Books I Won’t Read

I got this idea from my friend Stefanie over at So Many Books. Like Stefanie, my initial reaction to the question, “What books won’t you read?” is “none”. Years ago, I wrote a piece, which I might bring back here as one from the vault, about what a book slut I am, how I’ll read just about anything. I’m insatiably curious, and I possess this contrary disposition that leads me to be  both trusting and mistrusting of all book reviews I read. Add to that the fact that I’ve belonged to so many book clubs for so many years in which I’ve discovered and loved books I never would have picked up otherwise, and well, it makes sense that my initial reaction is that I read everything.

Whenever someone trashes a book, instead of discouraging me from reading it (which would be great if anyone ever took note of how long my tbr tome is), I find myself thinking, “Surely it can’t be THAT bad?” When someone raves about how wonderful a book is, well, I have to find out if I agree. I don’t even trust my own judgment, having long ago decided that every author deserves at least two chances. I mean, what if the first book I chose by her just so happens to be the only bad book she ever wrote? So I will try an author, and even if I hate his book, will try another of his before completely abandoning him (and in some cases, even then I can be persuaded to try a third). That’s why I recently decided to give Cecilia Ahern a second chance after slogging through the extremely poorly-written P.S. I Love You (although it was made into a film that is much better than the book and a great one to watch next time you find yourself stuck at home in bed with a bad cold). I read 100 pages of The Book of Tomorrow before deciding that, yes, her writing has improved a little over the years, but not enough to convince me that the only reason she ever got any publishing contracts is that she happens to be the daughter of the former Prime Minister of Ireland.

This leads me to the first category of books I won’t read: those that are terribly written. Unfortunately, this isn’t something one can know before picking up a book. And sometimes, horribly written books can be stomached if the story/plot is interesting/imaginative enough. I kept going with P.S. I Love You because I really did want to see what would happen in the end. The Book of Tomorrow, however, was not only poorly-written, but also seemed like a story hundreds of authors have written better. Eschewing poorly-written books means I don’t tend to read much popular, bestselling fiction. There are exceptions. I will read Stephen King because he’s imaginative and a great story-teller. I will read Sophie Kinsella, because even though the plots are contrived the way all romance plots are, they’re contrived in original ways, and she writes well. For the most part, though, I shy away from bestseller lists.

I also shy away from books with cutesie or annoying titles, unless someone whose reading tastes I respect recommends them, or they get chosen for one of the book discussions to which I belong. I know that’s very superficial of me, but it’s how I am. I never would have read Eat, Pray, Love whose title turned me off the minute I first saw it on display, if it hadn’t been for reviews written by bloggers I’d come to trust. That would’ve been a shame, because I so enjoyed that book. Likewise, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is one of the worst titles ever, but was such a good book. I am quite sure I’d love Alan Bradley’s mystery series featuring Flavia de Luce, but we’ll probably never know, because I just can’t get past the title of the first book in the series The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (I guess if you want me to read your book, you’d better make sure it doesn’t have “pie” in the title). That one actually has two strikes against it, because I don’t like the heroine’s name, either. And yet, an eleven-year-old chemist solving mysteries? I ought to be all over that series. Recently, only for a book discussion group, I finally read Little Bee. If the American publishers hadn’t been so stupid as to change the title from its original The Other Hand, making it sound like it was some treacly children’s book, I might have read this harrowing and important work long ago. American publishers seem to make that mistake a lot. I wasn’t too keen on reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. A book called Men Who Hate Women (it’s Swedish title)? I would immediately have pulled that one off the shelf. Having worked in publishing, I know how very, very hard it is for all parties involved to agree on a title, but still, I so often find myself wondering, “What were they thinking?”

I won’t read books that feature long, detailed descriptions of sex, unless they are important to the plot (and how often are they really important to the plot?). I’m not a prude. I read plenty of that sort of stuff when I was younger, but at my age, I really couldn’t care less what others are doing behind closed doors, and I find much of it boring and/or silly. I’d much rather have an author hint at what’s going on and let my imagination fill in as needed. Most of the time I can tell when an editor, thinking it would sell more copies, has obviously told an author he/she needs to include graphic sex scenes. I understand that such descriptions maybe sold more copies of books back in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was suddenly allowed, a “new thing”, during a time when people were just beginning to talk openly about sex and maybe used such books to find out whether or not they were “normal”, but is it really necessary now, given what’s on primetime TV?

Finally, I’m not much into reading books that are nothing more than one person’s political or religious diatribe, unbalanced and, quite often, mean. If it happens to be someone with whom I agree, I rarely learn anything new and am discouraged when I find him/her personally attacking others rather than discussing ideas (a personal attack against the opponent is the first sign someone is losing an argument). If it happens to be someone with whom I disagree, he or she doesn’t encourage me to understand his or her point of view, which is what I’m hoping will happen when I read a book written by someone with whom I think I might disagree. Add arrogance on the author’s part (and it will be there), and well, what’s the point? I much prefer biographies or autobiographies of such figures.

There are also other types of books I could list, like technical manuals, that are obvious, but I’d much rather get back to reading all those books I will read. Meanwhile, I’ll pass on Stefanie’s question. Are there any sorts of books you won’t read?

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10 thoughts on “Books I Won’t Read

  1. You know, I make assumptions about books with sickly titles too. Even though I’ve had number people tell me The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is good I have yet to pick it up because of the title. I just cannot get past it. I don’t mind books with detailed descriptions of sex if they are well-written and 99% of the time they aren’t so that effective means I don’t read those either! And you’re right, those diatribe books! I am so firmly against reading them that I didn’t even think about it when putting together my own list because I just don’t pay attention to their existence. Wasn’t this fun to think about? 🙂

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    • I agree, although I did read some (standing in the bookshop, no way I’d part with money) just so I could find a few terrible examples of the writing to give substance to my 50 Shades ranting. There’s so much great writing in the world, and a lot of much better erotic fiction, why anyone would want a tepid and stale imitation of these things, based around a narcissistic control freak is beyond me. The sex is actually the least violent part of it, his emotional treatment of her is awful. I should probably calm down. Or make a placard 😉

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  2. Gratuitous, graphic, earthy and repeated violence, especially when portrayed from the point of view of the demented antagonist, will likely keep me from reading the same author a second time.

    Vampire-harlequin-soft-porn isn’t worth the energy to criticize, much less read. Next.

    Poorly written books. I recently slammed one author’s book shut after twenty minutes. She got punted back to the library the same day.

    When I reread some of the things I read and liked as a kid, I think, “Ouch — I actually liked this?”

    So I’ve gotten pretty picky about what I read.

    It makes me think about things I like to read:
    1. Authors that make you like with their characters–along with their endearing foibles–in the first five minutes, before the plot is obvious.
    2. Authors that know how to pace the action, skim the boring, obvious or overly gratuitous parts, and keep reader interest.
    3. Authors that can drop you into their characters’ world in such a way that even if they don’t reveal all the societal/technicalities all at once, details are revealed in interesting ways that add dimension to the story as it unfolds.
    4. A ten-book series where seemingly-useless details from the first or second book come back to bite the protagonist at about book seven or eight. The overarching series plot and all its details are so well-connected book-to-book that it seems as if you’re walking into the world the author has created when you pick up where you left off.
    5. I like an author whose characters are so three-dimensional and engaging that their interaction, motives (both inferred and revealed) and character-narrated introspection make me reflect on who I am and how I interact with others in reality.

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    • I’m with you on that sort of violence and the Vampire-harlequine-soft-porn. I’m also most definitely with you on well-developed characters. I think I’m rare being so into characterization. I don’t necessarily have to like a character, but I definitely have to believe in him or her.

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  3. I’m with you on the ‘Pie’ books and anything else with a cloying title. Also agree that detailed sex scenes are unnecessary, not to mention boring. I flicked through 50 Shades once and put it down immediately. I won’t read novels of the James Patterson ilk and I won’t read contemporary follow ups to older books: Sebastian Faulks writing Bond, someone’s faux Wodehouse, whoever it is who has picked up the Wimsey/Harriet Vane stories, Death Comes to Pemberley… No and no and no.

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    • Good, another one who doesn’t like pie (unless it’s on a plate, and I can eat it). You’ve reminded me that I’m also very wary of books with endorsements that claim the author is “a modern-day Jane Austen”. I think Jane would be quite amused to know that she has so many clones wandering around in the 21st century.

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  4. I have wide tastes, fromt Proust to PG Wodehouse to Stephen King and anything inbetween, but not, under any circumstances, those books that are based entirely around awful fictional depictions, or true-life memoirs of child abuse. ‘Angela’s Ashes’ seems to have started it, and luckily it’s on the wane. At least with Charles Dickens unfortunate children got a happy ending!

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