I spent most of my life as one of those people who try to finish every book they’ve ever started. Well, no more! I still feel a degree of remorse when I walk away from a well-written book, the ones I should love, but for some reason, they just didn’t spark my interest. However, there are books I’m happy to give up on and dump into the nearest recycling bin.
Here’s nine ways an author can absolve me of every molecule of non-finisher guilt.
1. Write in the passive.
Less stress-invoking than my other pet peeves, yet I start grinding my teeth when novels use back-to-back sentences with to-be verbs in them. This style is fine for nonfiction, when factual writing needs to contain all the W (who, what, where and when) details. But in fiction, any book using a laundry list of “were” this, “was” that, “are” something else, is getting no love from me. People, there are an estimated 25,000 verbs in English; there must be one that fits. Please, next time… try, for all our sakes. Pass!
- Make anyone I should care about in the novel a total A-hole.
Seriously this is more common then you might think. I particularly hate it when the good guys/gals censure victims for being abused. Recently I read a YA book were the protagonist blamed a young girl for being gang raped. Really, what year is this? We are still willing to perpetuate the horrible lie that victims are just people who are too weak or stupid to fight back? I think not. Pass!
3. Make the female lead fall for the total A-hole.
Why do some authors think they need to write women characters with such low self esteem? Every woman I know is not secretly looking for a guy who smacks her down every chance he gets. And while I have your attention, please listen carefully: kidnapping and/or restraining someone against their will and Stockholm Syndrome are not appropriate romance tropes and should never lead to a happily ever after ending. Never! Pass!
- Abuse a kid.
I’m already living in a world where this happens every day. When I send my kids out the door I can’t help but wonder what sick person could be watching them. I refuse to spend what little free time I have reading about it happening to some fictional kid, not when I know real kids living this horror. I don’t care how great the story is written, or how many five star reviews it has, no thanks. Pass!
5. Kill off some animals.
Abusing animals is not for me. I understand animals die in many normal human/animal interactions, and some of those can be quite ghastly. Cars do run over pets, hunters do kill for food, and animals must be euthanized. But don’t use killing animals as a gimmick to stand out. Make sure it has a valid reason for the plot. Either way, I’m not interested in seeing Bambi’s mom take another bullet, once was traumatic enough. Pass!
- Encourage a young reader to do something harmful.
I’ve spent my whole life being angry about book banning. Yet when my kids were told to stare at the sun to cure hiccups by a well respected non-fiction kid’s writer, I reversed my position. This was a book geared for children under ten, and kids that age lack the knowledge base to understand looking at the sun can permanently damage their retinas. The idea that any writer would tell children to look directly at the sun and a publisher would pay them to write it really burns me up. I took some immediate and stern action on this one, which is a whole other post. Needless to say, that writer lost this buyer for life. Pass!
7. Treat minorities badly.
This is huge for me, as a Hispanic with roots into the native cultures of Central America, I’m pretty sensitive. I don’t put up with hate crimes, or an antagonist always being someone of color, or from a marginalized religion or an alternative lifestyle. I understand that while writing historical novels it’s hard to write without underlying themes of mistrust, miscommunication, and conflict, because those are the facts. But no writer should still be letting stereotypes take over their story. Writers tackling subjects they have no first-hand knowledge of owe it to their readers to find real people of that demographic and talk to them. Get them to help as beta readers. Ignorance is not a crime unless you publish before you correct it. Inaccurate and inoffensive portrayals of people for any reason should not be tolerated. I can’t change things overnight; but I can and do vote with my dollars. I refuse to buy books that vilify anyone based on race, religion, or sexual ordination. Pass!
- Promote extreme selfishness as a form of self actualization.
I’m not a touchy-feely sort of gal. I don’t read self-help books or feel the need to realign my chakras, but I respect that some people do. However, when did it start being normal for self-help books to advocate being wretched to your fellow humans under the guise of self-love? Honestly, helping others makes me feel great, and I can’t imagine living my life any other way. The idea that somehow, being a supportive mother, wife, sister, friend, neighbor, mentor and community volunteer, is the sign of my inner self-loathing is nonsense. I’ve seen first-hand the damage this attitude can do. It turns normal humans into narcissistic monsters. Pass!
Preach a message.
Books have always had the power to transform us. We learn and grow as we experience something through a character’s perspective. Still, I prefer the process to be gradual and of my own making, not something the writer spoon feeds me, or drones on about. Just give me the story and let me decide if it’s life altering. If the writer has to beat me over the head with how right and just their cause is, I’m moving on. Pass!
We all have the power to let our personal moral compass guide us and influence our reading selections. Life is too short to let a bad book wreck your day. And there are too many wonderful, satisfying books in the world that you could be reading instead. So put down that hated book with impunity, and reach for one that makes your smile.
For more on dumping books that don’t work for you, please read Heather’s post: Books I didn’t Finish.