If you take a gander at my Shelfari account, you’ll notice something hilarious and sad: I hate nine out of every ten novels I try to read. I don’t finish them. Sometimes, I get so frustrated that I quit very, very early.
The truth is that I’m very impatient with fiction. I’ve been spoiled by some great, exciting stories, so it takes a lot to impress me. These things, especially, will drive me away:
The Wheel of Time series is so famous that I had to check it out. However, I couldn’t finish The Eye of the World because of all the fatiguing, boring, unnecessary description. I understand that some people enjoy that, but I can’t stand it. It starts me saying, “Get to the point!”
In the same sense, first-person books or those written wryly (I’m looking at you, Terry Pratchett) bore me quickly because the monologuing delays something happening.
In a book, I absolutely need at least one character I understand. If I want to know what happens to them, whether they succeed, and how events transpire for or against them, I’ll stick around. The first example to spring to mind is the character of a financially comfortable, self-centered woman who cheats on her husband because her life is ‘like, so meaningless’. Think The Good Girl.
Again, The Eye of the World comes to mind. Barely anything happened in the fifty pages I read. You could argue that the author was setting up plot progression that would come later, but you need to have at least a little action or plot progression right off the bat; without movement or the sharp promise of movement to come, the book stagnates.
Some books like to be crazy and unrealistic. That’s alright. I’m a fan of Jhonen Vasquez and can understand the appeal of Alice in Wonderland. But on the other hand, I don’t like Beavis and Butthead. Being random and crazy without making any sense at all isn’t going to entertain me, only confuse me.
Avatar was annoying for this reason (why am I naming so many movies in an article about books?). Yes, Tropes Will Ruin Your Life, but that doesn’t mean there are no new ideas.
I don’t encounter this much. Lolita contained quite a bit of sexual deviance, but I mostly hated it for Reason #1. Excessive profanity is what stopped me in the first thirty seconds of The Taking of Pelham 123. Finally, incredible violence (‘torture porn’ in movie terms) is harder to convey in a book, but I imagine I’d be offended if a book managed it.
When a book starts blasting what I care about (religion and, more specifically, Christianity; America; sugary iced tea). I find it hard to enjoy a book written by an author with a clear vendetta or chip on his shoulder.
I gave Finnegan’s Wake a terrible review and caught some badly-thought-out flak for it. When I called Lolita hard to read, I got a reply pointing out that ‘Nabakov doesn’t write for the reader’ (one of the dumbest writing philosophies I’ve ever heard). I’ve called Gardens of the Moon ‘a hilariously awful parody of fantasy’. If I have to think through every sentence at least three times in order to understand what’s going on, I’m not having fun. Therefore, the writer has failed.
I don’t just petulantly refuse to read certain books after one little offense; most of the books I put down break two or more of the above rules. Since I read for pleasure and to become a better writer, I don’t see the point of slogging through junk unless I’m getting paid to fix it.
But here’s the beautiful upside: While the majority of books are lazily-, amateurishly-, or just poorly-written, I occasionally stumble upon one that really works, even given my harsh demands. And when it does, it’s good. These are truly diamonds in the dumpster, and they make it worth giving up on book after book. So you can keep slogging through crap and dealing with writers who don’t know what they’re doing; I’ll continue my shorter quest to the happy ending.
“If I have to search through a dumpster for a lost wedding ring, I could convince myself that the dumpster will be full of cakes and freshly-picked flowers, but I’d only be fooling myself.” Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, Zero Punctuation: Dark Void