Monday, June 1, 2009

(When) Do You Stop Reading?

I'm wading through a tattered old copy of Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo and am about 600 pages in. I remember when my mom read this book, back in the seventies. She loved it. My copy was given to my husband from one of his hiking buddies, who highly recommended it. It's one of those books that have been on my list for a long time, and I was glad to finally start reading it several weeks ago.

Some parts of it are pretty good. Most of the book, though, bores me to tears. I feel bad about that. I want to like this book.

Usually, I have no problem putting down a book that doesn't interest me after the first 100 or so pages. If the book comes highly recommended, I might read a little further. I'm getting tired of this one, though. And I'm not even halfway through.

For one thing, the writing isn't doing all that much for me. It's readable, certainly, but the writing doesn't jump out at me as being particularly good.

For another, I don't like the "historical" intros to each of the chapters. They basically tell you what's going to happen in the chapter to come. I actually stopped reading the intros several chapters back. I guess that's helping me get through it more quickly.

Mainly, though, I'm just not interested. I think Sacajawea is a fascinating character and was a noble woman, but the novel itself is managing to bore me to tears. OK, not tears. That's hyperbole. But speaking of tears, I thought I would cry when Sacajawea was reunited with the Shoshonis, the same way I read about it at the Lewis & Clark exhibit we saw several years ago on a trip to the Pacific Northwest. No. The writing itself was weak, and I just felt ... bored.

So, I'm thinking about quitting this one.

Generally, when I do quit reading a book, I find myself regretting that I read as far as I did. For example, I read well over half of The Da Vinci Code before I gave up in disgust. Why did I read that much when I knew, less than a chapter in, that it was going to be a bad book?

Partly it's because I don't want to pooh-pooh a book that I haven't read at least a chunk of. It doesn't seem to right to say, "Oh, that's an awful book. I had to quit reading after just 20 pages." It just doesn't seem like enough to judge.

The trouble with Sacajawea isn't that I think it's an awful book. It isn't an awful book. It's just kind of ... good in some places, but mediocre in most other places. I really don't want to spend more time reading 800 more pages of a mostly-mediocre book--even though I feel committed to finishing it, since I'm already 600 pages in.

How far do you go into a book before you give up and decide to put it down? Do you force yourself to finish once you've started? Why? Do you have certain criteria that must be met in order for you to keep reading?

(I'm sure I've asked these questions on this blog before, but my readers are different from before. And I love reading your answers, even if you answered these same questions last time.)

One more question: Have you ever read Sacajawea yourself? If you have, how did you like it? Would you recommend that I stick with it for a few hundred more pages?

2 comments:

  1. You have far more patience with books than me. Ummm, how far do I read a book before I quit it if it's not rubbing the right spot? Pretty much after the first chapter.

    The way I've got it figured is, if the author can't write a book that draws me in within the first few pages (ideally it hooks me in the first paragraph), it's probably not going to get much better if I read the rest of it.

    The only exception was when it was mandatory reading for a class... then I stuck it out. Only because I had to, and thankfully, classes usually went a chapter or two each week.

    I can't believe you've read 600 pages of a book you're really not that hot on... I don't know if I should admire you for that or pinch you to see if you're real! :P

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  2. Well ... some books, like "The Return of the Native," take a while to get into but are worth it. (Others may beg to differ with me on that book, though!) It's like winding a jack-in-the-box ... is it just taking a long time before Jack pops out of the box, or is it just broken? If Jack pops out of the box after pages and pages of turning the handle, then it's worth it, particularly if "Jack" changes my life with his insights. But too often, particularly in newer books that have lots of good reviews, I end up with a broken jack-in-the-box.

    Does that make any sense at all? :)

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