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Sunday Salon: Just Call Me Ms. Cranky-Pants

February 19, 2012

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You guys, I’ve been abandoning books with, well, abandon this week! Some of them I plan to try again one of these days, because I know I just wasn’t in the right mood: The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun and Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C. S. Lewis. One I know I’ll never, ever go near again (and will spend the rest of my life trying to wipe from the memory the crimes described in the 60 pages that I read): Defending the Damned by Kevin Davis. The last three I just found ‘meh’ and at a certain point decided it wasn’t worth the bother to keep reading: Dancing in the Dark by Barbara Ascher, Night Riders in Black Folk History by Gladys-Marie Fry, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Note that this are only the books I’ve read at least fifty pages of (one hundred eighty in the case of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) before deciding not to continue; if I were to add the books I’ve tried and set aside after just a few pages this week, it would show just how cranky a reader I’ve been. ;)

I don’t have a definite set of criteria for abandoning a book, but since I read in fifty to sixty page shifts, I always end up with ‘pauses’ in whatever I’m reading. If I notice that I put off reading when a certain book is at the top of the pile, or that I seem to begrudge an author the time I’m spending on the page or my internal monologue begins ratcheting up the sarcasm, I know that it’s time to take stock. So then I just ask myself if there’s a book I’d rather be reading in the questionable’s place; if a title immediately springs to mind or if I suddenly feel more excited about reading just thinking about alternatives, I know it’s time to walk away.

I always have mixed feelings towards abandoned books: on the one hand, I’m proud of myself for being willing to stop reading when I see a book isn’t working for me. But on the other hand, it’s frustrating to realise that I read over four hundred pages this week that all just kind of disappeared into a bookish void. Fortunately, there’s the comfort of the next book, the one that actually does delight all of my bookish senses! When I abandoned A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I got to pick up Elizabeth Nunez’s Prospero’s Daughter, which is simply marvelous. And setting aside the Lewis allowed me to delve into The River of Lost Footsteps, a truly fascinating account of Burmese history. At the end of the day, this is what matters.

How do you decide when to abandon a book? How frequently do you do so?

And now on to a few one-sentence remarks on books that I’ve actually finished this year! ;)

Books I Loved and Found Every Page a Delight

Read Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst if…you’re looking for an atmospheric and touching spy novel that won’t leave you horribly depressed and doesn’t involve main characters who speak ten languages fluently and with perfect native accents.

Reread Fledgling by Octavia Butler if…you love speculative fiction that challenges a reader’s preconceived notions or you’re looking for a very different kind of vampire read or you’re not sure which audiobook you should start next.

Books I Would Have Loved, Except for One or Two Little Quibbles or Books I Really, Really Liked

Read Shaming the Devil by Alan Jacobs if…you enjoy literary, intellectual essays and don’t mind a preponderance of white male subjects or are curious about modern Christian humanism.

Reread The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton if…you can’t resist meeting cousin Elena all over again and want to marvel at the acidly sharp picture Wharton paints of an earlier New York.

Books I Definitely Liked, Although They Didn’t Blow Me Away or Books that had Great Points Counterbalanced by Not-Great Ones

Read Death of a Glutton by M.C. Beaton if…you’re thoroughly addicted to the Hamish Macbeth series, to the point that you can overlook Beaton’s incredibly questionable portrayal of a food-addicted woman and somewhat slut-shaming approach to female characters & casual sex just to catch up with Hamish (this is by far my least favourite of the series so far).

Books That Aren’t For Me but I Could Still See Some Good Points

Read The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt if…you have a thing for memoirs by British professors ‘of a certain age’ (with everything that implies) and can overlook a lot of distasteful attitudes (see this passage) in exchange for an obviously sharp mind and just lovely writing.

The Sunday

48 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2012 9:03 am

    It sounds like you still had a good week of reading even if you were setting books to the side. I enjoy M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series when I’m in the mood for a cozy mystery. They are always fun but some are definitely better than others! I’ll have to try her Hamish series at some point. Hope you have a great week Eva!

  2. February 19, 2012 10:43 am

    Ugh, sorry you didn’t like Defending the Damned. I don’t remember it as being incredibly horrific, but then…I live in that world daily, so perhaps I’m just desensitized.

    • February 20, 2012 12:28 pm

      *warning: do not read if you’re at all sensitive to true crime* The baby being dismembered, bread, fried, and & thrown to the dogs? And then the remaining ‘bits’ being blended? Or the toddler girls whose v*ginas were torn open by the size of the p*nis of the man who r*ped and killed them? I’d call that pretty horrific, but I also take great pains to avoid the news & true crime books, so I’m not at all desensitised.

      (Edited to add some astericks to avoid creepy google searches.)

      • February 20, 2012 8:35 pm

        See? I don’t even remember that stuff. But I did read it several years ago, and maybe I was kind of expecting that? I spent all day today trying to remember what on earth was so bad about it…Next time I recommend it, I will add a proviso. :)

      • February 20, 2012 10:59 pm

        I didn’t realise it was only going to be about murder; based on the subtitle, I was expecting it to be about all kinds of crimes that public defenders deal with. I think as long as you make clear it’s true crime rather than social justice, it’ll be fine! I also have incredibly bad nightmares on a very regular basis, so I try to avoid feeding them new material, you know? :) (Your reaction gives me hope that in a few years I won’t remember either!)

  3. February 19, 2012 10:53 am

    “A bookish void”? Oh, noes…say it isn’t so. ;) Like I’ve told you on Twitter, move on, lady, and don’t regret not finishing a book. Life’s too short. Too many good books out there…or books that you consider good anyway, and that’s what matters.

  4. February 19, 2012 11:08 am

    Great post Eva. The ‘booksih void’ thing is what tends to make me want to read on with a book that I have stopped and started and stopped and started. So I have decided I allow myself to be harsher or I end up reading books (like a certain neo-Victorian novel recently) which lead to me feeling very grumpy, that wading through treacle like feeling, and then writing a slightly snarky review – no good for anyone. I should have put it down and then I might have read the mind blowing ‘The Snow Child’ and not had a book funk inbetween.

    I must remember this in the future. I must, I must, I must.

    • February 20, 2012 12:29 pm

      I abandoned a Neo-Victorian novel last month (The Observations)! I think they’re v hard to get right.

  5. February 19, 2012 11:18 am

    I have a rule for reviewing which is 100 pages or 25%, whichever is shorter. But I will allow myself to give up on a book altogether at any point now (e.g. Remembering Babylon which was unspeakably dull) – there are too many other good books (mostly already on my shelves!)

    • February 20, 2012 12:30 pm

      That’s so funny: I loved Remembering Babylon! ;)

      Anyway, I mainly get all of my review copies from Netgalley these days, so I have no hesitation abandoning one of it’s annoying me. So easy to mark ‘declined’ and be done with it!

  6. February 19, 2012 11:49 am

    I am with you – if a book isn’t working for me, I can give it only 50-100 pages before I give up. Because if I get much past the 100 page mark, I just have to finish it otherwise I’ll feel that I wasted my time and didn’t even finish a book! LOL. Silly logic, I suppose. But I’m sad that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn didn’t work for you, I loved it when I read it for the first time last year. Oh well.

  7. February 19, 2012 11:51 am

    I was like that in November and December. It was terrible! I couldn’t stick with anything it seemed. I hope it passes for you soon!

  8. February 19, 2012 12:41 pm

    Oh, I’m sad to see you abandoned A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It’s one of my favorites. I don’t have a set rule, per se, but if a book is just boring me to the point where I’m avoiding picking it up again, or yawning after a few pages, or my mind wandering all over the place, I have no qualms about leaving it for the next read.

  9. February 19, 2012 12:58 pm

    I’m always reluctant to abandon a book in case it gets really, realy good soon after I put it down. Some of my very favourite books didn’t hook me right off. In fact, books that hook me right off are the exception, not the rule; I normally need at least fifty, and sometimes more like a hundred, pages to become truly immersed in a story.

    That said, I’m determined to abandon more books this year. 2011 was pretty durned laclustre for me, so in 2012 I want to focus on books I love rather than books I just rather like. If a book doesn’t excite me by the fifty page mark or so–if the characters don’t intrigue me and I don’t care where the plot is headed–I’ll put it down.

    At least in theory. I’ve only abandoned one book so far this year, and I gave that one more like 150 pages. I liked the world building very much, but I just couldn’t find the spark I needed to become invested in the story.

    • February 20, 2012 12:32 pm

      I don’t abandon a book just because I’m not obsessed with/in love with it yet (see, me continuing w Left Hand of Darkness), but if there’s something about it that’s getting on my nerves/boring me then I have to re-evaluate!

  10. Terri B. permalink
    February 19, 2012 1:15 pm

    Sorry about the “book void.” ugh I rarely abandon books, so don’t have a firm thought process on this topic. I’m like Memory – concerned that book will get really good just after point at which I abandon it. Have read many books that took 150-ish pgs to get into, then got really good. C.J. Cherryh comes to mind. Her books are often like this. I’m currently having a hard time with Devil in the White City and reading it in chapter bits interspersed with whole other books.

  11. February 19, 2012 1:33 pm

    I usually don’t give up on a book before I read about 100 pages of it. And then I usually feel like I’ve read so much, so why not finish it (Unless a book would be like a 1000 pages long). I very rarely abandon books, most frequently I do it if a book is just too complex, not necessarily bad (It is good to occasionally finish a bad book so that you know what you definitely DO NOT want in a book), and I know that in a few years I might try it again and be more capable of understanding its complexity. I think if I tried to get off the beaten and safe path with my book choices and start choosing titles I normally wouldn’t consider much, I would be abandoning more too. And at the same time discovering fantastic stuff. So I guess there’s a toss-up there.

    • February 20, 2012 12:33 pm

      I have a hard time stopping after the 100 page mark too unless a book is over 300 pages!

  12. February 19, 2012 1:40 pm

    I rarely abandon a book and it’s something I really need to work on.

  13. February 19, 2012 2:13 pm

    I’m not very good at consciously deciding to abandon a book that’s not working; usually I abandon it because I realize that I’m out of renewals at the library and it’s not engaged me enough to be worth the fine. (Equally often I haven’t even managed to start books I return without reading–my eyes are bigger than my reading time!)

    • February 20, 2012 12:33 pm

      I frequently return books to the library before managing to start them too! I figure I can always get them again, and it just boosts the library’s numbers. ;)

  14. February 19, 2012 2:58 pm

    I’ve gotten better about abandoning books than I used to be. Because I usually read only one book at a time, I’ve figured out that it’s usually time to give up when I find I just don’t want to read for several days, and especially if a different book makes me feel excited. I do try to give every book at least 50 pages, if it makes it past the 1-chapter “audition” that I give books before I decide to read them. Sometimes if I’m worried that a book is going to improve, I’ll read some reviews or ask on Twitter. The hardest books for me to give up are the ones that I think are perfectly good but that I’m not enjoying much.

    As for the bookish void, I’ve started to think of every book I abandon as another one marked off my list, so I *still* get the sense of accomplishment.

    And I’m sorry you didn’t care for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I listened to the audiobook a few years ago and liked it a lot. But no book is for everyone!

    • February 20, 2012 12:34 pm

      Ohhh, I love your use of ‘audition’! I do that w books too, so I’m going to start using that phrase. ;)

  15. February 19, 2012 3:11 pm

    I know the bookish void! And sometimes it seems that no book will satisfy.

    Library school cured me of any guilt or reluctance to abandon books. I don’t do it a *lot*, but I do it sometimes, and I’ll quit when I’m 80% of the way through if I think it’s getting too long. I’m more likely to quit a novel near the beginning if I’m not hooked, and I’ll quit a non-fiction book when I’m nearly done because so much non-fiction tries to be too exhaustive and I get bored.

    • February 20, 2012 12:35 pm

      I’m impressed you’ll quit at 80%! If I’ve only got 50 pages left in a book, it takes A LOT for me to not just press on & finish it.

  16. February 19, 2012 3:24 pm

    A while ago, I decided to give “Twilight” by Stefanie Meyer a try. I was intrigued with how she had a dream and wrote it down (at the encouragement of her sister) and it became the framework for her first book. I tried to read it and I kept at it until finally I just had to stop. I compliment her on her success, but her book left me frustrated and I found myself editing the text as I read along and finally put it down for good.

  17. February 19, 2012 3:52 pm

    I very, very rarely abandon a book unless it is actively infuriating me. Otherwise I just put it down and plan to read it later. This is very clever of me because I never have to feel like I’m ditching a book (because in my mind, I’m always going to read it later!). It’s not even a lie. I am often willing to give books a second chance when awesome bloggers (like you!) say the books I abandoned previously are, in fact, awesome.

    • February 20, 2012 12:35 pm

      I’m usually willing to give books I’ve abandoned another chance, unless like you said they’ve done something to make me really angry!

  18. February 19, 2012 4:29 pm

    Ms. Cranky-Pants!! Haha, sorry, had to do it. One of my goals this year was to abandon more books (okay, weird goal, but it might keep my house from collapsing), and stop wasting time on books that are much easier to put down than they are to pick up, in the interest of whittling down my vast collection and, of course, enjoying better books. If I start avoiding reading in pursuit of other activities that’s usually a good sign it’s time to move on to the next selection. I don’t much like doing it, but with all the great books there are to read, there’s simply no time for bad or even mediocre ones that I have to force myself to pick up and leave next to no lasting impression on me.

  19. February 19, 2012 5:27 pm

    I torture myself before giving up a book. I will read and read and read, forcing myself to get through a book just in case it gets good in five pages time. I am not sure why I do that. Even if I do finally give up a book I will actually feel guilty for doing so. There are books that I think I should like, and I think it must have been wrong book at the wrong time, and so I will still think that maybe I should try again eventually!

  20. February 19, 2012 7:07 pm

    That second paragraph? That’s exactly how I decide if I should abandon a book or not! Sometimes it takes me a while to realize that I need to abandon a book, and sometimes it takes me a LONG while to get over feeling guilty for abandoning a book (especially a review book), but I’m not going to live forever and I want to read books that I enjoy reading. So there!

  21. February 19, 2012 8:44 pm

    I love abandoning books! But when there are a few in a row it can get frustrating, because all those pages you read really do feel like they’ve disappeared into a bookish void. I’m surprised you gave up on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn! Any reason why?

    • February 20, 2012 12:37 pm

      *whispers* It was a bit too preachy & heavy-handed for me. Even though I know that’s the hallmark of classic children’s lit, and even though I love other authors that I’m sure some find preachy/heavy-handed. And I didn’t care about any of the characters or what happened to them. And I kept rolling my eyes. BUT I’m willing to give it another go one of these days when I’m in a more generous mood!

  22. February 19, 2012 8:54 pm

    I have given up books numerous times. Sometimes I may pick them up again, and there are some which I have even enjoyed when I restarted them. If I abandon it really early (say in the first 10 pages as I have done with a couple of books) then I feel like I am being unfair. But I have learned not to worry about this and just move on to the next book.

  23. February 20, 2012 6:37 am

    Oh no – I think I remember mentioning “Defending the Damned” when you reviewed something else – maybe “The New Jim Crow”? I probably should have put a disclaimer on that.

    I have to admit that I wasn’t too taken with “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” I did finish it – twice – but I didn’t love like other people do. I liked the attention to the little details, but other than that it was just “meh.”

    • February 20, 2012 12:39 pm

      It’s ok; I just thought Defending the Damned was going to be more social justice-y (like New Jim Crow & Courtroom 302) rather than true crime (which is possibly my least fave nonfiction topic ever). The preface really should’ve warned me that it wasn’t going to be my kind of book!

  24. Mirjam permalink
    February 20, 2012 8:14 am

    I agree with Samantha that your reading week sounds good in spite of you abandoning several books. On Saturday I abandoned a novel (Nourishment by Gerard Woodward) because I was disgusted with certain topics in it (do not ask!) and after a while found myself skimming through most of the chapters instead of reading them. Then I decided that I wanted to abandon the book completely, because frankly, what is the point of throwing only a glance at the majority of the pages and hoping all the time that the novel will get better?! Some books just do not deserve a reader’s full attention, although of course it is a question of taste which books belong to that category.

  25. February 20, 2012 8:22 am

    Something in the wind…I am Le Crank de la Pants, too!

  26. February 20, 2012 10:10 am

    I abandon if I’m not invested by about page 50-75. Also, if I just don’t give a crap at any point in the reading experience, I’ll probably abandon. Only quit one so far this year, but we’ll see how it all shakes out as the year moves on.

  27. February 20, 2012 10:49 am

    I’m thinking about checking out Spies of the Balkans and Shaming the Devil. To me they look quite promising.

  28. February 20, 2012 2:21 pm

    I think there are some books that, if you didn’t discover them by a certain age, you’re not going to love them. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn strikes me as one of them, easily. I would also mention anything by Victor Hugo, although I loved them with a fierce love I don’t think can be recreated after the age of 12.

  29. February 20, 2012 2:27 pm

    I never abandon books ,I still don’t fully get my head round why people do but each to there own ,all the best stu

  30. February 21, 2012 5:10 pm

    I have the hardest time abandoning a book even when I know I should. I suppose I keep thinking and/or hoping that it will get better or I will understand more if I go all the way to the end. I admire readers like yourself who are willing to stop reading when the book isn’t working for them.

  31. February 21, 2012 10:49 pm

    I understand your mixed feelings about abandoning books. I always have second thoughts about abandonment and tend to rethink my decision, try again, and then confirm that my original decision was the correct one. When you think about the gazillions of books out there that you do want to read, I think it’s okay to abandon a book that just isn’t working for you.

    Also, the picture you chose for this entry is making me sad – those empty bookshelves need to be filled!

  32. February 26, 2012 12:19 pm

    I only abandon a book if I can’t understand the plot line or I just become so disinterested in the book that I don’t want to read it any more.


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