I know what you’re thinking, all of the usual arguments immediately come to mind! I understand, I too have in the past DNF’d ‘garbage’ books! It wasn’t until last year when I began reviewing books that I realised the value in not only reading ‘garbage’ books but also taking notes on them.
My argument for reading books that you don’t like is very simple- do it to figure out why you didn’t like it. Was it the writing style, the tone, the pacing, or the characters? Was it the way that the author droned on about world-building or didn’t inject enough of it? Learning these things can help you to avoid making similar ‘mistakes’ with your books.
Now I’m not saying that the things you don’t like when reading are actually mistakes. Some of the things that I hate in books, other readers love! The thing is that if you are writing or storytelling using a method that you don’t like to read… you’re going to hate your own book. That’s not a good thing! If you’re writing using methods you don’t feel comfortable reading, it can come across in your books as awkward or like you’re trying too hard. For example, a while back, I began reading ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ by Jules Verne… I loved the first 15 or so chapters and loathed the rest of the book. I finished it regardless of the fact it took me over a month to complete, and I learnt a lot along the way. In fact, what I learnt by reading and hating the Verne novel allowed me to cut out parts of my short story that I would’ve hated to read about, making it a stronger piece of work.
If I didn’t finish the book I would’ve never encountered some of the storytelling methods that Verne implements. I really love some of his ideas and want to attempt in my own writing.
Verne injects so many facts and sciencey details into his book that it bored me to tears, my eyes glazed over, I yawned obsessively, and I put down the book more times than I could count because I couldn’t bring myself to slug through a large amount of ‘useless’ information. It felt like Verne was flexing on me and I hated it! It wasn’t until I was editing my story about cannibalism that I realised that I was doing the same thing to my readers. I had done so much research into how a human would taste and how to eat a person safely that I forgot that I didn’t have to use all of it! So my story (which was only 2500 words) was filled with facts to make my story seem more realistic. I didn’t need that argument to make my story believable! I fell into the Verne trap! The information that I was putting into my book didn’t further the plot at all. It was just there to make me look like I knew what I was talking about.
There were things I loved about Verne’s writing, I loved how he showed a character’s personality by their outward appearance, and I plan on implementing that in my work. I loved the epic whale chase and the despair of floating across the ocean in the night. If I didn’t finish the book, I would’ve never encountered some of the storytelling methods that Verne implements. I love some of his ideas and want to attempt in my own writing.
The TLDR is, you should finish books that you don’t like — taking notes on the things you like and don’t like helps you to improve your work. If you’re attempting a method that you don’t like, but you’re not sure why you don’t like it, it can make for a complicated editing process at best… and a book you’re not proud of at worst. I think implementing this practice into your reading will drastically help improve your writing.
I’m not saying that my advice is the be-all and end-all, I’m not your mother or your mentor. There is, of course, the argument for life is too short to read books you hate, whichever side of the fence you land on, before setting down a book, think about why you’re doing it. It might save you some trouble in your own writing career! As always I cannot wait to see you on the bookshelf!