May 28, 2010

Does Anyone Else Have This Problem?

I find that after completing a book, I have a hard time selecting my next read from my ridiculously long reading list. It's not that there isn't anything good in there: quite the opposite in fact. But even when I have a book I've been dying to read like China Mieville's Kraken or Ian McDonald's The Dervish House, I find myself struggling to get into it. I'm tempted to pick up other books

I think this problem stems from two key points. First, no matter how good a book is, whether it's the latest Joe Abercrombie blood-drenched fantasy or Paolo Bacigalupi's newest eco-SF adventure, the collective quality of the rest of the other choices will always outweigh it. Why read a SF Space Opera when you could be reading Urban Fantasy, Near-future SF, Alternate History, Epic Fantasy, Steampunk, Theopunk, Cyberpunk, Treepunk, Punkpunk? For all that a book is, there is so much more it's not. I know it's stupid to think like this but like Jacob of LOST, I have a hard time selecting which of the many candidates is worthy of my limited reading time. More often that not I false start, reading 20-30 pages of one tome before setting it down in favor or something else.

Adding to this fact is the way I read, which is probably similar to most people. It take me a while to get into a book. I need to reset my brain to read sentences the way the author writes them. I also tend to read every word, in admiration of the skill of writing rather than purely absorbing plot. Authors put a lot of time into their prose and making sure things are worded to their satisfaction, and I feel like a lot of the time and for a lot of readers, that effort is wasted. Few things make me happier than a perfectly worded sentence. Michael Chabon, I'm looking at you.
But anyway, back to the topic of the post. Until I reset my mind for the new prose stylings, I read much slower. Eventually, after 50 or 100 pages my mind is able to acclimate to the new style and I can pick up the pace. More often than not, I read the last three quarters of the book in the same time it took me to read the first quarter if not faster.

Both of these tendencies are particularly problematic when I am reading collections or anthologies. Even more so when they feature multiple authors. An anthology introduces many more clean stopping points, many more prose styles, and many more options than a single novel. And this is ignoring the fact that by the time I adjust to the new style, the story is frequently over. Heck, I've been reading The World Book of SF for about 5 months now.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy short stories. They just don't get along well with the way my gray matter functions. It just have a hard time moving from one story to the next.
I don't know.

Maybe it's just me.


  1. In order to simplify this problem, and avoid reading only fantasy (my favorite), I have two rules.

    First, I read following a cycle : 1 fantasy, 1 other speculative (sf, horror and others), 1 non-speculative.

    The second rule is reading one book I bought recently, and then one that has been hanging around for a long time.

    But it's still hard to pick the next book...and I have the same problem as you with changes in style. I'm currently reading Fritz Leiber, and his old-school prose is much harder to read than modern fantasy.

  2. Sometimes I think we're the same person, Patrick.

  3. I have this happen to me all the time - the joys of having a reading list with 100 + entries on it. It largely comes down to my mood at the time when I finish a book, and I'm often switching between heavier and lighter reads and subjects. What I've found helps is putting together a reading list, with a sort of forecast, with a number of different choices to narrow down what I want to read.

  4. Like Mimouille, I cycle genres - fantasy - SF to avoid having books bleed together. Also helps speed getting into the book.
    I actually have the most trouble with a book that follows a really good book. May actually wait several days to start something new when a book really blows me away.

  5. I have exactly the same problem switching gears from one author to the next. Which, as you mention, is a big problem when reading anthologies. It takes me weeks to finish off an antho even tho I'm enjoying all the stories. It's a bit of work to get into the next story which slows me down and makes me less eager to pick it up again. Instead of trying to plow straight through I'll read shorts between novels when I'm already having to switch gears. I finish an antho around 5 or 6 novels.

    The distraction of other books is a huge problem for me if the book does not grab me right away. I usually give a book about 100 pages before I bail out and grab another. If I'm not into it by then I likely won't be later. I'm looking for books that hold from cover to cover and hopefully for some time after too.

  6. No you are not alone!
    The last void book from Peter Hamilton had me rereading the previous book before hand - so after 1500 pages wrapped up in one style/universe it was days before I started another novel. I await the final part in trepidation!
    In general I try to switch between genres - it all helps to keep a balanced mind!

  7. It does take me a while to get acclimated to the prose of one author right after finishing a different one. To that end, I try to get through that adjustment period in one sitting. When I pick up a new book, I'll usually not stop until I'm about one hundred pages in, and by that time I'll be comfortable with the writing.

    It seems I always have 10-12 books around I haven't read. To avoid the 'what do I read confusion' I lay out what I plan on reading at the beginning of the month and try to ensure variety and continuity in series.

    Wow, I'm a nerd.


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