Thursday, August 25, 2011

Do you fake it when you just can't finish?

Sometimes you just can’t finish. You desperately want to, and you try ‘til your eyes roll back in your skull, but there’s a point you know it’s just not going to happen. Then shame sets in, and you wonder if you should admit it or just go ahead and fake it with a gratuitous, “wow, that was really great.”

I’m talking about books, you perverts.

When I was young, I felt it was my duty to finish any book I started reading. It didn’t matter how boring I found the story or how uninspiring the characters. I had to keep going. I owed it to myself, my parents, my library, the author….well, I wasn’t actually sure who I owed it to, but I knew failing to finish a book was a failure of the highest magnitude.

I’ll never forget the first book I gave up on. It was about ten years ago, and no, I won’t name it here. I will say it was a popular bestseller that just didn’t make my toes curl. I felt bad about that. Other people were panting with ecstasy over this book. Why couldn’t I?

But there was something liberating about that first unfinished book. Since then, I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve given up on dozens of books. I’ll usually try for at least 50 pages, but if I’m not feeling the love, I don’t feel the need to keep going.

And yes, I’ve been known to fake it. Come on, we’ve all done it to spare the ego of the person breathlessly waving the tattered paperback and gushing, “I know you’ll love it, it’s my favorite book in the world.”

Sometimes that noncommittal murmur of shared pleasure is all it takes to get the person off your back.

I guess the reason I’m thinking about this is that I did it again yesterday. I didn’t hate the book, and I probably could have kept going, but why should I? I didn’t like the characters, the plot was sluggish, the dialogue stilted, and my to-be-read pile is teaming with other books I’d much rather read.

But I’ll admit there’s still a little guilt involved. Maybe it’s that the book is in the romance genre, so there’s a slim chance I might someday be asked about it. Do I fake it? Or do I perform the, “it’s not you, it’s me” dance and blame my own lack of response instead of the author’s failure to stimulate me?

What do you do in these situations? Do you ever give up on books when they fail to rub you the right way? Please share!

Oh, and congratulations to Judy, Judy, Judy for winning a signed copy of Making Waves in Tuesday’s Fake Q&A contest. Her answer made me laugh, plus I figure the use of multiples in her name should counter-balance the bad climax karma I’ve generated by talking so much about faking this week. Judy, Judy, Judy (yes, yes, yes!) send your snail mail address to me at tawnafenske at yahoo dot com and I’ll hook you up with that signed copy.


Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I fake it all the time. That is in no way in reflection of my sex life. Or is it?

Anyhoo! I don't read books I don't like either. But what really sucks is when the book that sucks is the final one you read in a series. I feel so let down as a reader when an author royally screws up like that.

Books that ruined a series for me:

Undead and Unfinished by MaryJanice Davidson.

Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.

Lani Wendt Young said...

LOL love this post. I agree, there is slightly 'shameful' about not being able to finish a book, I did used to plod on cos i was a warrior dammnit! And no book was ever going to defeat me!....yeah, not anymore. Im too busy/tired/old to fake it anymore. If a bk doesnt do it for me in the first chapter? Forget it. Im an Eng Lit graduate and i dont even hav the patience to endure the 'classics' anymore either. Boring. Dreary stuff. Give me a steamy romance or an angst filled Twilight book anyday.

Shawn C. Sproatt said...

A couple months ago my aunt and I had a similar conversation. She said that she never feels badly about not finishing a book if she's not into it, because her reading time is limited, so she'd rather spend it on something she really enjoys.

At the time I told her I always felt obligated to finish anything I read, but her comment got me thinking. Even though I have plenty of time in the evening to read, why should I waste any of it on something that I'm not into? I wouldn't do the same for a TV show, DVD, and certainly not with a guy.

So a couple weeks ago I started reading a book, and after only 20 pages I just knew it wasn't for me. I trusted my intuition and put it down, never to pick it up again until I pass it on to someone who will enjoy it, but just to make myself feel better I looked at reviews of it online. Now I'm REALLY glad I didn't waste my time on it, and I will in no way feel badly if I decide not to finish another book in the future.

Unknown said...

I have to admit that I am usually one of those die-hard, you-must-finish-if-you-start-it type of readers. HOWEVER, there is one book I started and never finished. It was back in January, and a book club pick. and, honest little me admitted to the book club that I just couldn't get into it. I'm glad to note that I wasn't the only one, though :)

Julie Glover said...

I've written about this experience too, and I call these books "Firecracker Duds" - they just don't pop no matter how much bang you expected given the hype. I give every book a fair 50 pages to hook me since some stories do creep up on you rather than grab you, but if I don't care one bit what happens to the characters after that, I'm onto the next book. Either it wasn't well-written or it wasn't my cup of tea, and either way I don't feel guilty for that. Glad to know there are others like me!

Jessica Lemmon said...

You too, huh? I have slogged through many a tome long after I'd grown tired of reading it. Until... I got older.

I could argue here that it was that older equaled wiser, but I'd bet it had something to do with aging being akin to death. Life's far too short to read a bad book.

Amy Joy said...

Ah yes, it is good to hear that I am not alone. Not only have I left unfinished dozens of books that didn't capture my interest so I could move on to others, but if an author switches back and forth between two or more storylines, I will skip the chapters containing the story I don't care about and move right on to the ones I do. A couple of summers ago, I picked up a book that appeared to contain a cute romance, but the author spent a lot of the book talking about other things (that bored me). So I started skipping ahead to each time the guy showed up in the story again.

There's simply too many stories and too little time. But as for faking it, it's a great question. Do I, for example, put it on my Goodreads list as read? I'm new to Goodreads, so I haven't decided yet. It feels a bit deceiving...

Penrefe said...

I still finish every book I start, because I tell myself I've paid for it, I will get every penny's worth, even if after it's over, I will have had better gratification flicking every penny down the toilet bowl. And for me, I do the same with anything I've bought, not just books.

Saying that, I have one particular book (as in your case, a bestseller that everyone else seems to fawn over that I just don't "get") that I have technically been reading for about 18 months now!

Dawn Ius said...

Life is too short to waste reading books that don't get me turning pages. I say this today, but until last year, I would never dream of faking it. (In any way - tee hee) But I've got too much on the go now not to move on if a book isn't keeping my interest.

Juliana Rowland said...

Jillian ( ) first made me realize that there really is a limit to the number of books I can read in my lifetime. The moment that thought really sunk in was the moment I stopped forcing myself to finish reading books I wasn’t enjoying. I’d hate to think I missed out on something wonderful because I wasted time reading something that just didn’t do it for me.

Michelle Miller said...

If a book doesn't grab my attention, I stick a book mark in it and set it aside to try again later. Sometimes I'll find that a book that failed to catch my attention on a sunny, summer afternoon will work much better on a snowy winter's evening. Books have moods, and you have to be ready for them.

The exception to this rule is books that are so poorly written that they make me cringe. I've bought a couple of those and they now reside on a shelf in my workspace that's labeled: 'If they can get published, so can I.'

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

I'm going through this right now. There is an author whose contemporaries I love. I picked up something by her in another genre. I've reached for that book so many times only to put it down after a few pages. It just doesn't do it for me. (yes, I said do it)
And I've been in the position of truly hating a book that someone else wants me to really love. That sucks. I did tell her some of my problems with the book and I have to say she handled it well.
Mostly I think I'd just fake it if honesty caused too much drama, though.

Jason said...

I just about always finish every book I begin. Why? I have no idea. Like you, I feel an obligation I suppose, although apparently to someone who really doesn't care (hey, I already picked up the book...literally no one cares if you finish it, because the book at that point has been paid for, right?)

I think this is why I do it though: Part of me desperately wants to figure out why this book I can't get into was published. What did someone else see in it that I did not? Am I missing something? Can I learn something from this? Does it pick up in the second half?

This last one may be the biggest part. I've started books, got 100 pages in, and pondered putting them down. But then I soldier on, and MOST of the time things switch up. The Passage, but Justin Cronin, was like this for me. A quarter of the way through I was waffling on it...but was very, very glad I finished it.

I think that's it, this feeling that if I don't finish I may be missing out on something cool. (Although, as a writer, I get pissed off because I want the writer to be holding my attention throughout the book, not just the last half!)

jill said...

I, too used to be a 'finish everything' reader. Today, my TBR pile sits on the left side of my desk (greatly inconveniencing my cat). Buried in a cubby on the right hand side are three books with bookmarks that I might finish someday. Unless there's, you know, something better in the house to read or reread.

The exception to my youthful 'finish everything' stance was Gone With the Wind. A classic. Everyone loves it. My brother is named Rhett Butler. So I had to read it, right? Except I found Scarlett O'Hara too whiny and spoiled to want to hang out with her any longer. Never did finish it.

??? said...

I never fake it. If a book isn't gripping me but I'm still somewhat interested in how it ends, I'll start skimming (especially if I paid for it... have to get my money's worth somehow). But if I got it from the library or for free, I throw that book as far as I can and hope it doesn't hit some poor pedestrian on the way.

I'm famous among my friends for hating most every book that they like... not because I'm ornery (well, yeah... I guess I am, but not in this case), but because I'm just really hard to please. You want me to squee with pleasure? You gotta work hard for it. Otherwise your book will end up on the Goodwill pile with the bookmark still stuck in it.

You'll be glad to know, Tawna, that your book did NOT end up at Goodwill; I gave it away but only 'cause it was awesome enough to share ;)

Patrick Alan said...

I fake it when I finish.

I did not just finish. I'm just taking a break.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

An odd thing I've noticed: I'm more likely to not finish an ebook than a print book. I think it's because it's tucked away inside my device instead of sitting there on my nightstand giving me the fish eyes. And it feels less like a waste than a physical book. Curious, I thought.

Roni Loren said...

I used to be a chronic finisher. Like you, I felt this compelling need to complete any book I started. But over the past year or two, as life has gotten busier and my TBR pile has gotten higher, I've ended up with a number of DNF (did not finish.)

I still struggle with it. There was a YA I read recently that I put down like three different times, but kept hanging on because all the reviews said the end was amazing. I ended up finishing it when I was stuck somewhere and didn't have anything else to read. The end was good, but it didn't make it worth the slog of the first two thirds. So I learned my lesson,I'm faking it from now on. :)

Linda G. said...

I rarely feel like I have to finish a book that hasn't grabbed my attention. There's not enough time in the day to read all the really good books out there -- heck if I'm going to squander it on books that don't grab me. Besides, I got my fill of required reading in grad school.

I figured out a long time ago that forcing it sucks the joy right out of a pleasurable activity. (Er, apply that where you will. *grin*)

Unknown said...

I almost always finish books, though I know I shouldn't waste time on books I don't like. I don't know why, but it has to be REALLY bad for me not to finish it.

As for faking - I never fake (not in sex and not in anything else). If someone says they loved a book I hated I tell them so. But I always make sure we're both aware that it often comes down to personal taste more than anything.

Todd R Moody said...

I used to feel the same way Tawna, I would slog through until I reached the bitter end, like it was a trial and my life was on the line. Nowadays I just don't have the time to waste on books that are hard to read, either because they used too many strange words or the story of boring or it just plain wasn't making me want to turn the page. if I find that I am book marking early that is a sign I need to move on. Great post!