Monday, December 6, 2010

I Didn't Finish

I don't like to rant. I think it's pretty unbecoming.  But there's something that bothers me that I just have to say:

I don't think it's fair to "rate" or "review" books that you don't finish.

There.  I said it.  Now let me explain.

I detest Hemingway.  I think his prose is wooden, I think his characterizations are cheap and ineffective, and I think he's a horrifying misogynist. I once told a college professor that if an infinite monkeys writing for all eternity on an equally infinite number of typewriters would eventually produce the works of Shakespeare then it should only take ten monkeys ten minutes with sticks in the sand to produce the works of Hemingway.  Needless to say, I feel pretty strongly.  I also feel as if I've earned the right to bash the guy's writing because I've read pretty much every story he's written.  I felt that in order to justify my strong dislike, I needed to be sure there wasn't some nugget of awesomeness buried within his writing.  Sadly, I didn't find what I was looking for, only what I expected I'd find.

I think public discourse is beneficial.  I think people have every right to dislike anything they want and to bash the crap out of if it that's what gets them off.  But I think you have to earn that right by at least finishing the stinking novel.

Two examples:  It took me nearly twice as long to finish the first 200 pages of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay as it did to finish the rest of the book. It was tough to get into.  It was also one of my top ten favorite books ever.  If I'd given up before I got through those two hundred pages, I would have missed out. If I'd gone on to shout about how horrible it was or to rate it poorly on Amazon or Goodreads or one of those other sites, I'd have been doing the book and myself a serious disservice.  Another book is Jellicoe Road.  This is another book that I'd have on my top ten best books, but I was so confused throughout the first hundred pages that I thought about giving up.  Turns out that "flaw" actually became the book's greatest strength: Marchetta's ability to weave a million disparate threads into a brilliant tapestry.

So I guess my point is that I don't care if you hate a book.  My book, someone else's book, all books.  All I care is that before you run out and tell everyone how much you hate it, have the decency to finish it so that your opinion is informed and thoughtful.

And if you do choose not to finish a book for whatever reason, and you have a burning desire to "review" it, then maybe just say why you didn't finish.  If you picked up a book full of profanity and you hate profanity, I'm okay with saying that.  Or if you thought the beginning was slow and you wanted a fast paced novel.  I've quit plenty of books, not because they sucked, but because they turned out to be something other than what I was looking for at the moment.

Okay, rant over.


  1. I was thinking about just this thing recently and completely agree with you. However, I want to throw something out there. I'm wondering if when bloggers review a book they did not finish it's not necessarily due to the "need" to review but because they may feel ethically obligated. The books they review are often sent via authors or publishing houses, and they may feel they *have* to review or else it looks like they just took the book. It's a difficult position to be in. So in those cases, I got with your suggestion of explaining why they didn't finish and also one step further--maybe then can also say what they did and did not like in the pages that they read.

  2. Sorry, but I don't agree with you. I don't put down books easily, and I've been known to drag myself through some hellish literary experiences just because I was searching for that one grain of sand that would redeem the work. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not. I don't think you have to make it all the way through a piece of crap however, in order to be able to speak intelligently about its merits or lack thereof.
    For example, I recently put down a book that was so ludicrous that I honestly could not drag myself through any more of it. I am forgetting the name of the book right now (or even the author), but basically it involved a Native American character and how he believed he had absorbed the ghost of Custer immediately after Custer's death. The part that was completely idiotic to me was how the author depicted Custer as a rampant sex fiend (along with his fiancee) who would write incredibly descriptive letters to her talking about their various sexual exploits. In great detail. Yeah, not only was it idiotic, it was completely unnecessary and added nothing to the story whatsoever. I do however, feel I could discuss this book in good conscience with friends, despite not having read the entire thing.
    Reading the very last word in a text does not equate to being any more knowledgeable about it than reading a word two-thirds in, and I think that's illustrated (deservedly so) by the process agents use to filter out poorly written works. If it doesn't catch your attention fairly quickly, more than likely (not always, mind you) it's not ever going to. And I think I can review a work based on that lack of good writing just as easily as I can review something written well. Long rant-response, but that's my thoughts :)

  3. Eric - Just so you know, I love to argue :) I agree with you to the extent that you're not a librarian, reviewer, or someone else that loads and loads of people look to to tell them what's good to read. You're both right and wrong about agents. I can read a couple of pages of a book and tell whether it's going to be something I love or not. And that's what agents are looking for: love. I recently began a book that I knew I was only going to like. I finished it and my initial reaction was borne out. Maybe an agent reading that would have read a couple of pages and passed. Another agent would have fallen in love (and loads of other people did too as the book has gotten amazing buzz).

    Also, a book like Harry Potter picked up a lot of passes before landing at its home. You as a reader and agents as...agents, are looking at different things than people who review books or are tastemakers.

    In the case of the book you're talking about...I think you can definitely read 2/3 and then decide the books sucks. I also think you can (in most cases) assume that the last 1/3 sucks just as bad. But then I don't think you should review that book if you're someone that people look to for reviews.

    This whole thing came to me because I saw a couple of negative reviews on two books I really love where the person clearly read a chapter or two and then said they didn't finish. This is why I usually don't rant. But I feel like, if you take on the responsibility of spreading your reviews about books then you should finish the books you review.

    I tried reading a book that a ton of people read and loved. I couldn't get past the first couple of chapters because the author used more ! in one paragraph than most authors used in their whole books. The writing was juvenile and clunky. Should I have reviewed that book? I think not.

    I don't know. I can definitely see what you're saying, but I feel like, if you're going to take the time to review a book, if you're going to put yourself out there as someone that others should look to for book recommendations, then you owe it to your audience to know your material 100%


Keep it clean, keep it classy, and jokes are always appreciated.