Quote of the Moment

"It's never wrong to hope, Byx," said my mother. "Unless the truth says otherwise."
- from Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Restless Reader Syndrome

The other day, in the break room at work, I deleted a book from my Kindle... the fourth in a row. What had been billed as a romance quickly became two characters who, though in a state of mutual loathing at first sight, could not stop fantasizing about each others' stereotypical hot bodies. These are utterly incompatible sentiments... often jammed into the same sentence. People may do this, lust over someone they despise, but simultaneously? While dealing with other, immediate emotional issues unrelated to chemistry or rampant hormones? No.

Before that, I killed a story in which every single person was an idiot to some degree, one of them (the main male lead) possibly even sociopathic in his inability to deal with emotions or consider the long-term ramifications of his actions. The only way the plot could possibly play out was for them to continually do the dumbest, most short-sighted thing possible in a given situation - and they'd have to have grown even less intelligent to facilitate the romance promised by the blurb.

Before that, I tried reading a middle-grade fantasy. The concept was interesting, and the world had intriguing points, but I felt like I was reading a checklist rather than a story. Lone, picked-on protagonist boy: check. Meets a friend on the way to Hogw- er, their new boarding school: check. An eccentric adult turning up in a way designed to let me know this man will figure in heavily with future adventures: check. Drawing out what's "different" about the main character until intrigue became annoyance: check.

And before that was a by-the-numbers light fantasy romance which not only failed to explore anything truly original or amusing about the potentially great set-up, but had an added touch of objectifying/belittling women that set my teeth on edge.

There was also a Western with an idiotic heroine and over-the-top antagonist, a fantasy starting with a wall of description like a wrought-iron fence, so ornate and solid I couldn't make it past the first page of the prologue, a young adult fantasy with such a tired opening and unremarkable main character I just walked away and didn't bother looking back, and that string I hit a while back of three titles in a row with the same exact opening: a picked-on boy sneaking down an alley/back path to avoid bullies, being caught by the bully henchman who demands the in-world equivalent of lunch money, the boy dropping the money on the ground (to demonstrate cleverness) and getting away when the henchman lets him go to grab said money - only to run head-first into the main bully during his escape. (I swear, somewhere there must be a writing course handing that opening out as a freebie...)

I didn't used to do this. I used to make myself finish every story I started. I may have ground my teeth and clawed my eyes, but if it was intriguing enough to start, I figured I should try finishing it. I still remember the first time I failed to finish a Kindle title: in the work break room, where I do much of my reading on the device. I won't name names - I still have a policy of not reviewing anything I haven't read cover to cover, so deleted books get the dignity of anonymity - but I remember that feeling: I was staring at the screen, trying to pick my way through another sentence, and it struck me that I did not care. This was not a world coming to life, characters becoming more than mere contrivances of a plot, questions I needed to know the answers to before I could walk away. It was a wall of words to which I could not, for all my efforts, form an attachment. It must have held meaning and feeling to someone, as it had gotten some excellent reviews, but for me it was empty. When I finally gave up and it vanished into Kindle oblivion, it was a tangible relief. Now, I only push myself to finish if it makes it far enough to rate mention on my book review blog's Currently Reading section - generally, 10% in, though I've been known to pull the plug a little later.

Am I getting too picky? Sometimes, when I go through cold streaks, I wonder if I'm losing it: the sense of wonder, the ability to immerse in a story, to go along for the ride. I wonder if I've become too critical, too mindful of nitpicks and flaws - the problems I try my best to avoid in my own writing efforts - to see the forest for the trees, or the book for the words. I feel restless, looking for something and wondering if I'll ever find it. I don't honestly consider myself that difficult to please; a quick look at my reviews should be ample evidence that I am hardly a literary elitist... but, then, why does it sometimes seem impossible to find something that satisfies? Does it stem with my own ongoing dissatisfaction with my writing efforts? Am I judging others more harshly because I can't seem to get the words right myself, can't seem to grow my own story-forests into anything more than a scraggly copse - if that? Am I doomed to keep deleting titles, even possibly good ones, until I manage to satisfy my own creative urges... maybe never?

Then I find a story that draws me in, words that reach that elusive, ever-shifting itch - at least, for a time. And I decide that, like so many things, I'm likely just overthinking it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a book to read...