Slow Reading, or Books That Don't Work

In the course of reading, we all encounter books we don't like. Our reactions to these books, however, are as varied as the person. For me, when I start reading a book that doesn't end up speaking to me, I invariably finish it anyway (most of the time). I will admit that in grad school I didn't read most of the books we were supposed to, but I did give a lot of them a fair shot.

If I don't finish a book, it's usually for one of two reasons: (1) I am reading other books at the time and forget about it, or (2) I hate it just that much. An example of #1 is The Lord of the Rings. Every time I have started that book, I've also been reading at least three others that grabbed my attention more, and I've never gotten very far in it. An example of #2 is The Scarlet Letter. Granted, I hated it in high school and haven't tried to read it again since. When I told my teacher how much I hated the book, he made me write a paper on why, and then gave me a C on the paper because he disagreed with my arguments. I learned my lesson: the next time I hated a book that much, I read enough so that I could fake it in class.

But now, most of the time, when I find a book I don't like, I do end up finishing it. My reasons for this are that (1) I've most likely spent money on it since I like to buy my books instead of borrow them, and I feel the need to get my money's worth, and (2) I figure at some point it should get good, right? I've been disappointed this way many times. I really hated Twilight, but I read it. I really only read it so that I could continue to mock it, because I always hate when people mock something they've never read. But I do wish for that day back, because that was one of the most poorly written popular books I've ever experienced. Luckily, this one was borrowed. Unluckily, I couldn't tear it apart when I was finished.

A few years ago I bought a book by a playwright called The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. The dust jacket (yes, I was foolish enough to buy a hardcover of a book by someone I'd never read before - I learned my lesson that time) sounded really interesting and right up my alley, and the first couple of pages were intriguing. I liked it at first but then it just got too "out there" for me to want to finish it. But finish it I did, and when it was finally over (768 pages later), it was a relief. The story was crazy and the writing wasn't even that great, but I tried to chalk it up to a first novel and the idea that maybe the transition from stage to paper was too difficult for this writer. Then I saw he had written a sequel, and the story sounded even more far-fetched that it made me wonder what his publishers were thinking. In the end, I gave it to a friend because she enjoyed reading bad books and writing reviews about them. I never did see that review, and I'm wondering if maybe it was just that bad.

Right now I'm struggling through another book that I'm just not liking. It's taking me weeks to read what should have taken me days. It's times like these that I want to give the book up so that I can read something else, but I can't justify giving it up when I'm already halfway through. Another reason I don't want to put it down is because it's something I'd been looking forward to reading for at least a year, by a writer I've been interested in reading for a couple of years. I feel like at some point it is going to get good, and I'll kick myself for missing it. But if it doesn't get good halfway through, when does it?

In the meantime, I have started another book and that one is going much faster. I'm still reading the one I don't like but it's much slower going than the one I do like. That's another thing that interests me about reading. A lot of people will slowly read a book, savoring every word and prolonging the moment when it's over. I tend to rush through books I love, greedily lapping them up and being satisfied (but still hungry) when I'm done. One writer I do this with is Katharine Kerr. I've been reading her books since 1999/2000, my junior year of high school when I found one of her books on the shelf of the bookstore at which I would later work. Turns out, it was the last book in a series and I ended up having to start at the beginning. Luckily my school library had them and I read through them very quickly. Now when she publishes something new, I tear through it like I'm going to die if I don't read it immediately. When I finish her books, I'm sad that they're over, but I'm happy that I read it and loved it.

When I finish a book I don't like, all I feel is relief that it's over. It usually takes too long, it's usually a frustrating process, and I hate doing it. So why do I do it? I put some reasons above, but sometimes I feel like I can't justify them. I'm actually considering turning this book into table decorations for my wedding this fall (if I'm done with it by then), using large paper punches to make flowers that I can strew all over the books I love, as if to say "This is what happens when I don't like a book."

How do you handle books you don't like?


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