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Sunday, August 17, 2014

What Makes Me Finish a Book?

I used to finish books no matter what, whether I liked them or not. I no longer do this, though I have recently finished books I disliked (most recently Gone Girl).

So, I started thinking, what is it about a book that makes me keep reading?

For one thing, there’s got to be at least one character that I like. In Gone Girl there weren’t any. Nor were there in The Dinner. I finished reading Gone Girl anyway because I was reading it on a 6-hour Greyhound bus ride and it was the only reading material I had. By the time I reached my destination I was far enough in that the plot started to interest me a little, so I decided to go on to the end. My verdict: it wasn’t worth finishing. I hated the characters and couldn’t imagine that everyone around the female character was so stupid they couldn’t stop her insane behaviour.
In regards to The Dinner, I kept reading initially because I sort of liked one of the characters. When I discovered that I no longer liked the character, I finished the book partly because it was for my book club, and partly because the writing was good enough to keep me going. I also wanted to see what would happen, how the characters would resolve things or not.

Good writing isn’t enough for me to start or finish a book. I admire Margaret Atwood’s writing and ideas, but I don’t read many of her books. They are full of interesting ideas and characters, but for me they are too much in the head and not enough in the heart. Margaret Laurence’s books, on the other hand, I consider to be full of heart, poetic language, and characters I can love, with plots that keep me engaged.
So plot is quite important to me: how the characters interact, what happens that’s new or keeps me guessing. And it’s got to be believable, with characters that feel real, in any genre, including fantasy or SF. Though I can read and enjoy books that aren’t necessarily plot driven, if they’re well written and the imagery captures me, for example,  Anil’s Ghost.

The writing has to be reasonably good for me to continue reading, though if the characters and plot grab me, I can continue a book that isn’t the most literary. The Millennium Trilogy is one set of books like this. The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo I could not put down because I loved the two main characters, the plot kept me guessing, and the background and culture was new to me and intriguing (I like learning new things from fiction and following it up with my own research). I feel the same way about the other two books in the series. I can put up with flaws in the writing for these reasons.
So with books I really enjoy and go back to time after time, there’s got to be a number of elements: a story that intrigues and absorbs me, a character or characters I like (I prefer books with several characters that interest me), reasonably good writing, heart or emotion that reaches me, believability, and new information or a new way of looking at the world and life.

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