I enjoyed the first three Harry Potter books, too. The fourth… it was okay, and I finished it. But Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix began with eighty or a hundred pages of nothing happening, and I just lost interest in it. I’d been reading it aloud to my daughter, who was seven at the time, and she was bored too. After the first couple books in the series, each was longer than the prior installment, and not necessarily because more was happening, or it was a more complex story. Maybe I’ll pick Phoenix up again someday. But with three shelves full of books I haven’t read, not to mention dozens on my netbook and smartphone, it’s unlikely. It just seemed bloated. Now I have been guilty of this myself – in fact, I just went over Time’s Fugitive with one of my beta readers, who pointed out a section where she caught herself skimming, because it was all boring, unimportant details where nothing was happening that added to the story. At least it wasn’t in the beginning of the book. But thanks to her, it will get cut!

One thing I have not been guilty of – at least, since I started writing with the aim of publication – is the bloated, tedious writing I found in Black House, by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Although this book too, began with pages upon pages of nothing happening, it was far more egregious than the Harry Potter book. At least in Phoenix, we had a main character to focus on, root for (and wait for to do something). Black House began with over a dozen pages of nothing but omniscient description – a nameless, personality-less presence flying over a small town, describing it in minute (and boring) detail. It did eventually touch on Jack, the main character, but even this was boring description. Talk about a disappointment! Black House was supposed to be the sequel to The Talisman, a book I loved so much I’ve read it multiple times. I say “supposed to be,” because Black House was nothing like The Talisman, either stylistically or content-wise. There were hardly even any allusions or references to it! Well, at least in the 16 or 18 pages I managed to struggle through until I dropped the book on the floor.

I’ve put down romance novels, too, some by NYT best-sellers. Paranormals with characters I didn’t care about – heroines that were too invincible, too kick-ass. Romantic suspense with “as-you-know-Bob” dialogue and characters that were doing stupid things without enough reason. Contemporaries with watered-down conflict. Historicals that were the same as the last three historicals I read. And yes, plenty that just didn’t pull me in like the one discussed last week.

Don’t get me wrong, DNFs are the exception for me, rather than the rule. Next week, we’ll talk about books we love. But for now, what about you? Have you read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? That’s one I’ve heard a lot of people have trouble getting into, but it’s worth it – after about 100 pages! I’m not that patient. I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any blockbusters among your DNFs?

Why I Stopped Reading

Not everything! Just one particular book. It’s what some popular book review blogs call a DNF, to borrow from auto racing terms: Did Not Finish.

It was a free download, so I didn’t feel as obligated to finish as I might have if I’d paid for it. It wasn’t by someone I know, or anyone I network with, so that also cut down on the potential guilt factor. And I gave it a chance: it was approximately 75,000 words, and I read over 25% before I gave up on it, deleted it from my smartphone, and moved on.

boring e-book

Life's too short to read boring books!

I always like to analyze why I give up on a book, so I can learn something from it. The reason I put this one aside? One word: boring!

So what made this book boring? Or to put it another way, what did this book lack?

Well, for starters, it was a straight contemporary romance – no suspense or paranormal –  which I’ll admit is not my thing unless it’s a) really funny or b) really sexy or c) really emotional. This book was none of those. While it had its mildly humorous moments, they were super-mild, and I don’t know if they were even amusing enough to make me smile. It did have a consummated love scene in the portion I read – and I felt none of the rush of excitement or desire when the characters got it on. Instead, it was glossed over pretty quickly. But what really killed it was that the emotions were barely hinted at – and this was one of those best friends to lovers stories where the emotional whirlwind is key.

Add to that the fact that this was an office-set romance – which I have nothing against, but in this case, there were way too many boring details about work and again, at the cost of the emotions, the excitement and the fear the characters should have felt at risking being found out – and the impact it could have on their careers.

In a romance novel, emotion is what it’s all about. In a paranormal romance, some of the slack can be taken up by the weirdness of whatever situation the character’s in, otherworldly setting, magic, whatever. In a historical or suspense, there’s often other stuff going on that can pick up some as well. In this book, the author seemed to be trying to do this with the character’s work – which might have been okay if it was interesting, but it wasn’t.

In the book’s defense, it was well-written from a technical standpoint, it had an interesting premise, and characters that could have been people I’d have enjoyed spending a few hours with, had their emotions been better drawn. The book wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t have kept reading – except like most people, I have a To-Be-Read list (and pile of print books) that’s easily over a hundred books, if you count freebies I’ve picked up at conferences over the years that I still haven’t gotten around to reading. So with all that “competition” for my time…. life’s too short.

And this, I suspect, is the battle all authors face.

Read (or tried to read) any boring books lately? Or any that you just couldn’t see the point in finishing? Care to share why? If you’re an author, do you try to pick these apart to learn what not to write?