I can think of about four books from the past year or two that I have hated, all of them lavishly praised and the recipient of many awards. I started each with high hopes, only to shake my head later wondering about all the fuss. All of the books fall into the category of, in my opinion, “trying too hard to be clever.” The books leave me angry for the time invested and, I admit, jealous of the awards. This won this? Come on.
In the books I dislike, I slowly move toward a tipping point. At the beginning, I find things to admire. After all, look at all the big names who loved the book. Then a boring passage (to me) comes along that I minimize, hoping still to discover gems, surprises, a kick in the ribs, something. I want to get it. But when the reading becomes less and less satisfying, I start to feel left out. I want to know why everyone else is doing cartwheels. I concentrate harder, reread passages where my attention may have flagged, and finally, gradually, concede that I’m not crazy about the book. Once I reach that point, I start to search for reasons to dislike the book and sure enough find more and more reasons. And then a dilemma arises: do I continue? Usually I do, but I can think of a few books that made me feel as if I were punching in for work—and all those other books on my list are calling to me. (The more the praise, the more I’m inclined to finish the book so I can in good conscience attest to the awfulness.)
Which brings me to a few questions. Do you leave books half read? If so, at what point do you stop? Why do you stop? Do you feel remorse or guilt or wonder if your favorite English teacher from high school would think less of you if he or she found out? If you always finish a book, why? If this describes you, I’m going to guess that you’re either an English teacher yourself or that you are a good old fashioned Catholic or you have compulsive tendencies—or maybe, lucky you, all three describe you. Go ahead and press that Comment button at the top and answer the questions. Don’t be shy.