Books Gone Bad

What do you do when you come to the disappointing conclusion that the book you're reading is not up to par? As a reader this question comes up constantly in conversations and reviews, since not clicking with your current choice is bound to happen eventually ("I'm sorry Faulkner, sweetie, it's me, not you"). I understand both camps- those that stick with it, and those that feel like life is too short. Personally, since college, I make myself finish what I start, even if the book is bad. I guess it's a form of intentional punishment, since I figure as someone with a degree in English, and who spends so much time on book-related activities, I should be able to pick out quality literature. For example, several years ago I started Paint it Black by Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander, which I enjoyed. Paint it Black was absolutely terrible, but I made myself finish. I now joke that I'm going to start buying it for Christmas presents for people I hate.

As someone who would love to write a book someday (in all that free time I anticipate having during the next twenty years), I think reading a bad book can be an educational experience. What make a book bad? The pacing? Storyline? Characters? The writing style? It was just like my student teaching experience in college- seeing bad teachers teach can be just as helpful as seeing good teachers in action.

That being said, there have been two books that I can remember quitting. First was Gregory Maguire's Confession of an Ugly Stepsister back in 1999 when it first came out (I was a sophomore or a junior in high school). It sounded like a great premise- redo fairy tales in a more adult way. Yeah, not so much (in related news, I think this would actually be a great concept for an adult film company to take on- Sleeping Booty, anyone?)

The second was The Erasers by Alain Robbe-Grillet, for Detective Fiction at UCLA. This may truly be my fault- I hated the class, was working a lot, and trying to figure out how to dump my boyfriend (that would be funny/awkward if he reads this- if so, heyyyyyy there, hope you're well), therefore reading the book the week before finals was just not going to happen. My now husband tried to feed me the key points in case they were on the final, and I tried skimming it the night before, but it was pointless. I kind of feel like I should reread it not. Dammit.

There have also been two books that I've taken a break from, but not because they're bad, just extremely long and I've attempted to read them at busy times. The first is Underworld by Don DeLillo and the second is Che Guevara's biography (I think he's my historical figure crush, in case you were curious). Both extremely fascinating and I will absolutely finish them by 2012- scout's honor.

No matter what, I think books, and their authors, deserve a chance. Readers should hold on through the first 30-50 pages and then decide. Sometimes it can take a little bit of time to get into a book- not necessarily a good sign, but plenty of good books start off slow. I think it's important to consider yourself too- are you just too busy? Taking long breaks? Do you quit books often and maybe need to branch out? Then you have to either commit or kick it to the curb (or give it to someone you hate).

Read at your own risk.

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