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Books I Put Down Without Finishing

September 15, 2011

In the past few weeks I’ve talked a lot about the books on my “to read” list, and about the genres of YA and Epic Fantasy (here, here, here, here and here) and frequently the conversation in the comments has turned to books that weren’t worth finishing reading.

I, like many readers and other writers, am constantly strapped for time.  There’s a lot going on, between being a day-job warrior, a superhero father, a debonaire husband, and a fantastically inspired writer.  Amidst all that, I also like to read.  But I just don’t have time for books that aren’t delivering something of value to me.

What that value is might be negotiable and variable.  Usually it’s some form of enjoyment or entertainment.  But I also appreciate the use of beautiful language, engaging plot, interesting characters, and other such accoutrements of fine writing – all of which can be subcomponents of “enjoyment” for my purposes.  Then there’s the value of informative qualities, education, experiencing something new, and so on which good writing can also be.  Long story short, if a book isn’t doing several of these things for me, I probably don’t have time for it.

So, I thought it might be instructive, as a writer and as a reader, to go over all the books I’ve put down – the books I stopped reading, for whatever reason, and haven’t yet finished reading.

For a long while before I started this, I was under the impression that I had only ever put down two books, and only truly despised one other besides (one which I was compelled to finish, nonetheless).  But upon further introspection on this topic I realized that I had understated the number of books I put down.  I’m going to talk about each of these books.  First, the book I despised, then the two books I previously remembered putting down, then two more books that I later realized I had, in fact, put down.

In much of what follows  you’ll find snarkiness as I attempt to describe the reasoning behind my inability to finish each of these books.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

A Separate Peace probably has the distinction of being the single worst book I have ever had the displeasure of reading through, from beginning to end.  With a protagonist only barely more likeable than that of Albert Camus’s depressing The Stranger/L’Étranger it was also infinitely more boring.  While Camus’s generally well-regarded book (I didn’t enjoy it much, either) was laden with painful existential ennui, Knowles’s book is laden with the boring existential ennui.  The entire affair feels pointless, and the main character never really seems to come to a true understanding of himself.  At the end of the day, there was no one to latch onto, no one to like in this story.  The characters were all equally offensive to me as either boring, boorish, or incompetent.

The only reason I even finished A Separate Peace was because it was required: I was a High School student, and this was an assignment, and I was a very dutiful student.  But my life is diminished and lessened for having read this book, and I can never get that time back.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

I really, really wanted to enjoy Les Misérables.  And I did enjoy it – as a stage play or a musical or a movie.  But the book is unreadable.  I got about halfway through Les Misérables before giving up irrevocably.  Whenever I talk about the book, I always mention one scene, in particular, as emblamatic of the overarching problem with this book: some of you will recall (if you’ve seen the movies or musical) the scene in which the protagonist, Jean Valjean, newly released from a nineteen-year prison sentence – imposed, essentially, for having stolen a loaf of bread to feed his family – sits along a mostly empty highway brooding darkly after a bizarre encounter with a nearby bishop.  Then an innocent young boy happens by, flipping a coin.  It rolls toward Jean Valjean, who steals the coin.  But before this fairly crucial plot point can unwind, the reader is treated to a multi-page exposition on the results of a certain battle during the Napoleononic Wars which took place many years before and whose only connection to the present narrative was that said battle happened to take place in the same field in which Valjean commits the deed that dogs him for the rest of the novel.

This happens fairly early in the book.  But this overindulgence in pointless exposition upon pointless exposition pads the book so thickly that it is probably two or three times longer than it would need to be to tell the same story far more powerfully and succinctly.  In fact – that’s just what the musical and other adaptations of the story do: they cut the pages of mind-numbingly pointless exposition and cut right to the heart of what is, ultimately, a very riveting story.

For a long time, I thought I would make another try and reading Hugo’s acclaimed novel.  But, eventually I realized that life was too short to waste it on endless pages of expository brain-dumping: even if it’s classic expository brain-dumping.  I’d managed to explore the story of Les Misérables in other forms, and that was enough for me.

The Redemption of Althalus by David & Leah Eddings

The previous two books were not in my favored genres.  But this book was one of my biggest disappointments.  I’d read and enjoyed David Eddings’s “The Belgariad” and “The Mallorean” series when I was younger.  (With the specific caveat that I found the midpoint novel of “The Belgariad” – Magician’s Gambit – had a resolution that was unrealistic and predicated on a nonsensical, illogical, and out-of-character action by the primary antagonist of the book.  I did feel, however, that the series recovered from this otherwise egregious mistake.)  I received The Redemption of Althalus as a gift, something to read while I was laid up with an illness some years back.  Contrary to my earlier, mostly-positive experiences with Eddings’s work, however, I found the book to be boring and trite.  This review on Amazon, in fact, accurately captures my impressions of the book.

The problem, as it turns out, is twofold.  First: the characters are each essentially gender-swapped clones of each other.  They all share the exact same “ironic” and trite sense of humor.  They interact according to painful gender stereotypes.  In effect, they are two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs.  Secondly:  the plot is unoriginal and uninspired.  We are never truly made to fear for the heroes: after all, they possess certain powers that, in effect, make them invincible.  It’s hard to fear for the fates of characters who are functionally invincible.  Not that we would care in the first place, considering the insurmountable difficulties of the first problem.

I got about halfway through this book, at which point I flipped to the very end, read a couple more pages to confirm that yes! the good guys win, and then closed it never to open it again.  It sits even now in a pile to be donated to some unsuspecting library, but I can’t even summon enough give-a-care about this sad, sorry novel to actually do anything with the book.  It’s out of sight, and out of mind, unless I want to talk about an unsuccessful and yet mysteriously supposedly-good-enough-to-get-published example of Epic Fantasy.  By all accounts, this book is substantially worse than the previous two books on this list.  The first at least can adhere to the pretension of being “literary” and therefore “artistic” and the second can claim the appellation of “classic”.  This book is neither.

The Soul of the Fire by Terry Goodkind

I had never counted The Soul of the Fire among the list of books I hadn’t finished because, for many years, I honestly believed I had the intention of going back and finishing the book.  But I’ve made a separate peace (did you see what I did there?) with the fact that Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series is, in fact, mostly composed of execrable garbage.  But I successfully fooled myself into believing, for many years, that they were good.

This misconception stems from the first book, Wizard’s First Rule, which actually was pretty good.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I thought the ending was both uplifting and a clever inversion of expectations based on the magic system Goodkind had invented.  It isn’t a great novel, but I thought it was good, and I don’t regret that I enjoyed it.  The problem is, after this one good example, it quickly becomes clear that Goodkind had no plan, whatsoever, for the rest of the series.  Wizard’s First Rule ends with a fully-resolved conflict, and no substantially useful loose threads from which to weave an ongoing tale.  Each subsequent book, however, introduces newly-contrived elements that, in an inverse of Chekhov’s Gun, are not suggested by earlier books.  New Ultimate-Big-Bads emerge, each ridiculously more Ultimately Bigger And Badder than the last.  New magic systems are introduced.  New rules on the old magic system.  Each book takes pains to contradict whatever was good or enjoyable about the previous books.  And throughout there is plenty of world-class plagiarism from better-planned and better-plotted novels (notably from Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series.)  Everything feels tacked on as an afterthought, haphazard, and unplanned.

What really did it for me, in retrospect, was the introduction of the primary plot problem of The Soul of the Fire.  When we are introduced to the driving plot Macguffin, I-am-not-making-this-up, we discover it involves an evil, magical Death-Chicken.  Yes.  The Death-Chicken is killing people with it’s evil, chickeny Death-Stare.  And it just happens to be killing relatively innocent Noble Savages that our not-a-Noble-Savage, Great-White-Hero has adopted as his own people.  Several chapters are given to discovering the mystery of the Death-Chicken and the pursuit of said Death-Chicken.  In actuality, the Death-Chicken is possessed by the evil Chimes.  Calling something by the name of a sonorous and pleasantly-melodic musical instrument doesn’t strike much more fear into my heart than making it an evil, soul-sucking chicken.  (Seriously… didn’t Goodkind know that chickens are, by their very nature, humorous?)  What’s more… while theoretically the Chimes were introduced in the prior book, they weren’t thoroughly discussed –  instead, this book attempts to link them to what was purportedly a subplot that lead to a relatively benign resolution to the main plot of that book.  But guess what?  The subplot?  Not resolved.  And also, saving the hero’s life in the last book has released these Chimes in this book, and now they’ve mutated into a Death-Chicken.

In retrospect, after having realized that I did, in fact, put this series down – never to pick it up again – a long time ago, I am very grateful that I stopped when I did.  More recently, as I was reading up on the series to refresh my memory and gain a better understanding of why I stopped reading, I discovered that in the immediately following book in the series, called Faith of the Fallen, Terry Goodkind falls down a bizarre Ayn Rand-worshiping rabbit hole.  In my later years I’ve developed a healthy disregard for the morally and ethically bankrupt, sociopathic, and logically inconsistent philosophy that Ayn Rand developed and which today is called “Objectivism”.  At the time, I wasn’t well-acquainted with Objectivism, but after having become more fully acquainted with that puerile philosophy, I am glad that I avoided being sucked into it surreptitiously in the name of Epic Fantasy.

Added to all that, upon reading further it has become apparent to me that the author is a bit of a… how shall we say… a synonym for a donkey.  For example, consider this interview, in which the author (whose stories include magic, dragons, wizards, rural orphaned heroes who are secretly the lost heir to a great kingdom, magic swords, dark lords, etc.) claims that he doesn’t write “fantasy” and then goes on a delusional rant about how crappy fantasy books are.  When called out on the similarities between his books and the Wheel of Time by one questioner in the interview, he insults the questioner.  This is apparently not the only time he has insulted his readers.

For these reasons, and despite the fact that I truly did enjoy the first book, I don’t regret having put down The Soul of the Fire and not picking it up again.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

I had always intended to read Eragon.  I mean, there had to be a reason it was so successful.  And in the wake of the success of Harry Potter, I was keen to experience other high-quality YA Epic Fantasies.  Eragon promised to fit the bill.  The movie was pretty dull and pointless, but I try not to hold a bad film execution against a book.

Now, in all fairness to Eragon, it’s not exactly in the same class as the rest of these books.  A part of me does still intend to pick them up and read it again and finish it.  Dear Wife has thoroughly enjoyed the series.  And Eragon isn’t terrible in the same way that The Redemption of Althalus or The Soul of the Fire were.

But, if I’m honest with myself, neither is it very good.

I started reading Eragon when the most recent “Inheritance” book by Paolini (Brisingr back in 2008) came out.  Dear Wife checked that out from the Library and I got Eragon.  Dear Wife managed to finish Brisingr before returning it to the Library.  But I couldn’t finish Eragon.  My excuse, at the time, was that I was then in class, in my MBA, and didn’t have time to read.  Which is more-or-less true.  It took me forever to read both The Gathering Storm and The Towers of Midnight, two books I was highly excited about and enjoyed thoroughly.  But the fact is, Eragon is mediocre.  And also more than a little derivative.

It’s been more than a year now since I put Eragon down, and I haven’t really felt the longing to finish it that I hoped for.    I do somehow hope that I’ll be able to find the time and will to finish the book.  But from the here-and-now… I don’t foresee the day when I will.  I have other books that I’m much more excited about, and I expect to be new, and interesting, and entertaining, and somewhat better than mediocre.

Last of all, there is one more book that I put down unfinished – but it was so unremarkable that I no longer even remember its name, and I’m not even 100% sure of the author.  I believe it was by Dean Koontz, though in my head I get all the hyper-prolific workaday serial-killer thriller authors confused, and they’re kind of all Dean Koontz.  I started (and never finished) reading it sometime between 2001 and 2004.  It had a bright yellow dust-jacket, and as I recall a single-word title.  The protagonist was getting psychiatric help for a debilitating fear of sharp, pointy objects.  And of course there was a serial killer/stalker out to get her.  And that’s about it.  I’ve found that all thrillers of this type read the same to me… which is why I couldn’t finish this particular book, and now can no longer remember it with any specificity.

So, I’ve shown you mine.  How about you?  What books (if you haven’t shared already) did you put down, and why?

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24 Comments leave one →
  1. S.Z. Williams permalink
    September 15, 2011 6:07 pm

    The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway. I seem to be the only person on the planet (or maybe just in America) who didn’t fall in love with that book. The narrative was so quiet I had to put an ear to the page.

    • September 15, 2011 9:19 pm

      Not to jump on this comment before our gracious host Mr. Watkins…but I wanted to speak up…You’re definitely not alone. I know a fellow writer who is yodaladee-hoo over The Old Man & his aquatic friends, but I have to disagree…where exactly was the plot there?…

    • September 16, 2011 9:50 am

      I’ll add that I can’t really be considered a fan, either – mostly because I’ve never read it, and don’t feel a burning need to change that. Even though it was required reading in school at some point, a move midway through High School seems to have jumbled up when I was supposed to read it… so it never came up for me even though siblings of mine had to read it.

  2. September 15, 2011 6:22 pm

    Dear Lord, I should have put down The Soul of the Fire, and didn’t. You are far wiser than I am, sir! I (thankfully!) borrowed the series from my cousin to finish it, since between reading the first three books and the rest of the series, I had an entire five year university career. I was looking for something to float my brain elsewhere, and found preachy crap… ugh…

    Also, the death chicken? I giggled about that because I was certain it was an homage to Final Fantasy’s Chocobo. Then someone (I can’t remember whom) corrected that thought, and suddenly that death chicken wasn’t even funny anymore. Just pathetic…

    As for books I’ve put down, over the years I’ve tired multiple times to finish Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. No dice. My pretty copy is parked (probably permanently) on my To Read shelf.

    I’ve also put down A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically, not from lack of interest, but from lack of plot. It’s nonfiction, and felt an awful lot like a string of humorous anecdotes. Without the direction of “what I did next on the calendar” there didn’t seem to be anything concrete tying it all together…

    And (here it comes), I’ve put down The Fellowship of the Rings. Yep. This diehard Robert Jordan fan found Tolkien too dry. But I tried. And I forced myself to choke down The Hobbit, so I don’t feel so bad. Besides, the movies were easier to digest… ha!

    • September 16, 2011 10:03 am

      Yeah, I thought about the Chocobo. But I realized it didn’t fit – over time in the FF universe chocobos have become large, noble-looking birds. And you can ride them (and look bad-ass when you do). I also thought about the medieval cockatrice and basilisk… but both of those are more serpentine and draconic. This is, literally, just a chicken (it even looks like any other chicken unless you look closely and realize it has DEATH IN ITS EYES) who happens to be possessed by evil spirits.

      As for “Lord of the Rings”… there is a reason I don’t, personally, recommend Tolkien’s works to just anyone. His writing style is excessively baroque and old-fashioned, which makes him a challenge to read for a lot of modern audiences. I personally enjoy it, but that style doesn’t necessarily put me off. Still… it requires a lot more of my attention and concentration than many more modern and readable books. They’re fabulous books, but you have to be in the right mood for them. And, oddly enough, the intricate style seems to go over better when you’re younger – though I can’t entirely say why younger audiences have an easier time reading this more complicated literature than adults… At least, personally, I’ve found Tolkien more difficult to read in these my latter years than when I was in, for example, Middle School.

  3. September 15, 2011 7:34 pm

    Hmm…two I remember really disliking and being unable to force myself through were Jay Lake’s Mainspring and Stephen Hunt’s The Court of the Air.

    Just…no. I could not get into them.

    The first had a protagonist I just didn’t care about, and the second rambled on and on about stuff without it ever seeming all that important.

    I also couldn’t get into Brent Week’s The Way of Shadows. I guess I just didn’t like his writing style or find a connection with the characters. The best way to grip me, apparently, is with a completely fascinating character in a situation that doesn’t feel derivative. Or at least have characters with plights I can give a hoot about.

    • September 15, 2011 7:34 pm

      Lame! There I go with my italics again…

    • September 16, 2011 10:35 am

      I haven’t attempted any of these, yet, though Lake’s Mainspring is on my list. It’s part of my state-of-the-art “Tour de Steampunk” – an attempt to get up to speed on what’s being done in novel-length fiction in this subgenre. Also, I hope that I am able to write this: “a completely fascinating character in a situation that doesn’t feel derivative”. We’ll see, I guess. We’ll see.

  4. September 15, 2011 9:17 pm

    Clicked through the link to your interview thing there, and scrolled down to randomly land on this delicious [and possibly chauvinistic!] quip…

    Sacramento, California: Female characters, love them. Whom you base them on or what?

    Terry Goodkind: I start with a premise that females are human beings! All human beings are capable of reason, and it’s to what degree they apply their mind to the problems they have. All of my characters are there specifically to help tell a story.

    Wow. I believe that females are humans too 😀 But seriously…

    Probably my #1 book for my “I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-Reading-This!!!” category is Johnny Tremain. It was soooooo boring, but like you, I was required to read it for school. It’s become my flagship of Boring Books, and I’m known for my dislike of it.

    But of course, there was a movie made from it, etcetera…Sheesh…Sometimes we aspiring writers just have to wonder what we’re doing wrong, when so many other people seem to be doing wrong that’s so very “Right”…?!

    • September 15, 2011 10:06 pm

      I literally LoLed at that one.

      Wow, we should really give him a gold star for that realization…

    • September 16, 2011 10:46 am

      Yeah, that quote strucke me as a slightly less chauvanistic version of what the main character (Jack Nicholson) in the movie “As Good as it Gets” answers when asked “How do you write women so well?”. His answer (if you haven’t seen the movie): “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.” I mean… you don’t get brownie points for “starting with the premise” that your characters are “human beings”. Unless you’re a moron (or writing about non-humans), that’s a given. (And actually, most of the time, when you’re writing about non-humans, they usually still have to have some recognizeably human thoughts and emotions for readers to connect to them.)

      Johnny Tremaine, I’ll fess up: I actually liked that when I was younger (also required reading for me). My favorite part is when he goes to some restaurant with his newfound not-entirely-pennilessness and tries out some of both Coffee and Hot Cocoa – and discovers that coffee doesn’t taste nearly as good as it smells. I remember that resonating with my younger self because I had recently made the same discovery!

      Also… there was also a movie made from my #1 most boring book on this list (A Separate Peace, noted above) – and besides finishing the book we also had to sit through the movie, which mostly memorable for one annoying character’s plaintively whining “I’ve been violated!” after he loses a snowball fight. The twisted disgust with which he utters the line rendered it innately humorous.

      • September 16, 2011 5:34 pm

        Seriously, dead-on. And seriously, so NOT dead-on with Jack Nicholson. I mean, women can be pretty dramatic (sorry ladies, but I’ve found it to be true…not all the time, but sometimes…) but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they are devoid of reason and accountability…Reason and Accountability…Hey that’d make a great name for your next Period Romance novel, Stephen…

        I laughed at your comment about non-humans, and someone in the room asked me, “What?” And all I could say was, “Banter,” because to be frank I really didn’t feel like explaining how I got to it… 😆

        I don’t remember the whole coffee/H.C. affair, it’s been SO long since I read it, and I really don’t feel the need to pick it up again.

        Johnny Tremain is so dead to me…

        But now…I ramble.

      • September 19, 2011 8:20 am

        Well, now, to be fair to Jack Nicholson… I don’t believe he actually wrote or even believed those lines. That was just the character that was written for him. (The movie is sort of about the redemption of this misogynistic, OCD author as he falls in love and confronts his demons. It’s actually a very good movie.)

      • October 5, 2011 6:00 am

        Oh good, well that’s a little redeeming then. 🙂

  5. September 15, 2011 11:17 pm

    I used to feel obliged to apply a “finish what you start” mentality to every book I picked up. Glad I eventually chucked that out the window, or who knows what I’d be slogging through the middle of now. (…Actually, I’m currently slogging through the middle of “The Marvelous Midsadventures of Sebastian” by Lloyd Alexander. That stops tomorrow.)

    I made it through “Soul of the Fire” (Goodkind really did seem to spend a lot of time laughing at his own joke about the chicken, didn’t he?) and “Faith of the Fallen”, but I’ve been dragging my feet about getting whatever comes next. (“Pillars of Creation”, I believe the friend who recommends the series has informed me.) I’ve only been sticking around this long because I adore Richard, and I’m told he’s not even around for most of “Pillars”, so I just know I’ll spend the whole time I’m reading it thinking, “What am I doing here?” I may end up telling my friend that I’ve had enough.

    The most recent book on which I gave up after a few chapters was Cameron Dokey’s “The World Above”. It’s a part of some YA “Once Upon a Time” series (that I’ve found to be quite hit and miss), each book of which takes some well-known fairytale and runs with it. That’s the kind of stuff I love — it’s the kind of stuff I *write* — and again, some of the books in the series have been good. But the narrative style of “World Above” irritated me. Gen, sister of Jack (of “and the beanstalk” fame), did not hold my interest at all, seeming to work too hard to sound both relatable and deep, when she didn’t strike me as being either. I prefer my narrators to come off as less self-conscious about their storytelling. Tell it to me like you would if you didn’t know this was supposed to be a novel, why don’t you.

    • September 16, 2011 11:37 am

      By all accounts, Goodkind’s prechiness gets worse after Faith of the Fallen before it gets better. Based on my research into the series… it appears that most fans who stuck it out with him after that are, as it were, “the choir” to whom Goodkind is preaching – that or recent converts or prospective converts to the Gospel of Ayn Rand. Even if that is your political and philosophical cup of tea, there appears to be a lot left wanting, narratively speaking, in Goodkind’s later books. Even if I were to agree with it, I wouldn’t want to sit reading through pages of monologues and speeches about the glories of Philosophical Point-of-View X. And the plots, themselves, grow increasingly nonsensical.

      I mean… apparently you’ve read Faith of the Fallen, but according to Wikipedia the plot is (to paraphrase): “Richard is captured by the Evil Empire, but then creates a Magnificent Statue of Awesome; the Awed Citizens of Evil Empire immediately revolt.” According to Wikipedia, the protags of Pillars are two more of Richard’s endless string of half-siblings – one evil, one potentially redeemable. Then Naked Empire is about Richard convincing a nation of pacifists that pacifism is evil and wrong. In the process, he brutally slaughters a crowd of innocent war protesters who are “armed only with their hatred for moral clarity”. (Yes… I am not making this up. Though I haven’t read the whole book… this appears to be an actual quote. Google that line or something like “sword of truth richard kills war protesters” for longer quotes with a little more context.) Also in this book, Richard reconverts from Vegetarianism back to Carnivorism. So basically… anything good or interesting about the character has been destroyed by the end of this book.

      Finally: “Tell it to me like you would if you didn’t know this was supposed to be a novel, why don’t you.” Probably good advice, generally, for novelists and story-tellers.

  6. September 22, 2011 1:00 pm

    I’m a little late to this post, but I’m guessing you won’t mind.

    Embarrassingly enough, one book that I put down without finishing was Frank Herbert’s Dune. I was maybe 14 when I first picked it up, but I just couldn’t get into it at the time. I’m going to try to remedy that deficit in my persoanl reading list with a copy I just added to my ‘to-read’ stack a short time ago.

    Books I put down and will not being going back too include one of Terry Brook’s Shannara novels and one of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels. Don’t ask me which ones, I don’t feel the titles were worth remembering.

    • September 22, 2011 1:27 pm

      No, I don’t mind at all! 🙂 Comments make me happy.

      So, A) I, too, have a serious nerd-deficit in that I have never even attempted to read Dune as yet. Someday, I’m sure I shall… but not today.

      And B) Wow… I totally forgot that once, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I put down The Sword of Shannara and never picked it back up. I’m not sure how far I got in it. But it was just… boring to me. The characters didn’t engage me, for whatever reason, and I felt like I’d seen better versions of the same villains and monsters in other stories.

  7. October 1, 2011 11:13 pm

    I felt the same way as you the first time I read Les Miserables. However, I recently started rereading it and for some reason I found the exposition to be very compelling. Hugo has a strong author’s voice and I found myself moved by what he had to say. Perhaps because this time I knew more about the background of his life and the reasons he wrote the book. Either way, I think it’s absolutely brilliant. The thing is, I don’t think it was ever meant to be just an entertaining story. And if that’s what you’re looking for then yes, it’s not going to fit the bill. It’s too much more than that.

    I have to agree with you 110% on the Sword of Truth novels. I made it all the way through Faith of the Fallen but the soap box preaching was just so unforgivable I couldn’t read anymore. My husband did manage to finish the series and according to him it just gets worse. Soul of the Fire had the most ridiculous, contrived plot and we still make fun of the chicken-who-is-not-a-chicken to this day.

    I finished Eragon because I made myself do it to understand the phenomenon (and so that I could scorn it without feeling any guilt). It’s one of those books that makes you realize that people don’t really want originality or even quality. They just want more of the same thing they mindlessly enjoyed before. And then you weep for humanity and the future of art and intelligent literature.

    Books I couldn’t finish include

    The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

    I just didn’t like the main character and the plot was slow moving and uninteresting. It didn’t really feel like a story.

    The first book of the The Codex Alera (sp?) by Jim Butcher

    I loved his writing in the Dresden Files books, but those books were not my chosen style or genre of storytelling. So when I heard he’d written some epic fantasy I got excited. But I was just so BORED with this. And I was shocked that someone who writes such clever and creative stories in his other series fell prey to THE quintessential fantasy cliche… farm boy discovers that he is SPECIAL and really the son of ROYALTY. Gag.

    • October 3, 2011 10:32 am

      Regarding Les Miserables and entertaining books: I’m from the camp that novels should be entertaining first and foremost. I do sort of believe that a message, theme, or political point can be important, and can make a work greater – but that the latter should be subservient to the former. So maybe the political message of Les Mise was more powerful (and the meandering anecdotes seemingly less disconnected from the plot)… but picking it up today without that cultural baggage the main point that I see is one about how we treat the poor and about justice… and those are points I think can be made without that excess verbosity. Like I said… I do enjoy the various stage and dramatic adaptations of the story. I just don’t see myself wading through the dense descriptions at this point in my life.

      As for Eragon, I’ll say this: I don’t think the popularity of the book demonstrates “people don’t really want originality or even quality”… However derivative and unoriginal it’s plot/story may have been, I think it has been most popular among those who were not as familiar with the ars priori: i.e. younger fans who did not grow up watching Star Wars and similar works ad infinitium. For those who did… I often hear complaints about the book. It seems that those who liked it best were those who don’t have that background. In a way, then, Eragon was that younger generation’s first introduction to some of those common fantasy plot tropes – which makes the comparative unoriginality kind of a stroke of genius, in a way.

      I’m pretty unfamiliar with the other books you mention (unfamiliar meaning I’ve heard of the names, but that is all), so I can’t really comment on them.

  8. October 14, 2011 10:48 pm

    Intriguing that Eragorn is on your not-going-to-read list. It’s on my Swedish to-read list. Of course, whether it gets read will depend on whether the translation was done well or not.

    The most obvious example for me of a story I didn’t finish was Lost World. There seemed to be plot holes and I had a lot of trouble with what seemed to be Michael Crichton’s world view, but it may have just been he did a good job of creating technophobe characters, but unfortunately for me the became despicable.

    • October 17, 2011 11:51 am

      I wouldn’t say Eragon is on my “not-going-to-read” list so much as it’s on my “I have many other things I’d rather read first, but if I ever run out I’ll come back to it” list. Which, functionally is probably not all that different from “not-going-to-read”, but in my mental headspace it’s distinct. I never even tried Crichton’s Lost World, myself. I thoroughly enjoyed Jurassic Park when I was a kid – and was super-enthusiastic about the movie (both of which are still great, IMO) – but I learned of the film sequel before I learned of the movie sequel – and I was pretty turned-off by the ret-conning that had to be done to tie in the novel to the movie sequel, especially with regards to the various characters that had to be retroactively resurrected – those who died in the book but not in the movie. I regard both the first film and book to be fine on their own individual merits, but to occur in separate continuities.

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