When you read a lot, you’re bound to come across books you don’t like. This could be for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes a writing style is just too frustrating to deal with or the characters don’t interact well with their environment. Maybe the plot is simply tedious to read. No matter the reasoning, we’ve all felt the urge to simply ditch a book rather than finish it. After all, what’s the point in forcing yourself to continue reading something that you aren’t enjoying? Most people would probably call it a waste of time.
Unluckily for myself, I seem to excel at wasting time and making myself do things I don’t enjoy. This means that for me to drop a book, it must be a special kind of awful. I think one of the main reasons I don’t put down books easily is the sense of completion. Once I’m invested in the book, I feel the need to discover how it turns out. Most of the time, the actual quality of the book in terms of writing style is irrelevant. However, writing style can be something that puts me off a book. Choppy, daring writing can be disorientating and lack clarity, while detailed writing can often feel like wading through a pool of irrelevance.
I love character archetypes and genre conventions, but they need to have a flair of individuality to ensure I don’t get tired
There are no real limits with books. They can be set anywhere, about anything and have a diverse range of character types. Story-telling is a mode of inspiration and imagination in book form. This means that a book’s plot and premise can be fantastically imaginative with incredible depth. Think Tolkien’s Legendarium of The Lord of the Rings or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. But, a fantastic premise isn’t always enough to save a book from feeling irredeemable and can often make it worse if the execution is subpar. Sometimes a book series starts out strong, but can’t seem to keep up with the original installation as the plot and world become more convoluted. I’m looking at you, The Hunger Games.
The opposite can also become a problem, since no one really wants to read a giant cliché. I’m much more likely to put down the book of an author who has played it safe than the book of an author striving for something new and unique. I’m not even particularly against overused tropes, the important part is how the trope is executed. In fact, I love character archetypes and genre conventions, but they need to have a flair of individuality to ensure I don’t get tired. Some of the best characters are those who are built into an archetype, but manage to break free or subvert said archetype as part of their development.
Characters, mainly protagonists, are an important aspect that will make or break a book for me as well. Admittedly, creating an enjoyable protagonist is not an easy task. Many end up feeling like the same generic, good guy who is just out to do the right thing. Protagonists with selfish intentions often feel so much more grounded and enticing. It’s why we all love a good villain.
Sometimes the protagonist can just feel like a limit on a book’s potential
Alternatively, you can enjoy a book with an unenjoyable protagonist. For me, an example of an uninteresting (albeit well written) protagonist would be Offred from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. This wasn’t enough to make me drop the book, but I was a lot more likely to than if we had a different style of protagonist.
Sometimes the protagonist can just feel like a limit on a book’s potential. I hold a personal distaste for protagonists who must be ill-informed for the sake of the plot or who do not have any real agency, yet are presented as the driving factor for said plot. Sometimes a bad central character can be saved by the charms of the supporting cast. I mentioned The Hunger Games once, I’ll do it again – Peeta, Haymitch and Finnick are all more interesting than Katniss. But sometimes the protagonist does make me want to just give up on a book.
Ultimately, the real culprit for the rare occasions I put down a book or series is burnout. I can and will steamroll through a book or series when I’m enjoying it. But the reverse is true for when I’m reading a book without enjoying it. The more I read, the harder it gets and so if I don’t properly pace myself, I’m bound to crash from it. Excessively bad story-telling is taxing for anyone.