Some years ago, trapped in bed with a cold & a novel I came to despise, I decided I would never again read a bad book. I’d rather not say what that book was, because I’m sure the author tried very hard to write a good book. I’m sure she thought she was doing something worthwhile. And you know, it’s a lot like food. Some people like their soups creamy & some people like their soups without cream. Me, I’m not a huge soup fan & sometimes I look at soup & inadvertently find the word ‘slops’ comes to mind. Also words like ‘what the fuck is this, you can’t seriously think this is fucking edible’.
Regardless of the author’s intentions, immediately thereafter I implemented what I call the Hundred Pages Rule.
That is, I give every book I pick up until page 100 to get my attention. If I find myself on page 100 & I’m still bored or, worse, resentful, I stop reading. I don’t read the last page, & I don’t skim ahead to find something good. I simply figure the time is not right or the book is not right *for me*. Let it be free in the world where someone else might find it & love it, I say. Free!
The reason I wait until page 100 is that sometimes it takes me a while to warm to books. Sometimes I’m still lost in the thrill of the last book I’ve read & trying to make friends with the new one is an exercise in attempting NOT to compare this one to that. Whereas that book may have been a full-bodied red wine with plum overnotes, this new one might be more of a subtle, pale white with hints of straw. You see?
So if I find myself on page 100 & my glass of wine is beginning to look like slops (you know, I really have no respect for similes do I? It’s a veritable casserole of similes when I start talking), I stop. Because life really is too short.
If I find I’ve passed page 100 & forgotten to do my mental check in, a la ‘is this book working for me yet’, then wow! Fantastic. It’s love.
It takes me weeks to read a book, & I’m not one of those writers who reads more than they write, as it happens. Which tells you something about my writing speed, too. Also, it’s rare I’ll read an entire trilogy & I tend to avoid fat books. Because, at my speed, they feel insurmountable. I think I’ve mentioned before that when I’m reading, I tend to keep track of page numbers. Where I’m up to & how many pages until the end. It’s because I’m a restless reader, & always looking for the next shiny thing. In my head I keep a list of what I’ll read next, & what after that.
With the books I really, really love, I find my reading speed slows down towards the final pages because I don’t want to let it go. Very often I find I hit a slump in the middle where the book has been pushed aside for other things & at most I’m catching a few minutes of reading in bed before I fall asleep. It’s not a good way to read a book. It’s much better to have a holiday by the beach & to take your book with you each morning to sit on the sand, & then to pick your book up again each evening to accompany a nice drink before dinner & to read the entire book within a week with no distractions & with a clear head. That’s the best way.
I want to like every book I pick up. I want all books to be good. I am very careful with what I _do_ pick up & I work mainly on recommendations because I hate to be disappointed. I hate mediocrity. I buy more books than I read & I end up giving unread books away.
I don’t like to read books that are smug, or try to outwit me & fail. I _do_ like books that succeed in outwitting me, or that engross me or charm me or stun me or frighten me. In short, I like books that achieve an effect & that can pull me out of my own daydreams to engage me with the author’s daydreams instead. I like books that are smart and have style. I like good prose that isn’t self-conscious or merely workable. I like characters that _do_ something, that give the impression of having a life. I like books that don’t bore me.
Good writing no longer makes me feel envious or inferior, like it did when I first started out with my own writing. Good writing, I’m pleased to say, now only inspires me.