Thursday, June 16, 2011

Independent Literary Awards: Interrupted Reads

Hot on the heels of my first fantasy retrospective, in support of the Independent Literary Awards, I wanted to talk a bit today about those interrupted reads that take up so much space on our book shelves.

I freely admit, I'm not the easier reader to woo. A pretty cover will definitely catch my eye, but if the first paragraph of the cover blurb doesn’t provide a hook, I’ll put it back on the shelf.  Once I’ve committed to a book, however, I really feel obligated to finish it. Part of that is simple optimism – unless it’s so atrocious you can’t make it beyond the first few chapters, it just has to get better . . . right? Another part is a shrewd calculation of my investment – there’s a point in every book where, no matter how bad it is, you feel as if it owes you a resolution.

Generally, I’ll give a book at least 50 to 100 pages to lose me. I say ‘lose me’ because, if I’ve picked it up off the shelf and taken it home, it’s already ‘won me’ (on a conditional basis, of course). Those books that don’t make it to the 50 page mark are so forgettable that, quite honestly, I can’t quickly think of any examples. I know some readers maintain a DNF (Did Not Finish) shelf on Goodreads, but I prefer to just delete those books from my shelves. To me, a DNF implies a bad review when, really, the book just may not have appealed to you.

What I find most interesting (and what I don’t see discussed very often) is the concept of interrupted reads. Think of this as the DNF shelf . . . with an asterisk. They’re the books that you put aside, but fully intend to return to at some point in the future. I won’t say I tend to do that a lot, but I’m definitely more aware of my interrupted reads than I am my DNF reads.

Fortunately, for me, most of those interrupted reads turn out to be good reads. It’s often hard to pinpoint what prompted the interruption, and even harder to pinpoint why I came back, but I’m usually glad that I did. In fact, some of my favourite speculative fiction reads have been interrupted ones, including the following:

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time, Book 1)The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan – It took me the better part of 2 years to finish this one. It got tossed back into the interrupted pile on no fewer than four occasions, and I was becoming frustrated with both Jordan and myself. I think the problem was that I waited so long between interruptions, I had to start from page 1 each time, and rereading what already led me to put the book down didn’t help push me forward. The last time, however, something clicked . . . and I devoured the next 6 books (A Crown of Swords had just come out in paperback) over the next year and a half.

Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen)Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson – Much like The Eye of the World, it took me over a year to get through this. I distinctly remember it being too militaristic for me, but being sufficiently intrigued by the hints of magic and mythology behind it to want to see where it went. The interruptions later the story successfully wormed its way into my head, and I ended up reading Deadhouse Gates, Memories of Ice, and House of Chains back-to-back-to-back.

RaptorRaptor by Gary Jennings – This is a weird case, in that I’ve deliberately kept it an interrupted read. I suspect, when I’m done, it will rank up there with my all-time favourite reads. It really is that good. However, knowing that Thorn and I only have this one book together, I’m extremely reluctant to finish it. I simply don’t want his adventure to end.

Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower, Book 4)Wizard and Glass by Stephen King – I’m ashamed to admit it, and probably should turn in my Stephen King fan club membership, but this was a matter of the wrong book at the wrong time. It was a dark time in my life, full of anger and depression. At the time, I had no patience for a love story, and the Wizard of Oz home came across as a cheap, lazy ploy to extend the book. I ended up putting this into the interrupted pile, and didn’t return to it until after I read Wolves of the Calla . . . and loved every page of it.

Rendezvous with Rama -- 1996 publicationRendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke – This was a rather ‘serious’ read for me, and one that I pursued more out of curiosity than reading pleasure.  I allowed it to be interrupted several times, and found that I could quite easily pick it up again without rereading anything. It’s not a bad book, and I’ve gone on to read others by Clarke that I quite liked, but it was like one of those TV shows you don’t make a point out of watching regularly, but will happily sit through a holiday marathon.

The Witching Hour (Lives of the Mayfair Witches)The Witching Hour by Anne Rice – Okay, to be fair, just about anything by Anne Rice has lingered in my interrupted pile at one time or another, but this one stands out. I think it took me three attempts to get beyond the first 100 pages, and another two attempts to finish. There was a great book hidden in there somewhere . . . it was just buried within the equivalent of a second book of filler. I kept hoping it would get better, and there were definitely high points that kept me coming back, but it was probably the interrupted read that came closest to the DNF shelf.

Pawn of Prophecy (The Belgariad, No 1)Pawn of Prophecy by David EddingsDNF shelf, but so many people recommended it that I was definitely feeling the peer pressure to finish. A series of small interruptions plagued this one, drawing out a relatively short book into a very long read. In the end, it was an OK read, and I finish the series, but it was largely out of a desire to get that return on my investment that I mentioned earlier.

There have been, and will continue to be, other interrupted reads, but these are the ones that stand out in my mind. Once again, a huge thanks goes out to Wallace (from Unputdownables) for allowing me to take part; to the authors who continuously inspire and entertain me; and to you, my fellow readers, for sharing the journey and discovering new reads together.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article! I find that most books that I allow to be interrupted, it's because I'm not really liking them, though, and some will turn into DNFs. Like Wheel of Time. I first tried to read the first one years and years back, and only got partway through. A few years ago I tried again, liked the first book, but then hated the second and quit half-way through.

    I will occasionally pause in the middle of a long-awaited book, though, usually if I'm getting nervous about the end of the plot, or I just don't want it to end. See: The Dark Tower 7, Dragons of Summer Flame. :)