Amazon’s recent move to compensate certain e-book authors per page read, rather than by number of borrows, raises some interesting questions: will hack authors stop churning out lots of short books and instead start putting cliffhangers on every page of a thousand-word opus? Just how does Amazon decide what an ebook “page” is, anyway? And, if an authors of critically lauded doorstops (looking at you, Mr. Vollmann) had to earn their livings as self-published Kindle authors, would they starve to death?
But what, specifically, makes us cry out, “No mas!” and
make literal that metaphorical fling across the room?
This also made me think about the things that make us stop reading. Obviously, if a book is boring, most of us will be tempted to abandon it (unless we’re being paid to finish and write a review). But what, specifically, makes us cry out, “No mas!” and make literal that metaphorical fling across the room? For me, it can be sentences that are too packed too full by a writer who is afraid to let readers infer his meaning. Whether the dialogue is on the nose or the author is patting me on the head and asking, “Did you see what I did there?” I lose patience. I want to do some of the work, and I want to read books by authors who trust that I can.
Curious about other opinions, I took a quick and entirely random poll of Booklist editors, Booklist Reader bloggers, as well as a couple of librarians and authors at large. I hope you’ll share your own personal dislikes in the comments.
What makes you stop reading?
“Confusing and arbitrary super-powers. I reviewed a book once with lines that sounded like D&D rules, like: ‘Without Brad there, Cecelia can block Asher’s abilities’ and my eyes rolled so far they fell out my ears and I had to get replacement eyes, which are not cheap.”
—Daniel Kraus, Editor, Booklist Books for Youth:
“I usually bounce off of books when I can feel that the author is bored with the scene. If they don’t care about this scene, why should I? I also bounce when a scene is there for the author’s vanity instead of serving the story.”
—Wesley Chu, author of Time Salvager and The Lives of Tao
“One: cliches. Two: grammatical errors. Three: lazy descriptions. Four: unbelievable dialogue. And five: unrealistic situations and characters. Typically I’ll give a book about 50 to 100 pages to hook me and then I’ll toss it back. (After I’ve skipped to the end to see it it’s worth making the rest of the journey). And I’ve started and stopped some of my favorite books as many as three times before I’ve turned the last page: Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern; S, by Doug Dorst and JJ Abrams; and Flicker, by Theodore Roszak, just to name a few. They were so worth the effort to read all the way to the end.”
—Kaite Stover, Director of Readers’ Services, Kansas City Public Library
“Mere competence makes me put a book aside. My interest only gets fired up if it feels like the author is at the mercy of something they don’t understand and can’t fully control. Professional, solid writing turns me off. I prefer reading someone who can’t help swinging for the fences every time, even if it makes their work feel gross and embarrassing and weird.”
—James Kennedy, author of The Order of Odd-Fish and founder/host of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival
“When I’ve read much better versions of the same story. I am also much more likely to stop reading an e-book. When I put it down, I don’t think about it any more, because I physically don’t see it. If I’m looking at the book on my bed table or in my bag, I’m much more likely to pick it up. But that’s probably just me.”
—Ilene Cooper, Contributing Editor, Booklist Books for Youth
“I can’t handle badly done dialect. That will make me drop a book. If I’m constantly correcting the author’s grammar in my head, I will stop reading. That, and misspellings or using the wrong form of a word. (Their, there, they’re, etc.) I will drop your book like a fresh-out-of-the-microwave Hot Pocket, with cheese leaking out the side. If a book’s only problem is that it’s boring, I give it 10%. I was reading The Witching Hour, by Anne Rice, and I just wasn’t getting into it. Then, around page 100 (of a 1,038-page paperback), it got really good. The 10% rule always stuck with me after that.”
—Robin Bradford, Collection Development Librarian at Timberland Regional Library
“Small children and the attendant exhaustion and interruption are primary causes of book abandonment for me, followed closely by a well honed editor’s instinct for making quick go/no-go decisions on books.”
—Andrew Karre, Executive Editor, Dutton Books for Young Readers
“I usually follow Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50: If you’re 50 years of age or younger, give a book 50 pages before you decide to commit to reading it or give it up. If you’re over 50, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100. So even if a book doesn’t grab me right away, I’ll at least give it until page 50. Then again, I’m notorious among my friends as a Spoiler Queen (I have no problems heading straight online to ruin the endings of movies or books I think I’ll never get to), and so I’ll admit to reading the end of some books first. Curious to know how Amazon will count that?”
—Rebecca Vnuk, Reference and Collection Management Editor, Booklist