Saturday, September 01, 2012

Bad Reading Luck

I've been doing a lot of random reading lately, which involves reading new-to-me authors I acquire in an unplanned, spontaneous fashion. While most of the time I'm lucky with this method it doesn't always work 100% of the time. At the dollar store I picked up ten hardcovers, and I'm a third of the way through those, but only Charles de Lint's The Mystery of Grace has held my interest long enough to finish it (and you were right about that one, Di.)

While reshelving some books at home I also found a book by an author I meant to read six months ago that somehow got lost in the shuffle, and tackled that. Decent world-building and interesting characters made me think I had a winner, but the mediocre story and dialogue so inept I was rewriting it in my head by chapter three persuaded me otherwise. I finished that one, but the ending was just as lame as the plot and every word out of the characters' lips.

I also picked up one of those chunky oversize paperback BSLers from the grocery store in hopes that its millionaire author would break my losing streak; great writing, a promising story, but it devolved in the middle into a muddle that never recovered. After I write this post I'm going to start a literary novel because obviously I haven't suffered enough this week.

I don't mind occasionally hitting a run of books that for whatever reason don't appeal to me. For one thing, bad reading luck never lasts forever. There are always plenty more new books out there to turn to, and often starting a new random pile will do the trick. If that doesn't work I know rereading something from my keeper shelves will revive me (Marjorie Liu and Rob Thurman are especially skilled at helping me stomp a reading depression.) And if all else fails, I'll employ what always pulls me out of a slump -- I'll write a story to entertain myself.

The other reason I don't mind reading books that don't work for me is that they always teach me something. The lost-in-the-shuffle book made me realize the importance of not getting completely sucked into your own world-building and characterizations at the expense of the story; something that is quite timely as I'm presently constructing a new series universe and crew. The chunky BSLer has me mulling over middles, muddles and making the story count on every page, not just the first fifty. The dollar store pile is especially fascinating because most of the books are from one publisher and are less than a year old, so I'm getting great insights into what they want to put in print (as well as why their books so often flounder on the market.)

Some books I've read that left me wanting a lot more/better storytelling also energize me. They make me more conscious of the great responsibility of the craft, in that it's not enough to simply write something that makes sense. As writers we have an obligation to give every page our absolute best, every single time we go there. Being bogged down in a bad run of books only makes me more determined as a writer to learn and improve and deliver something worth the reader's time and financial investment.

How do you all cope with bad reading luck? Do you have a sure-fire way of pulling out of a reading slump? Let us know in comments.

11 comments:

  1. Sometimes when I find myself not liking book after book, I wonder if it's me and not them. Like I'm being too hard on the books because of something going on in my own life. (Happens most often when I'm editing.) I go back to those books later and see if they really were clunkers. I end up being about 50% right. LOL

    The best way for me to pull out of it is to go back to someone I trust. Like you said, hitting an old favorite title, or I go back and read something from an author I love that I hadn't gotten around to: Erle Stanley Gardner and Zane Grey are great for that.

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  2. I cope with bad reading luck by crossing my fingers and grabbing another book. And I try to remember to ask myself, "Do I do this?" when I see something in a book that makes me a little crazy.

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  3. Lauren Dane and Maya Banks just put out a book together. If you need something to perk you up. *g* Sometimes I can't get into anything, and so I fall back on sure-thing authors, or start rereading old favorites. Or make a list of all the things I want in a book and try to write that book.

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  4. I am so glad you enjoyed the Mystery of Grace!

    I agree that a bad reading spell can be a great lesson on what not to do in my own writing, but when I am ready for the slump to end, I usually turn to an old favorite and re-read it, just to get me excited about reading again and that usually re-sets my reading luck and leads me to something new and great. Right now I am re-reading the first Iron Druid Chronicles novel as I haven't found a book to hold my attention in quite some time.

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  5. Reminds me of when I was reviewing mysteries back in the day. It was great fun to find authors I never would have read (such as Lee Goldberg, Lev Raphael and Kate Charles) I never would have found otherwise. Even the clunkers taught me something.

    Now, with my RSS feed, if I see something interesting, I'll check the library and see if it's there (or another book by the same author). That's been more hit and miss.

    Another way is to use my Kindle as a way to hit Project Gutenberg books I wouldn't have read otherwise, or sample books. The Kindle works because I sometimes read under the covers with a light while my wife sleeps. I tend to work late, and it's a good compromise. So I'll DL a bunch of likely suspects -- lately Wodehouse and G.K. Chesterton -- and dig in.

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  6. When I'm in a reading slump I go back to old favourites. If you pick a book you loved but haven't read in a long time it can be very rewarding to notice little details you'd forgotten or to revisit certain scenes or characters.

    I've also had some luck with websites that search for similar books when you type in a title or author. http://www.whatshouldireadnext.com/ is just one example.

    Many of their ideas are really obvious (as in, "have you tried this other book by that same author?") but I have found the occasional suggestion that's absolutely fantastic.

    I look forward to hearing what everyone else has to say about this!

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  7. It seems we all turn to our favorites when having bad book luck. I've gone through about thirty books this summer and found just a handful that were honestly worth the time spent reading them.

    The other day, desperate for something new, I turned to Goodreads and asked for some recommendations. Most of the recs were books I'd already read, but two weren't. So far loving the first one I chose. Maybe my streak of bad books is over......

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  8. When I have a run of bad reading luck, I usually try rereading old favs (J D Robb, my gardening favs, etc) or switch genres. Sometimes it's not the books, it's more that I'm burned out on a popular trope. One year, I decided to read short stories again, which I'd loved in my younger reading days. That really got me into a new groove for a bit. I'll switch from fiction to nonfiction, or vice versa. This past year, a good friend of mine got me out of a reading slump by sending me a bunch of young adult and children's books. I really enjoyed her selections, and now we often trade books. It was neat to read stories that were good enough to stay with my friend for years.

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  9. Oh... I've had some seriously bad reading luck lately. Trying to cram in on RS and a few were 'meh'... one was okay, one is full of info dump, one started out so fricking awesome and then... it was like I fell through the looking glass.

    So I stopped reading RS tonight. Read something... it's vaguely horror/vaguely suspense...not sure what to call it, called Timeless Innocence by Janis Susan May and loved it. Usually if I'm getting the blehs from one genre, I just shift to another. I'm glad I read all over the place.

    Or I'll hit an old favorite. Thank God for the faves shelf.

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  10. I'm in a reading slump too. It's been really difficult this summer to keep my interest for some reason (I'm blaming it on fave authors all have books out this fall/winter).

    I broke down a month ago and bought a Kindle, so to try to get back in the mood I've been trying random books from bestseller lists. Out of 6 books so far I've disliked 5 and the last was more meh.

    I'm going to gave to dig out some fave books too-Jasper Fforde for a laugh, J. K. Rowling for nostalgia, and Karin Slaughter for a good gory mystery. :)

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  11. I have the advantage that I write a writing blog and bad books or a failed technique are grist for my mill. One disaster of a novel I read recently gave me three blog posts on different subjects.

    I have the disadvantage that I'm trained in literary criticism, I'm a professional writer, and a writing teacher so my inner critic looks like Godzilla with reading glasses. It's hard for me to find a book that doesn't fail in some sense.

    I still enjoy reading, though, and it's a rare novel I'll put down, and I can go through a book a day (bless you, public library!) when I'm on a binge like I have been this summer. The books I have put down in the last month have had sexual politics that make me angry--no, forced sex isn't sexy, it's rape, or it's been erotica disguised as urban fantasy--I'm not a prude but page after page of sex and sexual posturing is as exciting as watching glue dry for me, or the book has print so small I gave up on it after a chapter.

    I also read so widely across genres that I have no trouble finding great authors I keep up with.

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