Why I Sometimes Read Books I Don’t Like

The notion of ‘getting hooked’ on a book is alien to me. Sure, there are books that I love and that I’ll happily read over and over again, but I’ve never experience that immediate “OMG, THIS BOOK!!”-feeling that some people seem to have. People talk about great opening lines and great first pages, and I just don’t get it.

I often see discussions on Twitter along the lines of “how long do you give a book before you put it down?” and I love to take part in those. I never mean to judge anyone, but it’s fascinating to me how someone can decide whether they like a book before they’ve… well, read the book.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve put books down. I’ve come across a small handful of unreadable books. Most of these were because of technical issues; formatting, grammar, and errors, things that made me unable to get to the story behind the text. And I remember one that was just… too weird. Too fleeting. I didn’t understand anything. I was halfway through by the time I realized I had no idea (whatsoever!) what was going on.

But when I start a book it can take me ages to decide whether I like it. I can be halfway through before I catch on and decide I love it, or I can get to the end only to realize that, “You know what, I didn’t actually enjoy this.”

How can people decide before they know what they’re deciding about?

I have two potential theories:

First, it could be about genre. I read a lot of thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy and horror, where a lot of the plot is based on a form of mystery. You’re very often supposed to be confused and ‘not-in-the-know‘ to begin with, until you start to pick up on things. You’re rewarded for sticking with it, and when the author knows what they’re doing it’s usually worth it.

My second theory, is that I lack the initial WOW!-factor that make many people interested in reading to begin with. If you’re used to getting hooked and feeling an instant emotional connection very early in books that you often like, then it must be easy to recognize when that sensation isn’t there. I don’t have that, even when I love a book. I’m a pretty mellow guy and my wife often points out that I don’t get excited, even about the things I really like. I don’t have any favorite things, be it books, movies, or TV-shows. I have the things I like more than others, and everything else is just the rest.

A lot of people point out that I’m wasting my time reading books that I don’t love. They’ll say stuff like, “But there’s so many books out there, why not skip ahead to one you love?”

That would be great, if I had a way to do that, but if we agree that I don’t get that initial “OMG THIS IS AMAZING”-feeling from page 1, how do I know? How do I find that book, without reading the book and deciding whether I like it or not? I’d rather read few books all the way through and maybe like half of them, than reading tons of first pages of books trying to find the perfect one.

Also, getting to the point of this whole blog: it’s sometimes good to read bad books. Or at least read books you don’t like, especially if you’re a writer like me. I see how other people do things. I see what works and ultimately, what doesn’t. I’ll know what to avoid, what traps to not fall into, and how to write better books.

Also, by sticking with it, I find some gems sometimes.

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