I just finished reading Joanna Smith Rakoff’s 416-page debut novel A Fortunate Age. It was the article “First-Fiction Annual: Six New Novelists on What It Takes to Write and Publish a Debut” in the July/August 2009 issue of Poets & Writers that inspired me to read the book. That Joanna is about my age and making her debut as an author made me even more interested in her novel.
But, within the first 30 pages, I didn’t like the book. The characters just didn’t resonate with me (they felt like sketches of people I’d known in college) and the story itself wasn’t nearly as interesting as I had hoped (it felt predictable). But since Poets & Writers had been so enthusiastic about A Fortunate Age—and it was sold in a bidding war and it was a New York Times Editors’ Pick—I forced myself to stick with it. I figured I just hadn’t reached that “magic point” where suddenly I couldn’t put down the book. Or maybe I just needed more time to “click” with the characters, a group of friends that felt, well, a little clique-y. I never reached those moments.
Still, I finished the book. Of course, having to stay off my feet so my two sprained ankles can heal did give me more reading time than usual. However, this is somewhat typical of my reading habits. Once I start a book, even if I struggle in the beginning, I feel committed to see it through, to discover what he or she did with the characters and plot.
Am I wasting my time? My honey laughs at my stubbornness to finish a book, especially when it’s something I am not enjoying and could quit reading. But I won’t let myself.
Do you force yourself to read a book if you don’t love it right away? Do you think it’s a waste of time to read something you don’t enjoy, especially when there are so many books you could be reading? Is there a book you’ve forced yourself to finished and ended up loving? And, if you’ve read, A Fortunate Age, what did you think of it? Please share in the comments.
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3 thoughts on “Pushing Through: Committing to Finish the Writer’s Words on the Page”
After I left college I used to make it a point of pride to finish a book I started, often slogging through the pages without anything going in. Then I realised I didn’t have to do that any more and stopped, because it just wasted my time. As I got more embroiled with writing I had to read novels I didn’t particularly connect to but were necessary because they dealt with the same subject as I was writing, or used a particular technique. So I read those in a different way, not bothered about whether the story enthrals me, but engaged by the need to find answers to my questions. It’s different from reading for pleasure, though.
I did try LOTR once – and I do hope I don’t ever have to read it for research!
Thanks for your comments, Steve. I’ve never read LOTR, so I admire your ability to push through two volumes. And I’m glad your friend ditched her boyfriend, though I’m sorry for your loss. I do love her comment about “reading to see how it comes out.”
A couple of comments,
First, this happened to me with a very famous work – Lord of the Rings. Tolkien is obviously a great writer, but his style isn’t for me. But, all my friends loved LOTR, so I tried, I really did. I made it through the first two volumes, and a little way into the third. Then finally I ran out of oomph. Couldn’t go on. I still have an interest in the story and even a passing interest in LOTR fandom – but I just can’t read the man’s style – too slow paced, among other things. Plus, fantasy really isn’t my genre. I’ m a hard SF guy. (But my own unfinished novel is contemporary YA – go figure).
The second comment is less closely related, and a bit darker. I once asked a dear friend of mine, since passed away, why she stayed with her abusive boyfriend. She explained, “It’s like starting a really bad book. You keep reading to see how it comes out”.
Happy ending – she finally ditched him and had a number of years raising her kids in (relative) peace before she got sick.
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