That might sound like an obvious, or even slightly silly, question but it is one that I have been asking myself over the last few weeks. There have been various things recently that have made me ponder this and so I thought I would use the blog as a sound board for them, but also to see if any of you have pondered the same things too.
After I finished ‘Diving Belles’ by Lucy Wood I had that sense of loss that you only get in one in every twenty or thirty books (or more actually) if you are lucky. That does sound odd, linking loss and luck, but it’s true, books that simply blow you out of the water with their atmosphere, writing and most of all story (for me at least) don’t land in your lap every day. Yet after reading ‘Diving Belles’, once the slight bereft feeling had passed, I did find myself thinking ‘shouldn’t I only read books that completely bowl me over all the time’?
I think that every year I get older, and some of the reasoning behind this post may in part be down to my upcoming big birthday, my reading years get better. I still have no idea who I am as a reader, I think this may always be the case as my taste is so eclectic and so many new exciting books come out all the time, and I am fine with that. Yet when I went back through the books I had read in 2011 (looking for Orange Prize longlist contenders) I did find myself thinking a few times ‘why did I continue with that book when it was a bit average and now I have forgotten it’, I won’t say which ones that applied to, there weren’t masses of them but enough to make me think about it. Why didn’t I just give up on them? I wonder if this was a subconscious feeling that helped with my reading by whim (and like it’s possibly the end of the world) for this year?
I was talking with Gavin, and you can hear it on this week’s episode of The Readers, about giving up on books and how I used to find it really difficult to do. I have gotten much better at it but only to a certain point. If I am going to give up on a book I tend to do it within 50 – 80 pages. Yet for some reason if I have gotten about half way through a book and I am finding it rather average; it’s enjoyable enough but nothing new and nothing too special to be honest, why don’t I stop and just give it up? There is of course the ‘oh you wait till that final paragraph that will blow your mind’ theory we readers have in built into our heads, but the older (and more cynical, which rises daily) I get the more I think ‘if the book can’t get me there then it’s just not a good book’. It’s a point.
I am trying to veer away from the ‘what makes a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ book’ debate as it is so subjective but subjectivity is a good point to address briefly. I know some people find it very odd that I can go from reading a prize winning book to M.C Beaton and, while appreciating them in differing ways, the fact I appreciate them and loving reading both none the less (sometimes an Agatha Raisin can be much, much more pleasurable than reading some of the prize winning pomp out there and that’s fine too), it is almost deemed a little improper. Interestingly after reading ‘Diving Belles’ I plumped for a good trusted crime novel because I knew I would really enjoy it and that any possibly new-to-me author, random literary read or experimental novel might not get me while the dust of ‘Diving Belles’ settled, and the book that follwed would therefore suffer for it.
That leads me to the fact that as I keep reading the more I am experimenting with my reading and trying new things. I want to keep pushing myself as a reader and in trying out lots of random books, whilst sticking with what I know I love; I think I am more likely to work out what works for me in a ‘perfect’ read. As I carry on experimenting more, shouldn’t quitting more be allowed too without so much guilt?
Then come three more questions. If I stopped reading books I wasn’t enjoying initially, or were just average, how could I have anything to compare my most wonderful reads to? If I only read the most amazing books all the time will I appreciate them as much? Can we ever realistically only read amazing books?
I think I am ending this with more questions than I started out with and also no real idea of my own conclusion. Maybe if a book is muddling along and is nothing special or new why don’t I just let them go, why read on? Or maybe I should keep on if it’s not offending me too much and just let it be an average but forgettable read? See… I am none the wiser, nice to get the thoughts out though. What say you? Should we only read the most amazing books all the time? Do we need to read books we don’t love as much to compare them too? Should you give up on a book that’s inoffensive but average and nothing new?