Something I’m always curious to know from book-loving people is whether they continue reading books they find awful, or quit before they reach the end. I’ve heard a range of opinions on this from my bookish friends. Some quit reading bad books before the end simply because there are so many to read, why waste time on the bad ones? Others persist in spite of a book being bad, because sometimes by the end, everything comes together in way that redeems it, makes reading it worthwhile.
I personally tend to agree with the latter opinion and finish a book even if I don’t think it’s the greatest. In a sense, the ending of a book is my favorite part, after all. It’s the part when earlier references gain significance, the “moral of the story” is revealed, and the plot is typically satisfied. If we abandon a so-called “bad” book before we get to this point, we miss out on one of the things that make books so special.
I’m curious to know where my readers fall on the spectrum of this issue. Do you quit reading bad books before you finish them so as not to waste your precious time, or do you persist in hopes that the book’s ending might tie everything together in a redeeming, satisfying way?
Read good books. Read bad books – and figure out why you don’t like them. Then don’t do it when you write.Patricia Briggs
Perhaps this question has been on my mind lately, because I just finished reading a book that I didn’t think was particularly “good.” Diary of a South Beach Party Girl by Gwen Cooper (2007). I read Cooper’s nonfiction, Homer’s Odyssey (2009), earlier this year, and I loved it so much. I was moved to the point of tears on multiple occasions. So I thought I might enjoy her novel, too.
Now, the storyline of South Beach Party Girl is really good. The premise of the novel compels me. It’s a historical fiction, recounting the rise of South Beach, Miami, the coming up of a new flashy city in the late 1990s, which was largely funded by illicit drugs and mobsters, and kept afloat by shady law enforcement and local politicians.
But the writing consists of so much telling rather than showing, that it can be difficult to get into. It’s not easy to become immersed in a story that’s written from a removed perspective like that. It distances the reader, in my experience, from the action and characters, and it can make it hard to care much what’s happening. Or rather, what is being explained.
Additionally, the characters in the novel are a bit flat, underdeveloped, and stereotypical to the point of offensive at times, almost caricatures and not real people. Also, in apparent attempts to act as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, the writer includes many references to queer culture. But she ends up playing on offensive stereotypes and using language that would never be acceptable today. Times have changed and language has progressed vastly since this book was published nearly fifteen years ago. However, even knowing that, knowing the writer may have done better if she knew better, doesn’t make it easier to read, for example, offensive slang terms referring to trans people or drag queens.
In spite of all this, I couldn’t bring myself to stop reading the book. Not that I had gotten so invested, I needed to know what happened next. But rather, I simply find that an opinion of any given book cannot be fully formed unless one reads the whole thing. And, as expected, my favorite part of this book was the ending, when the main character finally achieved everything she had hoped for throughout, the symbols and references mentioned previously gained significance, and for the first time while reading, I actually felt something.
Another book I recently experienced this with was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813). It was my first time reading this classic novel, and for nearly the entirety of it, I wanted to quit. I found the first 250 pages or so incredibly boring, monotonous, and frankly not something I was compelled to finish.
However, I’m glad I did end up finishing the book. I’d say approximately the last seven chapters are its best section, the only part at which I found myself eager to continue, longing to find out what happens next. Those chapters made reading the rest worth it.
And besides, as a lifelong student of literature, it’s one of those books I feel obliged to read at least once. So in short, I’m glad I persisted. I typically am. If I ever happen to come across a book so awful, I’m angry that I finished it, I’ll certainly dedicate an entire post to explaining why.
Why Bad Books can be Useful
As a final point, I want to mention simply that for writers, bad books can be extremely helpful. In some ways, they teach writing better than good books do, in my opinion. They teach more vital lessons by providing writers with concrete examples of what to avoid. As a writer, it’s important to know what bores readers, what makes them cringe, and what makes it difficult for them to care about the story and characters. What better way to practice identifying such things than by reading “bad” books, in which they are present?