Today I abandoned a book for the second time.
I’d like to borrow that relationship cliché–it’s not you, dear book, it’s me. But I don’t think I can. Yes, I get that readers’ preferences change. Perhaps the kind of books I like to read are past and gone. And don’t get me wrong, this author is a good person and a great writer. We’ve shared webinars, conferences and memberships in writers associations. I do so want to finish the book and write a warm if not glowing review. But first I have to finish reading it, and it ain’t easy.
I’ve pushed until I’m halfway into it, and I think I have finally put my finger on what’s causing the problem. I don’t know, maybe it really is me.
When I was growing up a voracious reader, a novel was a story about the adventures of one person. A good person, or not so good, even a bit bad, but whoever they were, they grabbed your attention and then your loyalty. Then romance novels adopted the ploy of making it about both of the protagonists. Quite understandable; after all, it takes two to make a romance. Instead of just being about her, Chapter Two would start telling the story from his point of view. Then it would return to her, and back and forth. By the end of the book, you truly knew how each of them felt and why. Since they always ended up together, it was easy to root for both of them.
Then came stories about two sisters, equal protagonists, again with alternating chapters. Then a mother and a daughter. A father and two daughters. A father and three daughters. Grandmother, mother and daughter. Five members of a wedding. Seven people at a class reunion.
Each one taking their turn to tell you their part of the story.
So now I am trying to read a book that seems to be the story of at least five people (as I said, I’m only halfway in, there may be more) who take turns being the point of the story. According to the book cover, there’s a series main character in there somewhere, but she’s not given any more attention (or chapters or importance in the story) than any of the others.
No sooner does a particular character engage my emotions than I am dumped like a stale girlfriend and expected to take up with someone else.
Listen, folks, you can’t root for both sides in a fistfight or a football game. It’s not human nature. You can’t cheer for every single person in a race, or else what’s the point? We enjoy taking sides. We like rooting for our hero.
I want stories about a particular he, she or it. I long for more Elizabeth Bennetts, another Jane Eyre. A single Sam Spade or Kinsey Milhone. Lassie or the Last Unicorn. Holden Caulfield, Scout Finch, or Randall McMurphy. Sethe and Celie. Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Starr Carter.
Plenty of secondary characters, sure. But only one who grabs your heart.
Too often, today’s authors try to spread my emotional involvement over so wide a slice of characters that there’s no flavor left. I simply don’t care who wins out in the end. And if I don’t care, what’s the point of reading?
6 thoughts on “How do I Care? Let me count the ways.”
I think I may have read the book you’re referring to. I felt I should follow it through to find out why it was lauded, but it was a long haul.
Yes, it sure can be, especially when you’re looking at a stack of books waiting to be read. This author was somewhere between an acquaintance and a friend, so I keep plugging away. I’ve done the same for other books, as you say, to find out why it was lauded. Most times I just have to accept that the “lauders” and I have different ideas of what makes a good book.
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The world turned Rashomon. “Win” and “right” are uncool concepts now. But unless the genius author can make us care for each character in proportion to the time and emotional expense of caring, not gonna work.
Very true. Thanks, Heidi!
I can appreciate your disappointment when, as a reader, your emotional involvement is thwarted by differing characters with very little direct connection. I know the feeling of being introduced to cousins whom I have never seen before and are prompted to tell their personal likes and dislikes. Not a lot of fun for either side.
I didn’t think of it applying to family, but I had the same experience! Thanks, James.
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