Why My Stupid Habit Makes Your Book Look Bad

 

I’ve gotten into the very bad habit lately of skimming the last third or so of a book so I can get to the end.  I’ve always been an impatient reader when it comes to endings because they contain so much of what I hate about mystery and thriller novels, particularly action scenes and expository dialogue. But lately it’s gotten worse and I knew I had reached bottom when I skimmed to the end of The Odds by Stewart O’Nan. Why was that the bottom? Because the book is less than 200 pages long. And sure, there was the suspenseful question of whether their final bet would pay off, but seriously, who does that?

I bring this up because there are several consequences of this I have begun to notice. The biggest one, and one that’s nagged at me the longest, is because I pay so little attention to the endings of books my own endings are troublesome to the point of endless frustration. I’ve also noticed my reading experience has suffered. Until recently, any book I started to skim was usually a thriller where the only thing the book had going for it was the central question and all I wanted to do was get to the payoff. Fine. But lately, I’ve been doing this with layered books where my rush to the finish line has come at the expense of some of the character development or subplot resolutions that can make a good book a great book. The only book I haven’t done this with is Elmore Leonard’s latest Raylan because there was no overiding central question as the book was basically three loosely connected novellas. I had other problems with that book, but missing out on character development was not one of them.

The obvious solution to this is to just slow down and savor the book. That’s all well and good, but I think one of the reasons I’ve been trying to get through books so fast is because my reading time is getting more and more compressed while the number of books I want to read keeps increasing. I thought I’d take Chuck Wendig’s advice and read some non-fiction to help build myself a base of knowledge and maybe slow down this burning speed demon insise myself, but the first non-fiction book I read was the compelling gambling memoir with, you guessed it, a suspenseful final question I had to skim to get to. My next non-fiction book will be The Big Con by David Maurer and Luc Sante, which should be a quieter read I hope. In the meantime I’m in the middle of Matt Forbeck’s 400 page fantasy novel Vegas Knights and I am determined not to skim to get to the end. After that I’ve got Pocket Kings by Ted Heller about a novelist who plays online poker so hopefully that will ease me into a slower reading pace.

So about you all out there? Do you savor every last word to the end of the book or do you rush ahead to get to the money shot? Is there a good middle ground? Should I maybe just consider medication?

 

6 thoughts on “Why My Stupid Habit Makes Your Book Look Bad

  1. Slow the hell down. All writers read like an editor at times, but you’re punishing yourself if you do it all the time. The Big Con is a classic, but it will slow you down. I remember it being a bit tedious, but worthwhile. Rather like Gangs of New York.

  2. I never do that. What I do do is put it aside. I don’t care about endings really so a book put aside usually has a less than compelling protagonist. Or the writing is just not there. I rarely skip ahead or skim.

  3. Patti, I don’t put the books aside because once the climax of the action has happened I like the stuff that usually follows.

    Keith, I’m with you. I can usually handle bland dialogue if the narrative and everything else is up to par, but the lousy stuff I can’t handle. And I’m definitely more of a ride kind of person than a destination person.

    Tommy, I don’t really read as an editor. That’s one thing I’ve managed to maintain is my joy of reading. It’s almost the opposite that I enjoy the book so much I want to take it all in so fast. I’m glad to hear The Big Con might help slow me down.

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