July 15, 2010

What Makes You Put a Book Down?

Whew! All of the plates and cups have been swaddled in bubble wrap and tucked into their boxes. Next up: finding a place to put my crock pot!

In between my hours of packing, I perused the blogosphere this afternoon and happened upon a blog post about what makes you put a book down. In this particular post, the writer talked about gratuitous sex scenes and how they make her eyes roll and shake her head. Which many commenters agreed with. And this got me thinking...what makes me put a book down?

When it comes to my own reading, I sort of have an iron stomach. Throw some sex scenes in my face! Add some violence! Sprinkle in some f-bombs and murderous rampages and beheadings! It doesn't really bother me.

But what does bother me? What makes me roll my own eyes and toss a book into the incinerator? A few things actually...

1.) Boring/Bad/Bland writing. The three B's! Enough said!

2.) Too many flashbacks. I don't like it when writers rely too much on flashbacks to reveal the back-story. Why not weave it in through dialogue or hint at it in the descriptions? Why use a flashback that pulls me out of the story and makes me want to skip ahead?!

I once read a MG fantasy that relied heavily on flashbacks. Seriously, every other chapter was a flashback! It annoyed me to tears because I wanted to see what happened to the progatonist--not what he did two years ago or six months ago. Suffice to say, I did not finish the book.

3.) In-depth descriptions of gross bodily functions like boils and rashes and diseases. Ewwww.

A few years ago, I started reading Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders because I'm rather fond of historical fiction. I figured the book would be an interesting and informative read!

Oh my goodness...I could hardly get through the vomit-inducing passages about the Bubonic Plague--the black boils, the sickly liquids, and the putrid smells. (My stomach is turning as I type this.) My hats off to you Ms. Brooks. You surely know how to write gross stuff!

Surprisingly, I finished the book.

4.) Preachy-ness. Oh, I simply hate it when books try to cram a message down my throat. It makes me want to reach inside of the book and punch the author in the face.

Case in point: I once read a horribly dreadful Christian romance for my book club. *Shudder* The writing was pretty bad and the characterizations were horrid, but the overt message on abortion was simply the worst. Look, I don't mind if an author wants to tackle an issue like abortion because it's something that women face every day. But I totally get turned off once the characters turn into soapbox-type stereotypes who launch into preachy monologues about why abortion is good or evil. Don't preach to me!

Can you tell this one is a sore point for me? Heh.

Anyway, what makes you put a book down?


  1. Oooh, good question. I would have to say that boring or "textbook" writing bothers me. That is, a writer that can't seem to take any risks with his/her voice tends to send me running. As for the gratuitous sex and violence - doesn't faze me.

  2. I have a post about this coming up :)

    sometimes, the blurb gives me the impression it is going to be bout something, but when I get it, it's not what I thought.

    also, cant connect with the characters.

    too much swearing. it gives me a headache.

    inciting incident hasnt occured 5 chapters in and i just am not engaged.

    sucky wooden dialogue. yawn.


  3. Holy shizz, we are twins. The Three B's and the flashbacks--not my cup of tea. I recently read a book that had waaay too many flashbacks, and pushed through them to find a decently-written novel.

    Why don't we make a public service announcement? "Kids, don't do flashbacks. They're bad for you."

  4. A book that drags on and on and on with nothing really happening.

    Also, unrealistic. I read a book a few months ago that was a dystopian. These two girls (who had never really met guys before) met two guys. The next day one of them ran away with the other one. They'd maybe had a five-minute conversation the day before and that's IT. A few days later, they still hardly know each other and they have sex. Not for any real reason, they were just "in love" and wanted to have it. Three months and I still remember that book well, but for the wrong reasons.

  5. Great post! And an excellent question, especially to ask ourselves as writers...

    For me the hands-down winner for most likely to make me abandon a book is active dislike for the main character. Specifically, a main character who is stupid, petty, and/or boring will almost always make me abandon them unless the plot is a killer or there is another main character I do like.

    I can forgive almost any other fault if I like the main character enough.

    And I do wonder when I find a book with a character I dislike (or even hate): did the author love this character? Is there something I'm just missing here?

  6. Lindsay - agreed! A book without voice isn't worth reading! Fortunately, I find this a much bigger problem in the lengthy history texts I read in college than in fiction. I suppose most academics aren't concerned with voice, but my 20-year-old self really wishes they were! Haha.

    Nomes - Oh, I'm excited to read your post about this topic! I'm definitely with you about not being able to connect with the characters. If I can't connect, then I often find myself putting the book down.

    Amparo - Haha, I LOVE your public service announcement! A lot of writers could benefit from it!

    Horserider - Now I'm curious to learn what book you're talking about! Hehe. I wholly agree though. I hate it when characters fall in love in a couple days and expect to stay together forever. It never seems realistic to me!

    Deva - Interesting thoughts! It made me think about Ian McEwan's new novel that features a highly unlikable protagonist (womanizer, cheater, arrogant, etc.). I wonder if McEwan disliked his MC as much as some of his readers? I'll have to google it...

  7. Caroline,

    For some reason, I don't put a book down because I feel like I HAVE to finish it.

    Maybe because I usually buy them and refuse to waste the money any more than I already have or it may be because I just have to know what happens even if it's terrible. I don't know. I need to learn to put some of them down though. :-D

  8. #1 reason would be bland writing.
    Sex and gross stuff doesn't bother me, unless its badly written, of course.

    #2 would be wooden, stock characters who just play to the plot.

    And that's about it. I'll read about just about anything if its well written. That doesn't mean I'll end up liking it, or the subject matter. I'm just a curious person.