#642: Who Would Fardels Bear to Grunt and Sweat Under a Weary Life…? – On the Subtle Art of Knowing When Not to Read a Book

Books Question Mark

I am here entirely by choice (blogging, I mean — I don’t wish to give the impression that I summoned myself into existence through an act of will), because I love books, and I love writing, reading, and talking about books.  But sometimes that gets tested.

I post on this blog three times a week — again, entirely of my own volition — and in order to maintain that I typically need to read three books a week (what Kate would call “not really trying”) on top of working full time and doing all the household things that keep real life ticking over.  Occasionally — very occasionally — I may even try to socialise.  And to keep all these plates on the spin — boo-hoo, poor me, etc. — one of things I don’t have time for is a book I’m simply not enjoying.  Case in point, I had planned to write about a particular novel today…but after reading the first two chapters I put it down for a day, then came back to it and struggled through the next two chapters, then left it for another day, eventually committed to finishing it on Wednesday and…haven’t.  At the point of giving up on it, I was maybe 40  pages in and, since I rarely get far enough ahead of myself to have something in reserve, I don’t have anything else to post on today.

And, hey, I’m doing this by choice, so I very nearly wasn’t going to post anything today — both of you would cope, I’m sure — but then I got to thinking.



It’s not exactly unheard of for me to give up on a book, I’d say it happens maybe 15 times in a given year, but that’s a less than 10% rejection rate.  True, I don’t love every book that I do finish, but I enjoy most of them and, the odd misgiving here and there aside, I’m happy that GAD and surrounds is the genre for me.  But then…how do we really know that the genres or styles we settle in are the right ones?  The sweeping, epic romance of Lucinda Riley might be for me, after all, yet I’m pretty happy not even attempting one of her tomes, despite never having read a single epic, sweeping romance (brace yourselves, I’ve not even seen Gone with the Wind (1940)).  In short: How do you decide what to read?

I ask this of a community that probably has a pretty good idea of the sort of thing it likes to read — you’re on my blog reading about my reading, after all — and obviously there are various levels to this, all of them deeply personal and individual.  But I suppose for me it breaks down in the following ways, and I was interested to see if this resonated with anyone else.  So, from the broadest on down, I suppose to give this a pithy title I’d call it…

Selection Bias

Essentially, the set of factors that result in you not even picking up a book to begin with.  There are millions of books you’ll never read because of whatever selection bias and preference you have in your own reading.

a. Experiential Bias

The simplest of these is simply having no interest in the genre because it sounds so completely unlike your kind of thing — Bigfoot Erotica, say, or Here’s A Book That Will Definitely* Make You Rich/Popular/Better If You Do What It Says (* – Your Definition of ‘Definitely’ May Not Match That of the Author, Publisher, or Parent Corporation, and They Cannot Be Held Responsible If This Books Does Not Make You Rich/Popular/Better, and Hey You Were Probably not Following the Instructions Properly Anyway).  Some people simply swear off fiction, or anything with “The Girl in the…” in its title.  Aspects of reactionary publishing dissuade many of us the world over from picking up this kind of thing every day.  Life, after all, lasts only so long.

This decision is typically based on your own broad life experience and choices.  I have no desire to be More Popular because that would leave even less time for reading, and Bigfoot Erotica is…something I’ll take a risk on by avoiding.  Maybe it’s what’s been missing from my life, but my understanding of what that combination of words promises leads my to highly suspect that it’s not.

b. Genre Bias

Slightly more specific than the above, because this requires you, dear reader, to have actually read the genre in the first place — so it’s usually a result of direct experience rather than impressions.  At school, I read almost anything I could lay my hands on — from Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996) by Helen Fielding to One, Two, Three…Infinity (1947) by George Gamow — and gradually established what was and wasn’t to my taste; I developed a lifelong love of George Orwell and a lifelong aversion to Tami Hoag.  Part of this was subject matter, part of it was a recognition of what I enjoyed stylistically, part of it was a simple impatience with stories in which it takes a long time for very little to happen.

As a rule of thumb, I found that ‘real world’ events appealed to me more than Fantasy, and that generally there was a point in time (c. 12th May 1840) before which I found written English to be tedious and laborious and after which I at least found it bearable, and then frankly enjoyable….and then unbearable again  Consequently, there’s a sort of Goldilocks Zone of dates where I’m now convinced I’ll find the best results for my tastes.

b.i Subgenre Bias

Once you experience a genre and get used to its foibles, divisions, and frank mendacity — “If you love Agatha Christie…try Ed McBain!” — you lean that, for example, the intelligent speculation of Arthur C. Clarke is more your cup of tea than the philosophy lessons of Robert A. Heinlein.  In crime fiction I was initially drawn to the catchy prose and stylistic gewgaws of contemporary US writers, but now I find myself hankering after detection more than anything…except when I don’t. Tell me something has a strong seam of HIBK or Domestic Suspense and I’ll more than likely pass.  Work in a complicated colour-based magic system, however, and I’m all for it so long as we know the rules and so can invest in the stakes.

Subgenre is where it starts to get tricky.  I found that certain works that crossover between reality and Fantasy — Neverwhere (1996) by Neil Gaiman, say — are utterly delightful, containing the best of both (ahem) worlds, and yet as soon as we begin to lean too much one way — American Gods (2001) by Neil Gaiman, say — my interest evaporates PDQ.  I imagine this is where most people get caught out, expecting one type of book and getting another.  Sometimes you can adjust your expectations and enjoy it regardless, and others it’s simply a barrier too high to pass.

b.i) §a: Author Bias

Let’s face it, we all have an author we’ll never pick up again.  They’re in your sub-sub-subgenre, but they simply don’t work for you despite the tintinnabulations of praise ringing out from all those around you.  Every so often you weaken, pick one of their books up, read half a page, get disgusted with something, and put the book down, to repeat the process in another eight months (this is me with The Lord of the Rings).  Any recommendation that involves a comparison to them puts you on your guard, and comparison to them leaves you feeling irrationally angry.  I once read a book I hated that had a quote on the cover from another author essentially saying “Wow, I wish I was as good as this” — and I’ll read neither of them now.

Don’t fret, you’re among friends.  As I read somewhere recently, your brain is organic matter with electricity running through it — of course it’s going to be react weirdly to certain stimuli.  Take a breath, think about an author whose work you love…there, isn’t that better?


“Wow, you really did think about this, hey?”

b.i) §a: i) Moral Stances

Independent of the quality of the prose or the clarity of the argument put forth, sometimes the action of the author, actor, director, etc. might dissuade you for their real life actions.  The sock-puppeting scandals surrounding the likes of Stephen Leather and R.J. Ellroy put me off ever reading their books.  In light of the private behaviour of the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Roman Polanski, people are increasingly unwilling to support their films.

This isn’t me getting all political — I still remember the devastation cause in my life by one guy unfollowing me on Twitter because I bought a book by Jess Philips, and I’m not willing to risk that much upheaval again — but it’s a reason some people don’t do, read, see, listen to, or endorse a thing and so worth mentioning.

b.ii Format Bias

Poetry remains a nightmare for me.  I have read three translations of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, won’t hear a word against Emily Dickinson, and find the work of Charles Simic to be muscular, relevant, and wonderful.  Yet the less said about most modern blank verse the better.  Give me something epic and gloomy — The City of Dreadful Night (1874) by James Thomson, say — and you wouldn’t see me for a week if I could afford the time.  This is true of other media, too, as well as books: most people blanch at the idea of “classical music” or run a mile at the prospect of an “open mic” or “interpretative theatre”.  Attached the words “Jeremy Clarkson” to anything to watch my interest in it die faster than my willingness to come up with a witty metaphor here.

This is often the result of a sort of received wisdom, but equally some experience is, one hopes, to be counted on if there’s a legitimate objection.  The same sort of thinking sees people avoiding horror movies or, at the risk of repeating myself, Adam Sandler movies.  It’s essentially genre bias, but with a narrower focus.  I think.

c. Cultural Bias

With apologies to the Scandinavians amongst you, I offer the following example: I don’t want to read about alcoholic, depressed, divorced, overweight, miserable, law-breaking, firebrand, depressed, alienated, alcoholic, depressed policemen solving depressing crimes involving Nazi paedophiles or sexual abuse suffered under the auspices of religious or business organisation.  You write a lot of (though, no, not exclusively) that.  It doesn’t interest me. Nothing will make me drop a book faster than an “As [adjective] as Jo Nesbø” comparison or a (heaven forfend) “Sjowall and Wahlöö reborn” one.  There are plenty of other examples I could cite, but you get the idea, I hope.

Equally, no culture has ever produced hardcore Punk music quite like Scandinavia, and equally I’ll avoid the brattish, whiny American attempts at this and dive head first into anything Swedish in the genre at a moment’s notice. In much the same way that we’re all learning about the wild French approach to GAD, sometimes a specific place and, extending on the above, time produces something that simply really does or really does not appeal.

c.i Cultural Condescension

The rise of the popularity of any genre sees a commensurate rise in the, for want of a better word, parodying of that genre.  Look at the three satirical versions of The Da Vinci Code (2003) by Dan Brown, or the ever-popular Twop Twips Twitter account that sprang up in the wake of Condescending Celebrity Advice guides.  With fiction, especially genre fiction where there are a series of “rules” for “squares” to follow, there’s a good chance some firebrand with genius insight into the falsity of such arcane constructs is going to sweep ion on their charger of Truth and show up anyone who likes That Sort of Thing to be, y’know, wrong or something.  My understanding is that Gilbert Adair tried this, as did Larry Morse under the pseudonym ‘Runa Fairleigh’.

Fine, go for your life, but don’t expect me to give over my money and time to be told what a prick I am for loving something that causes no harm.  This snarky division of ourselves into the damned and the saved is one of the cultural tendencies I’ll never understand.

c.i) §a: Earnest Cloth-Eared, Ham-Handed Bullshit Bias

Just Google “white saviour story” — it’ll save time.  Actually, Seth Meyers(‘ writers) did a pretty good job with it here. The only thing less appealing than being told how silly and easily-dismissed your joy looks to others is being earnestly told everything you already know about it as if it’s profound to do so.

See also: musicians going “edgy” as they “discover a new sound” (or, worse, turning into Coldplay) and authors churning out Dan Brownalikes as a way of “expanding their range”.   Artists gotta eat, sure, but the po-faced solemnity with which this is done kinda kills me.

5 Chows

“Are you still writing?!”

Now, of course, what got me started on this was having still exhibited all these preferences and yet giving up on a book I’d already started.  I even started writing a whole second section about exactly that, but it’s gonna take some work and, frankly, you probably have things to be doing.  But…does any of the above ring true for anyone?  I didn’t realise how much I thought about this kind of thing until I started writing it, so please feel free to point out all the things I’ve forgotten.

Back to criminous deeds on Tuesday, I promise.

55 thoughts on “#642: Who Would Fardels Bear to Grunt and Sweat Under a Weary Life…? – On the Subtle Art of Knowing When Not to Read a Book

  1. I give up on my books far more frequently than you but I am probably less thoughtful about my selection process. I definitely have some favorites though that I like to return to – I just try and fit lots of new reads in around the ones I feel sure I’ll like.


    • I’m always impressed at the sheer range of stuff you cover in the genre. You get around the various corners and shadows of what makes up crime fiction like no-one else. I simply over-think things!


  2. First, what book did you give up on? Both of us need to know so we can avoid it! It’s interesting that we talk about “giving up” on a book as if it’s some kind of failure – although I do find it hard to stop reading a book I’ve started even if it’s not very good. In the last year I have paused “The Woman in White” until it is the only thing on my TBR pile.

    In terms of what I do read, it is now pretty much all GAD – and most of that as recommended from frequent haunters of the Facebook page. There are plenty of modern thrillers that I would like and if they are worthy of being reprinted in 30 years time then maybe I’ll give them a go.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve read TWIW and whilst it is an important mystery fiction text and it does have a good plot, it is way tooo long. You can skip most of the last 150 pages as it is simply reiteration of the previous events.


    • As has been documented exhaustively both here and elsewhere, my not enjoying a book in no way makes it one to avoid. Indeed, my not enjoying a book seems to bring out every who does enjoy it so they can tell me how wrong I am 🙂 As such, the title shall remain under wraps.

      I love the idea of only reading something if it’s still being printed 30 years later, though. Be interesting to see how many books hang around that long now simply because of the ebook market. I know the rights follow the same sort of deal, but the fact that an electronic copy exists will surely make publishers more likely to keep something out there, as they’re not producing “new” stock. Watch this space, I suppose…


  3. I have a tiny essay on genre bias here – it’s not necessarily that books in a genre will provide the most enjoyment. I’m very sure that there are many mainstream, classic, sci-fi, romance, etc etc novels that I would enjoy and that I could have directly recommended to me as something I would like.
    However, I still stick mostly to detective fiction, and the reason for that might even be similar to why I enjoy detective fiction in the first place. Deeper reading into a genre allows you to pick up on things that a more broad reader would miss – you can follow the development of a subgenre, watch a favourite author try out the hot new thing in an attempt to stay popular, and witness new exciting authors get inspired. With GAD it really helps that most of it was nearly a century ago and the masters of the genre are not going to be putting out any new stuff.
    It feels good to be an expert about something, to know how a new read “fits in”.
    That’s why I keep coming back to the same genre – part of me enjoys mapping out its space.
    Or maybe I just played too much Pokemon as a kid and just want to “catch em all” with the classics of detection…!


    • This is a genius point. You’re spot on: we all sweep through a genre to some extent or another, but to get a real overview of the development of something we find especially interesting we have to return time and again to fill in the more subtle shades and progressions. I love this idea.


  4. Like you I read whatever I could as a kid. But now I am very careful about what I read to avoid triggers. So i avoid love stories like the plague. Dramatic stuff is a no-no too. Sadly I have to stay away from Gerald Durrell since whenever I read his books I get a strong urge to pursue a career in biodiversity despite knowing it’s too late for me now and not very advisable either.
    Another thing is while I am willing to give any movie a try be it a classic or an unknown, I can’t bring myself to do the same for books. They have to be by known authors. It’s hard for me to give unknown authors a chance.
    Also, Adam Sandler is unfairly maligned. I haven’t seen Uncut Gems yet, but man does he have so many other good movies in his quiver, Spanglish being one of my favorites.


    • I take a lot more convincing with a new author. It’s something I’m very aware of. Like, I’ll wade through 200 pages of sludge for John Dickson Carr, but if I eventually pick up someone new like (say) George Bellairs and don’t like the first three pages I’ll have to consciously put in the effort to keep reading so that I can say I’ve given the book a fair shake. This is in part why everyone gets at least two books — you wouldn’t want to rad They Came to Baghdad and give Christie up as a lost cause, would ya?!


      • Everyone gets two …. book 1 by
        The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel

        *evil chuckle*

        I love Kazantzakis btw, but if you get a look at this you will understand my chuckle.


  5. Great post, though like John I want to know which book you put down!
    I very rarely DNF a book. I don’t know whether that is due to my skill in avoiding books I would out and out hate, (using several of the biases you mention above), or because I can plough through a book in a few hours, even if it is boring (one of the skills you gained through doing an Eng Lit degree). I’ll be generous and say it is probably a combo of the two.
    I can’t decide whether my reading tastes have become narrower since I started blogging. I’ve probably discontinued some reading directions when it comes to modern books, but I like to think maybe my tastes have expanded in other areas.


    • My own patience with reading anything regardless has well and truly passed — but, then, you;re able to rip through books so much faster than every other human alive today, Kate, so I wonder if you even have the time to notice that you’re not enjoying something 🙂

      And blogging has certainly made me aware of needing to widen my genre range, if only for a bit of a break from mysteries every now and then. The difficulty is that I rarely have to time fit anything in. Posting twice, or even once, a week might be the answer, but then think of all the classic mystery fiction I wouldn’t get to read! It’s Sophie’s Choice!


  6. When I used to watch films, I was much more willing to take chances. A few genres/directors aside, (I’m looking at you, British kitchen-sink realism and you, sword and sandal epics) two hours or so of lost time was acceptable.

    Books are a different story. The questions raised by the premise and the first chapter are crucial. Every book has one question – what’s going to happen? (Imagine my horror when I find out the answer is ‘nothing’!) Mysteries tend to have more questions that other genres. Murder mysteries have more dire questions. Impossible-crime murder mysteries have the most fascinating questions of all. (to be fair, Bigfoot erotica brings up several questions too. I’m just not sure they can be answered within the pages of a book. They can only be properly tackled with a good therapist.) https://www.amazon.com/Bent-Over-Bigfoot-Maggie-Lent-ebook/dp/B07NWG6LD9

    Other factors certainly come into play, but what I’m really looking for are interesting questions. If I need to know the answers, I’ll continue reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I too find myself more willing to take a risk on a movie than on a book. Back in the days when I had a television, and when movies were a regular feature thereof, I remember all manner of film seasons running on the BBC: Ealing comedies, Akira Kurosawa, Sergio Leone, Cary Grant, Sam Peckinpah — man, I got to watch a lot of stuff that gave me a great education in film. Not all of it was good, but if you’re investing 100 minutes, as you say, it’s usually pretty difficult to object. And if it’s no good…stop watching it.

      Maybe it’s the personal nature of books — it’s you and the author, mano-a-mano, in a quiet space, interpreting a story being told exclusively to you — that makes me more picky, or maybe it’s just that so many books run on rails and I can usually tell after five pages whether it’s a journey I have any interest in.

      The idea you raise of a question being answered is an important one, I agree — doesn’t have to be whodunnit or howcatchem…often a certain amount of whatsnext will suffice; indeed, so long as I’m engaged enough to think of a question of my own that the book might not provide, I will stick around. And, yes, “How horny is Bigfoot?” is not something I’m keen to have answered in this or any other lifetime 😆


  7. Age also enters into decisions; currently I seem to be rereading a lot of books that I read first many years ago. Partly this is because rarely do I go to a mainstream book store (OK, never, I live on an island) and because of some mobility issues I seldom go to my local Library though it is excellent in the small Library category. Actually superb. However I really love the older titles, and from the GAD (if that means Golden Age Detective) list. I also love British women authors such as Angela Thirkell, Scottish authors such as D E Stevenson, O Douglas (Anna Buchan) or Susan Pleydell, and Irish authors such as Molly Keane. Carrying forward, I loved some of the middle brown British authors of more recent date such as Mary Stewart, Daphne du Maurier, and yes, Georgette Heyer (excellent mysteries BTW). So now I am rereading all my favorites and discovering new authors from back in the day, who have been republished: Elizabeth Gill, Ruby Ferguson, Elizabeth Fair, etc. so many authors and so little time, and that is where age enters the ring. I am 78 and there is a lot less voerall reading time than there used to be. So I have to ration what I read and do a bit of triaging. I’m not going to waste time reading a book that is depressing (I loved your list of topics and types to be avoided) of poorly written or just plain boring. Life is far too short and I don’t have all that much (perhaps) left to live. I would rather read from the Golden Age novelists and mystery writers up through about the 60’s than waste valuable time struggling with an author who is boring, depressing, deals with “worthy” but boring/depressing subjects such as child abuse, or serial killers who chop their victims up, eat the hearts, and then incinerate the rest then deposit the ashes in some roadside rest area on the interstate system.

    Alas I don’t much enjoy a lot of the current American fiction, or mysteries. I’ve tried but they rapidly get deaccessioned.

    Thanks for articulating so much of what I have thought (and practiced) for years — and that is now in much clearer focus.
    Virginia Jones

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Virginia, I can feel a sequel post coming on The Subtle Art of Choosing a Book to Reread!

      Also, you just know that someone somewhere is currently writing a book about “serial killers who chop their victims up, eat the hearts, and then incinerate the rest then deposit the ashes in some roadside rest area on the interstate system.” Don’t worry — when they publish it, this comment will still be here if you want to sue for intellectual copyright 🙂


  8. Great topic for a heated discussion, JJ. Of course, everyone is biased and that’s ok.
    My whole life is based on subgenres: detective novels from the 30s and 40s, British prog rock from the 70s, video games made in the 90s and modern board games (we are actually living the golden age of board gaming! )
    I’m one of those readers who don’t actually care about the private life of a writer at all. I don’t even mind if there are passages in novels with questionable content. I much, much prefer small racist, feminist, chauvinistic or erotic passages to censorship. Accepting those who are different is key in life and much saner than forcing everyone to share my view.
    What I strongly dislike is when you buy a detective novel (or whatever genre you dig) and 60% of the book is political or religious propaganda. I paid for a freaking detective novel! Save that crap for another work and a different audience.
    I also dislike novels based on modern topics. If I want to read the news I have both internet and disposable newspapers at hand. Great literature is universal and stands the test of time.

    Oh, it’s interesting to note that modern novels tend to be written under the axiom: show don’t tell. It’s really hard for an author to express himself when everything is written as if using a video camera… Too movie-like for my taste. Lots of showing make for bloated novels, it’s important to save that resource for the climax,the action scenes.

    That’s about it, I guess. Apart from GAD novels, I enjoy adventure classics, science fiction, some hardboiled crime and magical realism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, it seems to be a fairly unheated discussion at present. Mind you, Brad has yet to get involved and stir things up as usual…

      Interestingly, our tastes seem to overlap in a lot of places — 70s British Prog and 90s computer games are both golden eras for those particular media. And we agree in most other particulars, too, especially where the bowdlerisation of unpleasant past attitudes is concerned. As for magic realism, might I recommend The Trees by Ali Shaw? A superb novel of fascinating imagination.


  9. Hello, I’m Scandinavian, and I’d just like to apologise for all the suffering we’ve brought upon all you readers of the world (and the characters in our novels).


    • Oh, but Christian, the music! I’m one of those people who was delighted when Refused reformed; in the balance of things, Scandinavia has nothing to apologise for 😎


  10. So what’s the big deal? Why all the analysis? I read for enjoyment. I am retired, with no demands on myu time, and I read a book a day. If I don’t like a book, I put it aside and try another one. No regrets. I do not care why the book did not appeal to me, whether the cause be genre, author, style, content or whatever. Life is too short.


  11. I’m that young naive bright eyed thing that still finishes everything I pick up. The only book that I can recall starting and setting down was Ellery Queen’s The Dutch Shoe Mystery – basically a case of “oh no, I’m not doing this again” – although I was back at it a week or so later. I don’t know if I’m a sucker for punishment, but I kind of get a kick out of a bad read, at least in terms of dissecting just how awful it is. Granted, you read a lot more than I do, so I can imagine the waste of time getting old.

    That’s not to say that I just dive into junk. Most books I’m reading have an established reputation, or tie into a thread that I’ve already been enjoying, so I’m not exactly walking the line. When I do decide to tackle a reluctant title like an Ellery Queen, it’s typically when I’m headed on a trip and I know I’ll have plenty of travel time to devote to “getting it out of the way” in case it turns bad.

    But yeah, I can typically tell if I’m going to enjoy something early on. Lee Thayer’s Murder is Out struck me as a dud about ten pages in, but I was curious to see it through just because I hadn’t seen a review.


    • Man, you and Kate are so much better at this reading something you’re not enjoying than me — I don’t know whether to envy your perseverance or feel sorry for all the hours you’re not enjoying stuff (only you, of course — Kate reads books in about 17 minutes so this is less of a problem for her).

      The idea of established reputations is an interesting one, because I do feel an obligation to stick with something I’m not enjoying that seems to be widely accepted as good, if only to give some hope to others who haven’t enjoyed it that they’re not alone. For some goddamn reason this seems to upset people who did enjoy it — witness all the people who seem to want me to stop reading Ellery Queen — but, well, it takes all sorts to make a world. Some of you have to be wrong at least some of the time 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Honestly, there isn’t any rocket science involved. If you constantly take swipes at a respected author, people who like their work will naturally get upset.


        • Yeah, but…why get upset? I’m one guy expressing a minority opioion on a blog about seven people read. I couldn’t be more screaming into the void if I tried…

          I’m perfectly happy for people to diss Rupert Penny and malign Crofts, hell there’s even a one-star review of The Problem of the Green Capsule somewhere that seems like sacrilege to me…but so what? Conversely, I was told to stop reading Queen if I wasn’t going to post positive reviews. It legitimately baffles me.


          • This ties in to a point I have made before. GAD is an inherently flawed form. The puzzle element conflicts with narrative and literary virtues, and it’s very hard to get all the elements more or less working at the same time. So almost any GAD book will fail for some readers. If you are looking for wry prose and strong characterization then Green Capsule is not for you. If you want a real puzzler give Sherlock Holmes a pass.
            (This is very a very similar point to your ideas about genres having rules.)
            So if you love a GAD book you do so because you either didn’t notice or weren’t bothered by its flaws. And then someone puts those flaws on display … It doesn’t much bother me, but it does some. Age and intellectual arrogance help 😉.


            • So almost any GAD book will fail for some readers

              I’d go even larger: every book will fail with some readers — I can’t believe there’s anyone out there who enjoys every single thing they read. You’re absolutely right, Ken, that the expectations, or the things we hope to find in what we seek to enjoy, play a huge part in that. Holmes himself is a genius, but the stories are written for the reader to puzzle along with.

              And I suppose this is why the opposition to negative opinions surprises me so much; we’re all used to not enjoying something, right? Someone’s given us a CD or a videotape of a movie, or maybe a zoetrope or a cave painting telling us great it is and you…just don’t see it. So surely when someone else dislikes something we like, we understand the notion of a difference of opinion.

              Now, yes, some negative opinions are badly or bluntly or ignorantly expressed, but that makes them if anything easier to ignore, right? Hell, the only reason there’s so much detail in my negative reviews is to show that I gave something a fair shot.

              But, hey, it makes life fun, I suppose 🙂


  12. I’m that young naive bright eyed thing that still finishes everything I pick up. You make yourself sound like Laurie, the ingenue in Oklahoma! (And God’s truth, Ben, I’ve heard you’re something of a beauty . . . )

    You know, folks, there is something to Julian Symon’s coining of the term “humdrum.” I am emotionally over the moon at the community I have found here, and in trying to be a part of as many conversations as possible, I have bought dozens of titles so that I can read and review and comment on other reviews. It’s pretty much a variation on what Velleic said above, which is, as JJ pounced on it, a genius comment: It feels good to be an expert about something, to know how a new read “fits in.”

    But some of these books I grab bore me, and so I put one down and start another. This creates a syndrome of sorts where nothing pleases me. That’s when I have to take a deep breath and switch genres. I tend to look for a good YA dystopian novel. I have shunned modern fiction since I became a blogger, and I’m sure I’m doing the book world and myself a disservice.

    Like Kate, I majored in English Literature, but I clearly did not develop her skill to plow through books that displease me. That’s why I tend to put aside the books I don’t like . . . and why you can expect my next review two weeks from next Thursday.

    Did that stir things up enough for you, Jayyy Jayyy?


    • I wish I had more time to genre-hop, because it’s like a palate cleanser which often helps me to appreciate even the most flawed swipe at a novel of detection. I have various SF and thriller and non-fiction books staring balefully out from my shelves, but I also haven’t read either of the books I’m due to review this coming Tuesday and Thursday, plus it’s the threshold of exam season at work and things are getting ker-azy. Thus, I shall read something non-criminous in about September during a blogging break, and steadily enjoy the genre less and less until then. Woo.

      I did once see some book vlogger talking about reading five books at once so they could pick whichever one was of most interesting for them, to ensure they were always reading and so progressing through books. The idea of trying to keep that many plots and characters distinct simultaneously gives me a headache, so I’m open to any alternative suggestions…


      • OH . . . MY . . . GOD!!!! You have given me such a weird idea for a post!!!! I – I – I – don’t know if I can manage it! It’ll take some time. I have to think. Oh God!! Stay tuned . . .

        (Oh, and about Ulysses and the moo-cow and all those fifteen-page-long sentences that make you want to freeze two ten-inch icepicks and drive them into James Joyce’s eyes to make it stop . . . blecch!)

        Liked by 1 person

        • You think Ulysses is unreadable? Try Finnegans Wake. Here’s the opening – which is, of course, part of a sentence at the end of the book.

          riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

          Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s gorgios while they went doublin their mumper all the time: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick not yet, though venissoon after, had a kidscad buttended a bland old isaac: not yet, though all’s fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.

          The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy.

          What clashes here of wills gen wonts, oystrygods gaggin fishy-gods! Brékkek Kékkek Kékkek Kékkek! Kóax Kóax Kóax! Ualu Ualu Ualu! Quaouauh! Where the Baddelaries partisans are still out to mathmaster Malachus Micgranes and the Verdons catapelting the camibalistics out of the Whoyteboyce of Hoodie Head. Assiegates and boomeringstroms. Sod’s brood, be me fear! Sanglorians, save! Arms apeal with larms, appalling. Killykillkilly: a toll, a toll. What chance cuddleys, what cashels aired and ventilated! What bidimetoloves sinduced by what tegotetabsolvers! What true feeling for their’s hayair with what strawng voice of false jiccup! O here here how hoth sprowled met the duskt the father of fornicationists but, (O my shining stars and body!) how hath fanespanned most high heaven the skysign of soft advertisement! But was iz? Iseut? Ere were sewers? The oaks of ald now they lie in peat yet elms leap where askes lay. Phall if you but will, rise you must: and none so soon either shall the pharce for the nunce come to a setdown secular phoenish.


          • Ah Nick, that takes me back!
            I have never read FW but but but I have asked some acquaintances who claim to have read it about their high opinion of it. And the responses are delightful. (Delightful to one with an evil sense of humor). People admit they cannot understand it, they admit they can make sense only of fragments now and then. But they insist on how great it is!

            Liked by 1 person

          • Some students gave me a copy of Finnegan years ago, and while the text itself in impenetrable I have hugely enjoyed the reading around the text. After the closed and largely-codified world of the murder mystery, it’s fascinating to see how much interpretation is worked out of FW. I can’t call it all relevant or compelling, nor would I classify the book as a great one, but as an exercise in something very different it continues to be huge fun (I’m about halfway through, and expect to finish it by 2058),


    • I have the sense that I have a lot fewer opportunities to read than most in these parts – I only read on the weekend, and it’s a rare feat when I make it through a book in a single week. Why do I bring such sacrilege up? Because those two hours or so that I get each Saturday and Sunday really matter to me. Of course I don’t want to waste them. That’s why I’m somewhat careful about what I pick up in the first place – although going out on a limb is fun.

      You know what though? The dud reads make the good ones that much better. Yeah, Christianna Brand’s Heaven Knows Who was a slog to get through, and I knew a third of the way through that it wasn’t going to give me what I was hoping for, but man, the next book I read absolutely sung from the first page. I’ve done the thing where you only read really good stuff back to back, but it gets you into this mindset where you then pick up a book like A Graveyard to Let, and you come away thinking “it just wasn’t that good.”


      • Yeah, I feel this. I get oddly down when I read two or three dud books in a row — there’s certainly an element of “Ah, man, how the hell am I going to write about this?!”, but also it’s just, like, better to enjoy the stuff you do. Were I not imposing such a foolish schedule on myself I’d have time to possibly select more carefully, but then I also fear I’d be reading less (and certainly blogging much less — I’d virtually never post if there was any equivocation about when the next one was due) and possibly missing out on something.

        Decisions, decisions…


  13. I am totally with you on Scandinoir and neo nazi child molesters. But the Martin Beck books aren’t that — they are very good actually and often funny. Kvant and Kvastmo for example. But I share your feelings in that part of the essay.

    My pet peeve with modern mysteries is the ubiquity of child molesters. Every fricking where.

    One thing I do regularly is try to inject a bit of randomness into my reading. Of course it’s not completely random but I will decide to read a book from a particular shelf, or list etc.


    • Some of the books I’ve enjoyed most in the last few years have been from completely outside my usual — Their Brilliant Careers and The Drover’s Wives by Ryan O’Neill for instance — so I absolutely hear the joy of “stepping outside” 😆


  14. I thoroughly agree with Ed. But we’re of the same generation. A good editor would reduce this provacative analysis to one simple sentence: Taste is entirely subjective.

    You have done a remarkable job of entirely avoiding answering a question posed at least twice: what book did you dump? I have no idea why you would write this piece and adamantly refuse to name it. Actually, I’m glad you haven’t named it. Let all your followers discover the book on their own and be similarly disappointed. That’ll show ’em.

    Wait — I know! It’s that book by Nigel Morland, isn’t it? Poor Nigel. No one likes him except me and TomCat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John, I love you and Tomcat, but I do not like Nigel Morland. However, as I have only read one book, I cheerfully acknowledge that my opinion counts for little.


    • Didn’t realise I was being provocative. Good heavens. I’ll have to watch myself in future.

      And, yes, it was the Morland — though, in fairness, it does come after the era when you said he was at his strongest. And I haven’t given up on him completely, I’ve just…parked him for a bit. Like Chesterton, maybe I’ll come to appreciate it once I’ve aged a bit ☺️


      • My psychic powers did not let me down!

        If TomCat has no success convincing Dean Street Press to look at and reissue the “John Donavan” books ,then I am SERIOUSLY considering reprinting myself all the Donavan and all the “Neal Shepherd” books I have luckily amassed. I’ve just helped to scan some extremely rare books by a completely different author for a reprint publisher’s new project. Cannot speak about it in detail until the contract is signed and the first book is out. But those tasks taught me that it’s fairly simple (and more importantly quick!) to get an entire book scanned to a PDF and then converted once again to a Word document for printing by an online service that is the leading self-publisher in the USA. Pretty Sinister Books may finally –after years of promising or threatening to do so– be reprinting the books I have been praising!!!

        BTW, the “Neal Shepherd” books, Morland’s most ingenious detective novels, will be reviewed on my blog in April and May. You’d probably enjoy them. They are like a combo of Crofts and John Rhode.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well, this all sounds amazing, John — looking forward to those reviews and the books. Here’s hoping it comes off as you envisage, keep us posted!


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