Good morning! Welcome to another dose of whinging about subpar reading experiences!
I remember saying not all that long ago that I really wanted not to harp on the negative too much in my blog posts; how I was okay with writing negative reviews if the target — I mean, title really warranted it, but I didn’t want to find myself wallowing in the gripe.
I can still see the point of that. (Really, I can.) However, I’m also realizing that there are benefits to evaluating why a style (or genre) tends to become so disappointing, and learning how to make (hopefully) better choices next time as a reader.
(It’s all part of this pandemic-instigated self-reflection I’ve been, er, wallowing in lately.)
Criteria #1: Just because I didn’t finish it then, doesn’t mean I have to finish it now.
Reasoning: I used to be the queen of DNF. It was far too easy to check a dozen books out of the library, read 20 pages, toss it aside, and return it to the drop box. Eventually, I got fed up with feeling, well, fed up. So, I vowed to change my pattern. If it hasn’t caught me before page 100, then I assume it won’t. But, until then, let’s give the story a chance.
Counter-reasoning: If I’ve spent at least an hour/reached page 100 without becoming involved, chances are…I never will, and I shouldn’t feel guilty about throwing in the towel.
Example #1: Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis
This is the start of a juvenile fantasy series I’d walked past many times while shelving. So I finally picked up the trilogy, and began reading the first book almost right away. Before I was very far in, it hit me: I’d read this before.
Why did I remember so little of it, though?
So, I kept going. Well before my benchmark of 100 pages, my question was answered: I must not have finished it…because it’s boring and nonsensical as hell.
The action begins in the very first paragraphs of the first chapter, with the protagonist and the major conflict introduced in basically the same breath — 12-year-old Prue is watching her baby brother being carried away by a group of crows. Just…what?? On the one hand, it’s such a startling opening, that you feel you have to keep reading to find out the whys and the wherefores.
On the other, though…as you proceed and the nonsense just builds up, without being dispersed… You will forgive yourself for selecting the “step away” option.
And “Wildwood” really checks all the boxes for me in this regard. While I’m not opposed to action starting early in a story, if this action isn’t tempered with at least some background or more information about the characters or setting, then I get easily frustrated and pushing forward doesn’t really feel worth it.
This novel is absolutely the latter. As the 500+-page story progresses, we get more and more names and faces and places thrown at us, but very little explanation as to just how this world works or why many of these secondary characters are important. As I kept reading, finding very little illumination, and discovering my wrists were hurting (yes, 500+ pages!), my desire to complete this tome waned.
I did make it to the last page…but I do feel it wasn’t worth my time and effort.
So, yes, it IS still okay to DNF.
Criteria #2: The cover is so intriguing/beautiful/unique, the story inside must be just magical/amazing/awesome.
Reasoning: Some of my favorite books became faves purely by having a cover that I couldn’t ignore.
Counter-reasoning: Marketing lies.
Example #2: “The Watchmaker of Filigree Street” by Natasha Pulley
This is an adult fiction that tries to blend history with…I guess a kind of mysticism, and the overall effect is…confusion that also creates dullness. Which feels odd, because the blurb makes one think it’s supposed to be about time travel and Victorian London and blending immigrant culture with the natives, and it all just sounds…well, not dull.
But the writing tends to simply wander, and take a while to make relevant points, which meant I was quickly losing interest, anyway. And the hardcover’s font is thin and small and hard to read (especially when you live in a house with lighting from the mid 20th century), and this just adds to the “what the what?!” atmosphere.
I gave this…experiment till page 150, and when I at last opted to let go, there wasn’t an ounce of guilt.
It’s important to recognize when something just isn’t to your taste and move on, not feel the need to apologize for it. Not with something as subjective as art.
Criteria #3: Even if I didn’t care for several books by a particular author, if I REALLY liked some of their earlier work, I should leave the door open for liking their newest release.
Reasoning: Pretty clear.
Counter-reasoning: None, really.
Example #3: “The Eldest Curses” series by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu
Back in the day, I LOVED “The Mortal Instruments” series by Cassandra Clare. The fifth and sixth books in the original canon fell flat for me, and I still disagree with the directions taken towards the end, but overall the story has a special place in my heart. The “Infernal Devices” prequel and “Dark Artifices” spinoff did literally nothing but bore me, which was a punch to the gut after my enjoyment of the early tales.
So imagine my excitement when I found out the latest Shadowhunters addition, “The Eldest Curses,” centers on the original characters; and while book 1 was sort of a prequel (set during “The Mortal Instruments”), the second installment picks up where the characters are NOW. We FINALLY get a proper sequel to the tale of Clary and Jace, Isabelle and Alec and Simon, and I am psyched to start on it! Reading this book will feel like coming home, I already know it.
It’s not that I specifically held out hope for this exact premise being executed and published within my lifetime, but… I won’t lie, it does feel kind of like a fiction miracle.
While I’ve had many more misses than hits in my recent reading history, I hold out hope that the scales will tip back in my favor.
Shouldn’t we all?