Thursday, February 23, 2012

I Confess...

I have a confession to make:  Last night I did something I haven't done in years, something very much out of character, and something that is both a little embarrassing and yet incredibly liberating.

I gave up on a book I was reading and set it aside unfinished.

I love books and I have always been a voracious reader. I can usually make it through a book in a week or so, reading only before I go to sleep.  And even if I don't love a book, I finish it.  I normally don't think I can fully form an opinion unless I digest the whole thing, and being an optimist, I'm always hoping that a slow book will get better as I go along.

Plus as a developing writer, I think I can at least learn something from every book.  It's been published, so it's successful at some level, and so there HAS to be some merit in it, right? 

But last night, a little more than halfway through, I gave up on Vernor Vinge's "Children of the Sky" (CotS).

I'm a science fiction fan, especially hard sci-fi, and I really, really enjoyed Vinge's "A Fire Upon the Deep" (FUtD), the award-winning 'Zones of Thought' novel that CotS was a direct sequel to.  That first book was sweeping in scope, had engrossing and innovative characters, a compelling plot, and I definitely enjoyed it.  I particularly liked the Tines, the dog-like race that only gains sentience when assembled into a cohesive pack of individual minds.

So I was really eager to read CotS because it's set in the same universe, has many of the same characters, and focuses on the Tines themselves.  But where FUtD pulled me along, CotS drags... and meanders...and wanders...and lacks any compelling plot at all that I was able to find.  The characters are wooden, the dialogue flat, the situations dull, and the book is severely overwritten.  Evidently Vinge and his publishers have decided that the best editing is no editing.  

I normally read every night and frequently have to be told by my loving and patient wife to put the book down, turn off the light, and go to sleep, but while reading CotS, I discovered that I was falling asleep after only a page or two, or not even bothering to pick it up many nights.  I realized I was actually starting to avoid the book because I knew it was going to be a chore to read and I was only keeping it on my nightstand because I didn't want to leave it unfinished.

So last night, I finally gave up, set CotS aside, and picked up the next novel in my "to read" queue.

In my less-than-perfect memory, I can only recall ONE other book that I've ever thrown in the towel on, and it was also a sequel to an earlier novel that I had enjoyed:  "Brother Odd" by Dean Koontz.  I really liked the first "Odd Thomas" novel, thought the second one ("Forever Odd") was ok, but just completely bogged down in the third book and couldn't go on any further.

I'm sure both of the novels I've quit on have their admirers, but for me...  I tried.  Really, I tried, but... shrug.

So I humbly confess, and throw myself on the mercy of the court of bloggish opinion -- please forgive me.

What about you?  Any novels that you've given up on reading halfway through?


Oh, and I have another entry in the 'Pirate Week' fun over at Tim Sevenhuysen's Fifty Word Stories.  This one is another fun, pun-rific, tale called "Arrrgh.  Maybe I should Join the Union".  

I invite you to read, rate and comment, if you're so inclined...  I always appreciate it!!!


Susan Flett Swiderski said...

There's a book on my Kindle right now that I started, but decided to "set aside" until later. One of my blogging pals wrote it, and I want to give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I'll like it better later? (I'm an optimist, too.)

The only other book I was tempted to give up on was "Michael Crichton's" book "Micro." It was published after his death, and as one of his long-time fans, I was thrilled when it came out. BUT it was allegedly started by Crichton and merely "finished" by another author. Right. Maybe Crichton wrote the first dozen pages. Very disappointing, but I did finish it.

Oh, no. I lied. When one of my sons was in college, (his "angst years") he gave me a William Burroughs book. I could NOT make myself finish that book. It was depressing disgusting rot, as far as I was concerned.

LTM said...

oh, yeah. I'll stop reading if I can't get into a book. I blame it on being an English major and being forced to slog through books I couldn't stand. :p Life's too short, so no worries! Keep reading~

DL Hammons said...

I never gave up on a book until I started writing. I guess I just lost patience, now that I had a better understanding of what it took to become published. Plus, we just don't have the time to waste on bad writing.

I felt the same way about BROTHER ODD, although I did finish it...barely (a lot of skimming).

Chris Fries said...

@Susan: I've loved many of Crichton's other books, going way back to "The Andromeda Strain" and I had "Micro" on my "to read" list, but maybe I'll pass based on your comments. I'm always concerned how good a posthumous novel is going to be -- it's usually either unfinished or considered by the author as not one of their best works (or it would have already been published).

And I did read "Naked Lunch" by Burroughs years ago, just because it's such a huge counter-cultural icon. I'm not sure I'd say I 'enjoyed' it, but it was kind of...fascinating, in a warped, twisted, drug-addled, and psychotic kind of way. Definitely NOT what I'd call light reading, though, LOL!

Thanks for the visit and sharing your thoughts!

Chris Fries said...

@LTM: Thanks for the support! I know -- it's really no big deal, right? There are SO many books I want to read that there's nothing wrong with leaving some unfinished.

But yet, somehow, I still feel kinda like a quitter, lol!

Chris Fries said...

@DL: I agree. The more I learn about the craft of writing, the less tolerance I have for shoddy writing. And in both these cases, they were works of authors who I KNEW were capable of much better work -- they were sequels of excellent books!

So maybe there's a touch of disappointment and/or cynicism in my quitting these books: Seeing an artist I'd earlier admired slipping in their ability, or worse -- no longer caring and just going through the motions for a fast buck or two.

Thanks for your thoughts, Bone!

Mitchell said...

Chris, confessing to not finishing a novel is like admitting you can't eat a whole pizza in one sitting.

Life is too short to spend either on the throne of overindulgence or the tenterhooks of bad literature.

Twice, I tried to read Norman Mailer's Ancient Evenings. Twice, I ripped out the tenterhooks and flush the mess.

This case is dismissed. You are free to go read something fun!



DL Hammons said...

PS. I just read your comment on my blog and I CANNOT STOP LAUGHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Chris Fries said...

@Mitch: Thank you, Sir!

And I'll be sure and not add Mr. Mailer's piece to my "to read" list...

@DL: LOL! I figured you'd get a kick out of that -- especially since your excellent post at A-to-Z was the straw that broke the camel's back and sucked me into the month-long insanity.