What does it take for a Book Girl to not finish a book?
I’m pushing forty. I’m not sure I like calling myself a “Book Girl” anymore, but “Book Woman” sounds so different to me, and not something I connect to. Bibliophilialana? Heh.
But the age thing has its perks. One is that I no longer feel like I have to finish every book I read. In fact, I’ve been really good this year and most of last at putting books down. Occasionally, I’ll have to read a short story or two for a book club (or, in the past, a class) and I’ve marked down the book as “unfinished” because I didn’t have time for the rest, but mostly if I have a book tagged “unfinished” on Goodreads, I didn’t like it.
There are exceptions. Sandra Newman’s The Country of Ice Cream Star seems like it might end up being an amazing book, but the language (primarily phonetic) makes it a difficult read. At another time in the year, I might have kept going. But I didn’t have the mental energy to continue. At this point in my life, I don’t see that changing.
“Unnecessarily arty” is another reason I might stop reading a book, aka “pretentious.” There are times when this works for me–Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven was a bit unnecessarily arty–but other times I can’t handle it. Laura van den Berg’s Find Me made me want to hit my head against a wall and I gave up on it quickly. The main character does not seem intelligent enough to carry the language of the book, and that’s a deal-breaker for me.
Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun seemed unnecessarily arty at a time I wasn’t in the mood for it, so I moved on.
Sometimes a book is so out of my wheelhouse I don’t bother. Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season might be a brilliant book, or it could be a hodge-podgey mess with awkward world building. I literally cannot tell you, but I felt like I wasn’t the target audience so I can’t figure it out. Sometimes it felt like both, or either, and sometimes neither. I gave up.
Lately, one of my “nevermind”s is traditional male-driven narratives. I’ve read a million of them, they’re most of what’s on TV, and I’m over it. I am also not interested in reading about men who feel like they own or are owed by women, where they treat women like something less. The “woman-child” trope from early sci fi does this a lot, which is why I didn’t make it far into Larry Niven’s Ringworld. This comes up a bit when we’re trying to go literary with my online book club. I did not finish The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk and Julian Barnes’s The History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters for this reason. I can handle it from one of the main characters, but not all of them, and not when the author normalizes it.
Interestingly, I feel that Mort(e) by Robert Repino falls into this category. Even though it’s about a cat during the ant revolution, when you take away the animals from the story, it’s a Gary Stu guy who is the best at absolute everything trying to find a woman who may or may not care if he’s looking for her. Noooope.
Tryhards don’t make it very far, either. Chelsea Cain’s One Kick seems like it’s trying soooo hard to be “edgy” but it ends up not making a lick of sense. Why is this woman fighting naked with a guy, and why is he not telling her that he has a way into the place she’s breaking into? Because dudes Not Communicating is, like, I dunno, sexy or something? And because naked is sexy? It’s not sexy. It’s confusing and dumb. Sway by Kat Spears felt immediately like an inauthentic voice for a douchey teen boy, so it hit a bunch of my buttons. I gave that one up very quickly indeed.
The Joker: Death of the Family by Scott Snyder was a tryhard of the worst caliber: LOOK HOW GRITTY I AM SO GRITTY AND GRIM IS IT 1989 AGAIN GUYS GRIM GRIM GRITTY GRIM
God Hates Astronauts Volume 1 didn’t strike me either. I gave up on that pretty fast. It was too…goofy? I don’t even remember. I think it was just like “GROSS ON PURPOSE EVERYONE!!! SEE HOW GROSS!!!” Manhattan Projects Volume 1 was even more annoying to me. Ridiculous does nothing for me but there was something so…I don’t know…indulgent about it? Childish? EVIL TWINS AND STUFF GUYS
Sometimes it’s just that the writing doesn’t strike me. I was given a copy of a book called Transfixion by an author who contacted me on this blog. My review went like this: “I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I made it to page 120 and gave up. It’s not that it’s awful, because I would’ve given up sooner or maybe even hate-read it to completion. But I didn’t think it was good, either. I never connected with Kaylee–worse, I never thought there was enough of Kaylee to connect with. When she loses her ability to speak early on, I expected as a reader to find that connection in her innermost thoughts, but instead the author maintains his distance and the book suffers for it. Without either voice available to me, I lost my ability to understand her motivations, and ultimately lost interest in her. Being mute, she has the feel of one of those video game characters you’re forced to take with you on a mission, and it was too easy to become frustrated with her often sulky and clueless decision-making. I think I could’ve kept reading had the other characters been finding information at a rate faster than once every fifty to a hundred pages, but they weren’t exactly asking intelligent questions or making good decisions either, so at 120, that was it for me.”
David Almond’s The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas didn’t capture my attention either, although at this point I can’t remember why. I think it’s because it had the feel of a Roald Dahl dark comedy, but it didn’t have the stuff to back it up.
So, as you can see, there are a lot of reasons I don’t continue reading a book. The important thing, I think, is that I’m happier for it. I don’t feel like so much of my time has been wasted as I used to. I let them go. And knowing when to let go is an important skill for everyone.