Book Review

Introducing: The Dump


Ever since I started this blog, I’ve been really, really good about finishing books I start. For my sanity and the sake of my huge TBR stacks, though, I’ve decided that this cannot go on. From now on, the only books I’ll make a point of finishing are books that are sent to me for review.

It’s usually not the really gawdawful books that I abandon. The most frequently-abandoned books would probably be the “meh” books: they’re not bad, they’re just kinda boring. Or annoying in really petty ways.

Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted, for example. Between the self-conscious writing style, the constant tense changes, getting shit wrong more often than making shit up convincingly and characters I really couldn’t care less about, I didn’t finish it. What I read (about 100 pages or so) I’d give a C, maybe a C-.

And yesterday, I officially abandoned Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn. This would be the first book of hers that I can’t finish; nothing I’ve read by her so far ranks below a B-. The premise is pretty interesting: kickass chick with mystical powers has a mandate from the king to investigate what are essentially hate crimes against other people with mystical powers. Kickass chick is travelling with two other mystics, and two King’s Riders (think special ops dudes in a fantasy setting) who are themselves very, very suspicious of mystics.

Problem number 1: The infodumping just goes on and on in the beginning of the book. In fact, there’s a character, an outsider to the land, who’s introduced just so he can ask questions and get infodumped on. Arrrrr.

Problem number 2: Nothing very interesting is happening.

Problem number 3: The characters aren’t all that compelling, which is a shame because Sharon Shinn usually writes some interesting characters, even when she descends into caricature or stereotypes (as with the Jansai in her Samaria novels).

Problem number 4: The world building is only so-so. It’s not that it’s BAD, it’s just that I feel I’ve read something similar in a million other sword-and-sorcery fantasy books.

What I’ve read so far (about 75 pages) would get a C, maybe a C+. However, I’m willing to give it another shot a little while from now, because I’ve been in a Mood in the past week or so.

I’m beginning to feel bogged down by Musashi as well. The story’s really kick-ass, but the translation is driving me nuts. The descriptive bits are pretty nice, but the dialogue… People from seventeenth-century Japan are saying shit like “Okay!” and “Got that?” and other modern Americanisms. It’s driving me batshit. I’m not expecting the translator to render the dialogue into seventeenth-century English, and I realize he’s aiming for conversation that sounds natural, relaxed and informal. But the modern speech—specifically, modern American speech—is making me hear the dialogue as bad anime dubs in my head. It’s not a good thing when Musashi starts soundling like Goku and the bad guys like Vegeta, and the crazy old lady in the book has that generic Crazy Japanese Crone dub voice in my head. You know what I mean—all shaky and high-pitched and obviously a male voice actor trying to sound like an old lady.

But I’m going to slog through this for a while yet, because The Very Tall Husband luuuuuurrrrrves this book and has threatened death and destruction to me if I don’t give it a fair chance.

So yeah. Periodically I’ll whine about the books I just can’t finish for whatever reason. Aren’t you guys just peeing yourselves in anticipation? I know I am.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Meljean says:

    What is that warm trickle down my leg?

    I really need to make myself quit books I’m not enjoying more often. I’ve just begun doing so, but at times I’ll see them hanging about, and I’ll feel obligated to skim to the end. Heh. It took me a month to read Foley’s ONE NIGHT OF SIN. That should be a sign, yes? I enjoyed the beginning, though, and kept hoping it’d get better.

    If it starts out well, then gets worse as you go on, how do you decide when to give up? Is it easier to dump a book that goes from pretty good to *yawn*, or a mediocre book with promise?

  2. 2
    Candy says:

    Ahem. I won’t venture to speculate what OTHER things that warm trickle might be, Meljean. Because we’re a family-friendly PG site.

    Wow, I nearly typed that out with a straight face.

    Anyway, it’s harder, and I do mean much, MUCH harder for me to dump a book that starts out well but goes to shit near the end. Usually by the time things go to shit, I’m too emotionally invested. I HAVE to know everything that happens, and I hope against hope that things will get better. This has happened to me with more Stephen King books than I care to think about.

    Mediocre books with promise are easier to abandon. If I’m in the mood, I might skim ahead to see if things pick up. Usually, though, I abandon them heartlessly on the wayside.

  3. 3
    Gabriele says:

    I’ve long ago stopped reading books that bore me. I’ve more important things to do in my live than reading books I don’t really want to read.

    Like writing books no one wants to read.

  4. 4
    fiveandfour says:

    I admire your spine.  One of my failings is finishings things even when I don’t like them – as though they are going to make all the pain and suffering worth my while in the end.  (I remember being shocked – SHOCKED – when my father-in-law told a story about walking out of a movie he didn’t like.  Honestly, the thought that such a thing could be done couldn’t have been more foreign to me than suddenly waking up with the ability to speek ancient Sumerian or something similar.)

    Why do I expect a great ending to come from a mediocre-to-terrible start?  You don’t get a firm house on a shaky foundation, and yet I find I can’t let things go until the bitter end.  Out of my entire reading career, which has to add up to thousands of things by now, I’ve given up on fewer things than I can count on one hand.

    I will attempt to take a leaf from your book and do the same, but conditioning and habits die hard so I doubt any immediate success.  So yes, I am actually looking forward to your reports of books you can’t/won’t/didn’t finish.  I expect it will act for me like a buoy in the water or lighthouse on the shore, leading me out of rough and dangerous waters to calmer, more beautiful things on shore.

    PS I don’t know if I am jealous or pitying that you must read Musashi to satisfy the husband’s pleadings.  I’m stuck with a never-ending stream of James Patterson books being waved under my nose.  I’d donate them to the hurricane relief shelters, but those poor people have suffered enough as it is.  Plus which, I might just find myself coming home to a place where the locks have been changed!  Talk about opposites attract…

  5. 5

    It took me a long time to be willing to stop reading books I started, especially when I paid money for them.  But I realized life’s too short to read books I had to grit my teeth through. 

    At the same time, I’m glad I listened to wiser friends who kept telling me to stick with Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, that if I got past the first 100 pages of THE GAME OF KINGS I would be hooked, body and soul.  And they were right. 

    The most disappointing read I’ve had lately was Kate Elliott’s new “Crown of Stars” book, IN THE RUINS.  I gave up on it last night.  Too many people doing too much placeholding, not enough action.  I’m disappointed, because the series started out beautifully, but I think she tried to cram too much into it about the fourth book in.

  6. 6
    Candy says:

    I try to give a book that passes my 15-page test at least 100 pages. I’ve read some books that were absolutely amazing after a slow 50-100 pages. Declare by Tim Powers, for example. It starts out slowwww as molasses, and certain things were just confusing the shit out of me, but once the freaky crap happened, I literally couldn’t put it down. I kept slogging on through the beginning mostly because my friend Edouard threatened to beat me to death if I didn’t. (What’s with all the men in my life who are a) really into reading, and b) really into threatening me with bodily harm if I don’t finish books they love???) Well, he also assured me it would pick up after 100 pages. I trust his taste in books, so I listened and persevered, and boy am I glad I did.

    Another book that started slowly is Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth. Something about it compelled me to go on, though. I think the build-up, while excruciatingly slow, was ultimately effective in drawing me in. I knew crap was going to go badly, badly wrong at some point, and about a third of the way through, they did. It’s one of my all-time favorite books today.

    But more often than not, books that don’t pass the extended 100-page read get the boot for good, unless I’m willing to give it another chance down the road, like Mystic and Rider.

  7. 7

    I used to slog through every book I picked up. Now I give each book the ten-page test before I buy it/check it out: if it can’t hook me in ten pages, I don’t even bother. If the book passes the ten-page test it gets another twenty pages worth of grace. If it doesn’t keep me for that long, chuck it goes into the wasteland.

    And if I find myself avoiding picking a book back up because it bores me to tears, I have trained myself to just stop. Most of the time. There are some classics I’ll slog through just to be classic and find out what happens, but that’s about it.

    Life is short. Too short to be obsessively reading something you don’t even like. Go, Candy!

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    I hear you on the unfinished books, but for me, the culprits are (gasp) parenting and baby care books. One book presented itself as a defense of working parents and how to manage, organize and cope, and began with a diatribe about what’s wrong with all forms of baby care that do not come from one or both parents. And then held up this marvelous example of a woman who splits time caring for her daughter with her husband, because she’s a home-based psychologist with a basement office, and he’s a home-based architecht. Ok, yeah, that’s great. But that’s not everyone’s reality.

    The worst was when the interviewed parents were talking about how their sex lives suffered and The Perfect Couple went on and on about how much they LUST for each other because they have so much SUPPORT and TIME.

    Give me a TSTL heroine any time over that crap. I think I might send the offending paper back to Amazon for a refund.


    Can you tell it pissed me off?

    As for romances I do not finish, that’s a rare category for me. Literally, the Emma Holly book that caused the Smart Bitch Grudge Match, and Honey Moon by SEP were probably the two books I could not finish. But since Candy and I now have TBRs that scare small children (especially those with weak constitutions because their parents work full time, poor mites) I need to adopt a more firm policy about abandoning books that don’t thrill me and explaining why.

  9. 9
    Angela H says:

    Only very rarely do I abandon a book mid-read.  It usually happens if I find that it is either extremely boring or that the main character/hero/heroine is just too annoying to continue.  For example, I couldn’t finish Modern English by Kate McAllister.  I thought the heroine was beyond TSTL and I stopped reading midway and actually threw the book in the trash so as to not inflict it on some other unsuspecting reader.  I also gave up on Madame Bovary which I started because I thought: “It’s a classic; I should read it.”  But then I decided I’d had enough of that it college and took that bitch back to the library where she belonged.

    On the other hand, I soldiered on through the first 50 or so boring pages of Michael Crichton’s Timeline to find that I really enjoyed the rest of it.  Or sometimes I just skip over the boring or confusing infodump pages like in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon’s multi-page treatment of the wonder of algorithms.  It now stands as one of my favorite books of all time.

  10. 10
    Stef2 says:

    Sarah, I remember reading Dr. Spock – is his book still around? – and he suggested feeding the children early, then tucking them into bed so we could sit down for an ‘adult’ dinner.

    Yeah.  Right.

    I’d always think of that section of his book when we sat down to eat our tasty fish sticks, mac ‘n’ cheese and fruit cocktail dinners – with my older daughter shooting cherries across the table, trying to hit the younger daughter in the head.  And Mike yelling.  The dog barking.  Telemarketers phoning.

    Guess you have to take all that you read about parenting and fit it to your own life.

    I’ve gotten to be very good at abandoning books.  My problem?  I don’t get rid of them.  So they just sort of linger there, making me feel guilty.

  11. 11
    SB Sarah says:

    Oh yeah, “Adult dinner.” PAH! Hubby and I are so immature, there aren’t any real adults in the house to have that dinner in the first place.

    And I hear you on the lingering books! It’s almost like they breed. They’re everywhere, the books I didn’t finish but didn’t get rid of.

  12. 12
    Asperity says:

    Mystic and Rider definitely ain’t Shinn’s best work.  I did finish it and will probably read any sequels ‘cause I’m just sick like that.  I even enjoyed it.  But it was slow like oatmeal, and even the confrontationy bits read pretty detached.  You’d have to be in a mood where that won’t get on your nerves.

    I’ll add my wish to hear more about unfinishable-for-whatever-reason books.  Even more fun are the ones that you finish but wish you hadn’t.

  13. 13
    Robin says:

    “I’ve gotten to be very good at abandoning books.  My problem?  I don’t get rid of them.  So they just sort of linger there, making me feel guilty.”

    This is me, too, but sans the guilt.  I am such a bibliophile that I cannot seem to get rid of my own books, unless I have an extra copy of something good to give to someone who wants to read it.  I can’t throw books I disliked away or give them away or take them in to trade.  I do store them so I don’t feel like they’re displacing other, more worthy books, but I always have this thought that someday I might enjoy them or they will be useful for some reason.  As for books I love?  I won’t even talk about how many copies of The Windflower I’ve hoarded, in fear that I may someday find myself without a copy of this OOP miracle of a book.

  14. 14
    manogirl says:

    I rarely give up on a book, but I seem to have pretty good instincts when it comes to picking them.  I also sorely HATE not knowing how a book ends, even if I don’t love the book.  I know that’s sort of contradictory, but I’m curious.

    And I feel your pain on Musashi.  I tried to read it once on the recommendation of a friend, and I just couldn’t.  I felt bad, but boy was it a pain in the ass to read.

  15. 15
    Darla says:

    Gee, I don’t know what you all have against ‘meh’ books.  I love them.  They’re like crackers at a wine tasting, cleansing the palate between sips of the good stuff.  I usually try to squeeze in a mediocre book every second or third book. 

    Sometimes I screw up, and a book I think will be a nice boring read turns out to be fabulous, and I end up reading several excellent books in a row, and it’s horrible.  (Who’d have guessed those Barbara Metzger reissues would have been so charming?) I don’t sleep, I get annoyed when the family wants to talk to me, the house is a mess—all I want to do is keep reading. 

    I need an occcasional book that’s easy to put down.  If I’m in the middle of a really boring book, I’m superwoman—making gourmet meals, cleaning the house, baking cookies with the kids…. Mediocre books are an investment in keeping my family happy.

  16. 16
    JEA says:

    A book gets about 10 pages from me. If it doesn’t do it, I don’t read it.

    However, I tend to be much more demanding from books that have a lot of “buzz,” and am more forgiving of books that haven’t garnered lots of press.

    I guess I am a book anti-snob?


  17. 17
    Gail says:

    LOL at Darla’s love of the mediocre! You’ve got me chortling.

    I can’t keep all the books I read—they’d crowd me right out of the house. The books I really like, I keep. The ‘meh’ ones go into a sack to go to the UBS when I have time, but the ones that somehow fall between the ‘meh’ ones and the keepers—the ones that were pretty good, and I might someday want to read again, maybe—I take those down to the library. They have more shelves than I do, so I figure they can hold them for me. It’s not really like giving them away. More like giving them to other people who’d like to read them. And I can still read them again on the off chance I decide I’d like to.

    As far as finishing—I’m pretty easy to please, I’m afraid. I like even the meh books for the most part, so I usually finish most all of them. There are only a few authors I will not read. Catherine Coulter and Katie McAllister are the two that come to mind right away…

  18. 18
    Doug Hoffman says:

    Hi Candy. I read your Palahniuk rant and I agree with you 100%. I don’t think I’d get past the aquatic sperm bit, but the platypus would definitely stop me in my tracks.

    I couldn’t even finish Fight Club. His smarmy “look at me” writing style put me off. What’s with these guys (like Ellis)? I don’t think it’s about writing. It’s about the “cult of me”.

  19. 19
    Mar says:

    Hey! This is my first time commenting here, but I really enjoy your blog, although I haven’t been reading romance as much as I should lately. Anyway, I totally agree with you on Mystic and Rider. I stuck through and finished it (give or take maybe 25-30 pages I skipped towards the end), and it doesn’t get any better. It’s very derivative, very boring, and the only thing that appealed to me about it was the romance, which fizzled out in about two sentences.

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