Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Ditching books off the TBR pile

So, I’ve tossed nearly 50 books off my Kindle’s TBR pile in the past few days. I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution to clear out a lot of books from my various TBR piles, but I might as well have. Maybe I should retroactively claim to have made that resolution: look! Success!

As I believe I mentioned in a recent post, I’m opening books, reading a few paragraphs or a few pages or occasionally just a few lines, and taking them off the device. Or else not, but today, a top five list for Features That Are Prompting Book Removal.

These are not in any particular order, but here we go —

1) Book does not grab me; not sure why not. This is one situation where it takes me a couple chapters to go thumbs-up-thumbs-down.

Just as often, my reaction is more like, Book does not grab me, not sure why not, could just be my current kill-em-all mood. When I have that reaction, I keep the book with a mental note to try it again sometime.

2) Major, major infodump at the beginning.

Just ditched one for this this afternoon. Two, in fact, because it was the first book of a duology and I ditched both books after five pages of the first were purely a history textbook. I was like, CANNOT MEASURE THE DO NOT CARE.

Reviews of my own books have suggested to me that some readers actually do like a huge infodump at the beginning. They may not think they want that, but if they don’t get it, they feel uneasy. I’m judging from the comments about how they dislike not knowing the history of the world when they read Black Dog.

Which is fine, takes all kinds, but as you may have guessed, I am absolutely in the school of sprinkling the history gently through the book and leaving lots of stuff unexplained. I really, really do not want a first chapter that reads like a history textbook. If I wanted to read a history textbook, I have heaping gobs of Great Courses books on audio sitting right here. (They had an AMAZING sale right before Christmas, with many courses 90% off.)

3) Clumsy or awkward writing.

I can absolutely be caught up in a story that is not all that well written. I can think of several examples right off the top of my head. But it takes a pretty catchy story to do that for me.

If the plot isn’t that catchy and the characters are kinda flattish AND the writing is not that great, well, there are a lot of books on my TBR pile. I am done reading books I don’t much like. I am trying to persuade my mother that she should take a harder line on this — she is eighty-three and frankly I am appalled that she ever wastes time reading anything she doesn’t much care for.

4) Any reference to modern politics in the first few pages.

In at least one case, this was not really a fair reaction, because the book has been sitting on my Kindle for several years. Nevertheless, if the author says something that feels too much like commentary on the modern political environment, I’m done. These days it just does not take much at all to trigger my SO OVER IT reflexive recoil from current-day political commentary in any SFF (or other genre) novel.

No doubt many readers are (somehow) not yet tired of political commentary in their genre fiction. Me, I want a disclaimer on the cover warning me if there is ANY such commentary in the book at any point. SO OVER IT.

This is one excellent reason to reach for historical novels, I suppose. Political commentary about Napoleon is just fine with me. If the author is sufficiently subtle about inserting political commentary, that’s fine too. But it takes REAL SUBTLETY these days, let me tell you.

5) Characters too unpleasant.

Okay, so, I read several chapters of Hetley’s The Summer Country, which I was hoping very much that I would like. But I just disliked the pov protagonist so much. She completely lacked any redeeming features, and I didn’t like her sister either, and we were getting villain pov chapters, and . . . look, I need at least one likable character. Not necessary nice. But likable. For me that means at least semi-competent and/or somewhat rational, to start with, and it doesn’t hurt if the author layers on a few admirable qualities such as, I don’t know, generosity and thoughtfulness and kindness and so on.

I got to this part where a villain is sweetly explaining to the protagonist how the good guy is really a bad guy, and the protagonist eats that up like the most gullible-ever naif, and I don’t even know for sure how much of that was false, but I don’t care. I just wanted to shake the protagonist and shout, “For heaven’s sake, what is wrong with you?” And then I ditched the book.

No doubt the protagonist was going to improve. But, important tip for any author hoping to appeal to readers like me: a distant, far-future improvement is not enough to make me slog through however many pages of the character being an idiotic jackass.

For the record, yesterday I read and quite liked Making Up, a romance by Lucy Parker. And I have started a contemporary novel called Jennilee’s Light, which I like so far, but I’m reading it on my phone at the chiropractor’s, so it’s slower than if I were reading it at home. (I hear tomorrow’s appointment is supposed to take over an hour, so that may change.) And I opened Shift by Kim Curran and liked the first pages a lot and moved it to the front of the queue to read for real pretty soon. So I’m not disliking everything. Just a highish proportion of things.

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2 Comments Ditching books off the TBR pile

  1. Kristina

    YES to everything you say above. I will also delete a sample if a book slaps me with an Agenda right off the bat. Please trust me to figure the message out for myself. Or at least let me learn to like the characters first. Any kind of abuse of animals in the first few pages also earns an automatic deletion. I just read a sample a few days ago that started with a cock fight, and yes, one of the protagonists was participating. The writing was beautiful and confident, but I saw all I needed, both of the book and the character. One more sample deleted.

  2. Elaine T

    YES YES on everything, especially political agendas and darkness and unlikeable stupid characters. Pokes at the Hetley mentioned… yeah, looks familiar, it’s one of those I also tried. I didn’t finish.

    OTOH, I sampled Rondo Allegro on your recommendation and it’s a charmer.

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