What Makes You Put Down A Book?

Ah
Ahab
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Wed Jul 10, 2013 5:00 pm Post

Factual errors quickly kill fiction for me. I almost quit reading Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove on the first page, when Gus was getting ready to bake biscuits by building a fire inside his Dutch oven. Geeze, if McMurtry didn't know better than that, what else did he get wrong? But I kept at it, figuring it might be one of those I-never-heard-of-it-so-it-must-be-wrong "corrections" that New York copy editors like to inflict on the unsuspecting, and kept reading. Good thing, because it was a good book, and well-deserving of its Pulitzer Prize--bogus biscuits or not.

But a gee-whiz novelist from some time back who wrote a best-seller-list sea story lost me a third of the way in when his starry-eyed lovers were romantically trailing their hands in the water as the ship rounded Cape Horn. I nearly kept reading, just to see what else people with twenty-five-foot-long arms and hands impervious to cold could find to do with such amazing equipment, but he was already on a lee shore after sailing from London River to the Lizard without tacking, so I closed the book and wished him a full hold of malicious reviews. Unfortunately, he got them only from the saltier-than-thou nautical press.

But setting aside obvious factual faux-pas, what makes me put down a book, or auto-generate a generic rejection for a manuscript, is hard to define but easy to describe, using a standard line from pretty much every episode of Beavis and Butthead: This Book (poem, short story, movie, essay) Sucks. Not exactly sure why, and don't really care. It just sucks. That covers an endless list of malfeasance, from inept characterization and wooden dialogue to excessive decorations from the Thesaurus.

Br
Briar Kit
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Wed Jul 10, 2013 5:40 pm Post

pigfender wrote:
Briar Kit wrote:Anything more than minimal use of the first person.

Pigfender thinks that you might not like his current work then. He has written it pretty much exclusively in the first person... and in the present tense as well. What was he thinking?


I may or may not, but that's unimportant. You, equally, might dislike my work...lots of people do...or even like it. It is impossible for any of us to write a universally popular work. We all have different tastes and styles...and that is something to celebrate. Would be very dull if we all wrote in the same style and read the same books. Diversity of style is the gene pool of literature.

Sorry to hear about the floods. I wish you and Mrs Pigfender well.
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Siren
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Wed Jul 10, 2013 6:13 pm Post

I'm pretty tolerant, and plough tenaciously on through most things. It bemuses my husband, who can't understand why I grumble about having to finish a book but keep picking it up anyway. On the other hand, he mostly reads only Patrick O'Brian and books about naval history and aeroplanes, so I don't think he's the best barometer of normal reading habits.

References to shopping or brand names are a real no-go for me, as are slushy bits, lurid sex scenes, bad grammar, too much dialogue, boredom, sentimentalism (especially regarding animals), predictability, avvkward words used instead of "said", most attempts at representing regional accents (beyond a token effort when a character is introduced), physical descriptions of characters when I really don't care what people look like, attempts at glamour in location, any sort of reliance on recognising characters by their names (to which I seldom pay much attention), too much attempted realism in dialogue, too much "action"... Hmmm. That's quite a long list. Maybe I'm less tolerant than I thought!

Having said that, I can also think of notable exceptions to this list of nitpickiness, where authors have done great things in a style which I normally don't like. And I can think of some brilliant books written in the first person, especially when the premise is of unreliable narration or things-are-not-what-they-seem-to-be. In fact, I've just finished John Lanchester's "The Debt to Pleasure", and I don't see how that could have been written in any other narrative voice. Although I concede that first person plural might be a step too far. We are not amused by that at all, oh no. :)
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Ah
Ahab
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Wed Jul 10, 2013 8:13 pm Post

Siren wrote:I'm pretty tolerant, and plough tenaciously on through most things. . . . .

And I can think of some brilliant books written in the first person, especially when the premise is of unreliable narration or things-are-not-what-they-seem-to-be. In fact, I've just finished John Lanchester's "The Debt to Pleasure", and I don't see how that could have been written in any other narrative voice. Although I concede that first person plural might be a step too far. We are not amused by that at all, oh no. :)


First-person plural: Jefferey Eugenides' first novel, The Virgin Suicides, worked pretty well in that peculiar voice. Not exactly my cup of tea, but the implementation was spot-on.

First person in general? Geeze, where to start: Tristram Shandy, Moby-Dick, Jane Eyre, The Woman in White, Cranford, To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, Little Big Man, The Diary of Anne Frank, A Clockwork Orange, Catcher in the Rye, Lolita, Rebecca, Trainspotting, all the Sherlock Holmes'.

Excluding first-person seems, I don't know: odd?

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pigfender
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Thu Jul 11, 2013 12:27 am Post

All novels have a narrator. The only distinction between what has come to be known as a 'first person' novel and a 'third person' one is a narrator who is actually involved in the events and one who isn't. The best way I can think to illustrate this point is by invoking a book that is halfway between the two: The Great Gatsby.

So, I'm with Ahab: The idea of excluding books based purely on the fact that the narrator is present as the action unfolds is kind of...

What was the word?
"Some dice only have sixes." nom, 19 Oct 2013
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da
dafu
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Thu Jul 11, 2013 3:06 am Post

I've grown more intransigent with time. For me, something worth finishing has language that, at its core, is terse, pungent, and correct. For fiction, a good story is rather useful and clear insight into human character is required. I'm flexible, so a fine story line can offset limp prose but if too many of these are lacking . . . bye.

This is not a demand for sterile purity, I think good Will Shakespeare nailed this and am delighted when new others do so, too.

Dave

Br
Briar Kit
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Thu Jul 11, 2013 6:23 am Post

I am not against a first person narrative per se, but I can't read a book in which the reader is constantly bombarded by "I". I know many books where the first person is skilfully and sparingly employed. But when I read books where it is used clumsily and repetitively, well I … … …

[I love the smell of illustrative I-rony in the morning…The Ride of the Valkyries blaring in the background.]
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Fluff
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Thu Jul 11, 2013 7:58 am Post

Briar Kit wrote:I know many books where the first person is skilfully and sparingly employed.
Do tell us, Master Briar... do tell. This could prove a valuable insight for those of us who are chronic 'I', 'I', 'I'ers, and 'me', 'me', 'me'ers
Fluff
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Hu
Hugh
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Thu Jul 11, 2013 8:19 am Post

Siren wrote: In fact, I've just finished John Lanchester's "The Debt to Pleasure"... :)


A book that's a master-class in the benefits to the reader of ploughing on (and to the writer, of the elliptical touch).

Ahab wrote: I almost quit reading Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove on the first page, when Gus was getting ready to bake biscuits by building a fire inside his Dutch oven. Geeze, if McMurtry didn't know better than that, what else did he get wrong?


I loved that book, and read more of McMurtry on the strength of it (and also enjoyed the TV film). Perhaps just as well for him, not too high a proportion of his readers can be cognisant of cowboy cuisine.
'Listen, some quiet night, when you've shirked your work that day. Do you hear
that distant, almost inaudible clicking sound? That's one of your
competitors, working away in the night in
Paris or London or Erie, PA.'