Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Is it good or is it good? Or is it good?

Here's the deal with my reading habits.  You can visit my Goodreads profile and you'll see I've never rated a book lower than 3 stars.  (3 stars, by the way, means I liked it; it just didn't blow my mind).  Why?  Because if a book is that bad, I simply won't finish it.  And I refuse to rate a book I haven't actually read.  That seems wrong.

My time is precious.  I have a family and a full-time job.  I'm trying to do this writing thing which means not just the writing and revising but a lot of social media obligations as well. I do my best to keep up with other writers I've come to care about.  I also like to read.  Oh and I like sleeping too although there doesn't seem to be much time for that!  Then there are unforeseen things like medical emergencies that pop up now and then.  Sometimes I look back on the week and can't believe I fit it all in.

So a crappy book is just not going to compete with all that.  If you want my time and attention, your book better be pretty darn good.  I only finish books that I really like or that really capture my interest.  When I was in college I used to suffer through anything.  Cause I had to.  But now, there are too many other, more important things competing for my time.

All of that said, I have actually read books that had a lot of problems and yet, I thoroughly enjoyed them.  I've read books where the writing was so stunted and awkward that it actually made me cringe and yet, I couldn't stop turning the pages.  So what's up with that?  Is the book still good?  Typically, I would say any book that keeps me up all night frantically turning pages is a good one.  But how can this be?



I now turn to the 50 Shades Phenomenon by way of example.  Now I haven't read any of the 50 Shades books yet.  I have the first one but haven't had time to crack it open.  But pretty much every single person that I know has read the first one, at the very least.  And here is what I hear the most from people:  "It was so poorly written but it was a great book."

Let me repeat that:  "It was so poorly written but it was a great book."

Interesting, that.

As I said, I haven't yet read any of these poorly written great 50 Shades books but I will at least try the first one at some point to see what all the fuss is about.

I've also read books that I knew were not only good but in fact, works of literary genius and been bored to tears.  I'm aware that the writing is incredible.  I'm aware that said books are cultural landmarks in the literary landscape of our times and yet, watching paint dry is more interesting to me.  How can this be?  How can a great, world-altering book make a root canal seem like a good time?  Why does trying to finish it feel like wasting precious moments of my life that I'll never get back?

Then there are books that are good, solid reads.  I finish them.  The writing was fine, the story was fine.  It was all fine.  Clearly it's a good book and yet, I feel nothing.  I don't feel excited about it.  I don't feel like I connected.  But there is nothing wrong with it.  It's kind of like the dating "it's-me-it's-not-you" thing.  And how can this be?  How can I read a truly good book and feel nothing?



I guess it's that darn subjectivity thing again.  So I ask you:  what's up with that?  I invite your commentary!


Have you ever read a book that you knew was a good book but you didn't like it?  Or have you ever read a book that was clearly not good but you liked it anyway?  Ever read a book that was clearly good but you felt nothing after reading it?  What do you think constitutes a good book?

19 comments:

  1. Last week I abandoned my first book. I was four chapters in and unhooked so I walked away. I've never done that before, but I am feeling like you...I have too much to get done to waste any time.
    The best (surprising) book I ever read was a self published tale of a person's life. The grammar was horrible, the structure was amateur, but the story was so honest I just couldn't put it down (funny how some books have the same amounts of words but read faster than others!).
    I wish I knew the exact formula to a great read...if I did, I'd be a multi-best seller!

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  2. I agree with you one hundred percent!!!! That is exactly how I feel. I won't rate a book I didn't finish and if I'm not enjoying it, I'm not going to finish it. And many of the literary classics have bored me to death as well.
    Totally with you on this one.

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  3. I totally agree with you on this one. I'll review a book on my blog only if i enjoyed it, but if it was a suck-fest, then I don't say a peep. And the 'poorly written but great' has been said about another series that 50 shades is based off of.

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  4. I totally agree, too. There seem to be more books on my TBR list than I will ever have the time to read, I'm not going to waste my time on one I'm not enjoying. (I have also never posted a bad review.)
    As far as 50 Shades goes, that's one I couldn't finish. It wasn't the bad writing, I just flat out did not like Christian Grey. But I guess it's just me. ;)

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  5. My alter ego (I don't review as my pen name) will give less than three stars, and I have been known to review books I couldn't finish, but I stated that clearly in the review. I mean, if they were so bad I put them down, that's worthy of a review IMHO. There's too many undeserved 5-stars floating around out there. Potential customers deserve to be warned.

    I read the 50 Shades trilogy, and while the writing could have been improved by nixing repetitive phrasing, unnecessary scenes or parts of scenes, etc., the trilogy held my interest. And not just because of the subject matter.

    I liked the characters. I identified with the young heroine struggling with wanting someone she knew wasn't good for her. There were a few key moments that really got to me on a primal level (no, not THOSE times :P)--times I felt like I'd been right there at one point in my life. And, when the hero started to change because of her, I wanted to see them succeed even though the relationship wasn't ideal. I'm a sucker for a wounded hero - what can I say.

    One thing I thought the author did particularly well was the revealing of the hero's past and the development of the leads' relationship. For that, she gets 5 stars. And, oh my gosh, the auction scene where he bids on her (gotta read it - I won't spoil that for you). That did it for me right there. *heart melts again from the memory* If you're paying attention, you'll see it wasn't about jealousy.

    Anyhow, all this to say that the meat of the story is what really matters, I guess. If it's good, then one can overlook some (key word, 'some') bad writing. :)

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  6. Moby Dick. That's my shame. I had to try 3 times and eventually had to do it on audio book during runs/workouts or else I would have never finished. It nearly killed me. I hated most of it. I know it's supposed to be amazing, but I just can't get into it. One of my besties, loves it. It's her favorite book.

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  7. You're much more patient than I am. And you managed to somehow get through an early draft of my book. I will o lycrate an unfinished book if I really, really hated it, but I make sure to disclose the fact that I couldn't finish it because of that. Even still, I think I've only done that twice, mostly because I was to surprised by how much I didn't like it. I put down probably half the books I pick up. I have zero patience for a truly poorly written book. I'm curious about 50 Shades but no way will I spend the money on it. But hey, you should bring it to BoucherCon. I'll read passages aloud before we go to sleep. Sounds like fun!

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    1. Ha - yes. I'm still wondering how folks managed to get through the early draft of mine. LOL Carrie deserves stars for THAT! :P

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  8. Something to consider: 3 stars is NOT a bad review, when you get right down to it. It only looks bad when everything else is 5.

    Like you, I'm finding my patience for 'bad' books runs thin. I'm much more likely to put something down than power through it. I think the last book I forced myself to get through was Last Night in Twisted River. I generally like John Irving; A Prayer For Owen Meany is one of my favorite books of all time. While there were parts of this book I really enjoyed, I found a disappointing amount of it was tiresome.

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  9. I no longer finish a book I'm not enjoying either. But I was talking about this with a friend awhile ago, telling him I thought I was a snob because there were so many books I didn't like. But then we both agreed maybe we just like really GOOD books. Doesn't matter if it's literary, sci -fi, historical, or mystery. I just want a good story, preferably well-written. And, yes, I have put a book down because the writing was so poor I couldn't get my mind off the corrections I would make.

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  10. I agree with you. The last book I stopped reading was the first in the Iron Druid series (can't even remember the title). Around chapter 3 I started feeling really annoyed with the writing and the cliches and just stopped. It's getting easier to do that. I used to feel like I had to read on to get my money's worth (unless it was a library book.)

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  11. If I put a book down and don't feel compelled to pick it back up... I don't. If I get to the end of a book--or a series--and feel empty/annoyed/miffed... I blog about it. Keeping the identity of the offending, time-wasting book secret, of course. :)

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  12. Great question! I have read more than one award-winning novel that the whole world loved... and I didn't. Curious. In general, I love reading well-written novels.

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  13. I read this YA called Beautiful Disaster that truly lived up to its name. I hated that I finished that book...yet I couldn't stop reading! And the characters were SO real. (Go to Goodreads to read the controversy.) I connected/recognized them emotionally. IMO, that's what makes a great book - that emotional connection.

    Let me know what you think of 50 Shades. I've heard from many nonreaders who make an exception to their nonreading habits due to all the sex, but few actual readers who give it a positive review.

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  14. Great discussion! There are so many books I read that are wonderfully written with vivid imagery and great dialogue, but I can't get into them. I'll pick up the next book and cringe at every sentence, but finish it in two days. I can't explain it.

    But it does two things for me. It makes me believe there's hope for what I'm writing as long as there is a good story and characters and forces me to examine my pacing. I find I fall in love with some passages in a work, but upon editing it has nothing to do with the story. It just slows it down. I remind myself about what I disliked in the slow moving, well-written books and cut mercilessly.

    And I've never picked up a book without finishing, no matter the outcome. Am I a glutton for punishment?

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  15. There are tons of classics that bored me to tears even though I could acknowledge that the writing was excellent. I confess I'm one of the few people in the world who doesn't enjoy Jane Austen at all, in spite of the fact that I know the writing is stellar.

    I'm totally like you though, if I don't like a book I don't finish it. I just don't have the patience and don't see the point. Really, if a book doesn't grab me in the first few chapters I will usually put it down and not pick it back up. Goes back to that total lack of patience thing LOL.

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  16. I'm still a sucker for suffering through a bad book. I think it's because I'm in denial and I'm just waiting for it to get better. The only book I've ever abandoned with no intent of ever finishing was Portrait of a Lady.One of those "world altering" books that I just couldn't see how anybody stands. Then again, I've read Romeo & Juliet several times trying to figure out what all the fuss is about only to conclude I have a college essay's worth of bad things to say about it and Othello is a far superior Shakespearean tragedy.
    I think one of the biggest things for me is whether or not I give a crap about the characters. Even if their story is somewhat bland and poorly written if I care about a character I'll keep reading.

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  17. It's true that a lot about what you like and dislike a book comes down to personal preferences. If the story interests me enough, I'm willing to put up with poor writing. Likewise, if the writing is good but the story is so-so, I would still read and probably enjoy it. Neither would earn the book a 5-star review, but I wouldn't feel the book was a complete waste of time.

    I wish I had that resolve. Good or bad, I finish a book for completion's sake, and goodness, the one I'm on at the moment is a corker! Rambling sentences, pointless expositions, head-hopping ... more than halfway through the book and I still don't get the plot! I'm skim-reading to get to the end as quick as I can, and it's still not finishing soon enough!

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