Over the years, I’ve discovered that I get very critical of anything I read. When I don’t like a book, I can’t just say, “Eh, that wasn’t great. Time to read something else.” No. I have to sit with the book and analyze what the heck about the book is bugging me….
So, just curious:
a) Do you do this?
b) If so, are you able to figure out what it is that you didn’t like?
Me, I’m willing to spend, I don’t know, up to five or six minutes thinking about why a particular book isn’t working for me. At least three or four minutes. Okay, definitely at least one minute. Honestly, if it’s not pretty clear to me up front, I am generally okay with just saying, “Not working for me” and stopping with that.
Sometimes it is clear. For example, if the author used the word “parameter” when she meant perimeter” on the first page, and also nothing about the first page is especially grabbing my attention. (This is an actual example.) I don’t feel inclined to trust a writer who uses a blatantly wrong word, but I’d be more forgiving if the story seized my attention right up front.
Sometimes I just don’t like the protagonist, most often because she seems overly ineffectual or stupid or impulsive or emotional, or some combination of those traits. That takes longer to realize, so I would probably be stopping after several chapters, not merely several pages. I am aware that the protagonist may improve. These characteristics are so unappealing that I’m generally not willing to wait for that to happen.
Occasionally some plot element seems so unbelievable or so repulsive that even though everything else about the book is working for me, I quit. I’ll give an example for that one: NK Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, where the protagonist kills a man who is trying to help her plus everyone else in the village because she is upset. I grant that she has reason to be upset, but I don’t care. This element repelled me so strongly that I stopped immediately, even though the writing was thoroughly compelling.
But sometimes I just don’t know why a particular book isn’t really working for me. Everything about it seems fine, but somehow I just don’t care about the characters / don’t care about what might happen next / find myself just not inclined to pick the book up. This is not a feature of quality as such. Sometimes I find books that aren’t that well written to be quite compelling reads, whereas I simply loose interest in a beautiful literary fantasy that everyone else just loves.
In those cases, I do think (briefly) about why the book isn’t working for me. But if I can’t figure that out in a few minutes, I quit worrying about it and just go on to a different book. How about you? Do you feel compelled to analyze every book you dislike, or are you willing to let your reaction remain a mystery?