Thursday, December 20, 2007

When your hook is dull, you're either gonna lose your fish or cause it pain.

I have a backdated blog entry where I keep track of books I've read. With the year winding down, I took a gander at that post and was surprised to see I've read about 70 books this year.

That slapping sound you hear is me patting my own back. I got into a reading drought while in grad school (ironic how when you're in school, you have no time to read--not even textbooks; everything gets skimmed) and I decided to make an effort to get out of it.

In my post, I also kept track of books I started reading but didn't finish. That list actually provides an interesting statistic.

If I'm going to give up on a book, it usually happens at about page 15.

Fifteen pages. That's all you get! Don't whine about how no one lets authors slide the reader into the story gradually anymore--I know I've got the attention span of a chihuahua on crack, but I'm helpless to change that. What you gonna do? Either give me some candy by page fifteen, or I'm going to go read my friends' blogs instead.

I also kept track of why I stopped reading a book.

Reason #1 why I stopped reading:
"Too much backstory and telling."

Reason #2 why I stopped reading:
"Couldn't get into it."

Reason #1 is self-explanatory, but I'll comment on it anyway. Because of my brother's awesome birthday gift to me, I've been reading a lot of urban fantasy lately.

I don't much like urban fantasy.

Granted, I have been pleasantly surprised to discover some really great urban fantasy in the stack, but on the whole, my opinion stands: I don't much like urban fantasy.

Part of the reason is that a lot of urban fantasy is written in first-person. I like first-person when it's done well, but so often the author uses it as an excuse for the point-of-view character to yabber and yabber and yabber at the reader. Susie Kickbutt talks about her job, her opinion of the world, how she looks, the clothes she's putting on, her ex-boyfriends, and--worst, worst, worst--she blathers for pages and pages about the novel's backstory.

Urban fantasy authors, I beg of thee: show, don't tell. An internal monologue is telling. No matter how engaging your character's voice is, I'm going to get bored if you don't get the party started. Put me into this world; don't just tell me about it. And while you're at it, where's the friggin' plot? Fill me in on Susie Kickbutt's awesome leather pants later.


On to reason #2. When I say I can't get into the story, that usually means the book had neither an engaging character nor an engaging plot development in sight. Stupendous people may have been running around doing exciting things (as I recall, I put several books down right in the middle of a battle scene) but I didn't empathise with any of them and I didn't find the challenges they faced either emotionally or intellectually engaging.

One book I did finish could have very easily been on the list of books I didn't. It was a disappointment on a variety of levels, but what makes that one book interesting is that I remember exactly what got me hooked enough to keep reading it.

I had been bored with the story, despite some rather cool fantasy ideas in it, when a subplot got my attention. It featured a quiet, reserved, and very honourable guard's unrequited love for a princess. I liked him, and I could empathize with his pain. I wanted to see him get the girl.

That one character provided the emotional centre that kept me reading, and lemme tell ya, that book was not worth the effort.

Just one character I cared about. That's all it took. Just one conflict I wanted to find out the resolution to.

What sort of things cause you to put down a book (or throw it against the wall?) What flaws can you overlook and which ones stop you reading permanently?

And just to keep things from turning into a big ol' festering vat of negativity, here's a list of the books I've read this year that I thought were great. Feel free to add your own favourites in the comments, and I'll tack them onto the end of this post.

The Privilege of the Sword
by Ellen Kushner

Point of Honour
by Madeleine E. Robins

Mona Lisa Overdrive
by William Gibson

A Dance in Blood Velvet
by Freda Warrington

The White Wolf's Son
by Michael Moorcock

Story (non-fiction)
by Robert McKee

The Crystal City
by Orson Scott Card

Snow Crash
by Neal Stephenson

Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion
by Dan Simmons

Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors
by Guy Gavriel Kay

Last Light of the Sun
by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Time Traveller's Wife
by Audrey Niffeneger

A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords
by George R. R. Martin

Night of the Wolf
by Alice Borchardt

Book of the Damned
by Tanith Lee

The Silver Metal Lover
by Tanith Lee

Blog Readers' Picks:

From Josephine Damien:

Turn, Magic Wheel
by Dawn Powell

Lying Awake
by Mark Salzman

The Prestige
by Christopher Priest

A Welcome Grave
by Michael Koryta

The Marriage of the Sea
by Jane Alison

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