Sunday 16 August 2009

How Do You Eat Yours?

I was asked an interesting question yesterday. If I read something terrible does it inspire me to write – or is it good writing that presses my creative buttons?

The conversation came about because I was talking about the ten books I bought from The Book People for £9.99.

When I bought them I said that if I found two books among them that I enjoyed, I would consider it a good buy. All the authors are new to me and I hoped that I would strike gold.

Well I did!

Of the three I’ve read so far The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty was the gem I hoped to find among the ten. I liked the characters – even the ones I didn’t like if you know what I mean. They were well drawn; nicely rounded and very real and the story hooked me in from the very beginning.

The First Assistant by Clare Naylor and Mimi Hare was readable and enjoyable. Not my usual kind of thing I must admit, but I liked it.

The third of the ten – well I won’t say which it was or who wrote it because I’m not a critic and I’m certainly not going to sit here and slag off anyone who has made it through the minefield to publication. Just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. We all like different things, one man’s meat and all that.

My husband and I have very different tastes in novels. Something I toss aside with an “Ugh, I can’t read any more of that,” he will pick up and read and enjoy. Likewise he’ll try to read something I’ve recommended and pull all kinds of my-god-what-was-she-thinking? faces before quietly slipping it into the pile for the charity shop – unread.

Now back to the third book – my husband asked me last night how I got on with it, so I admitted I didn’t. I gave up quite early on.

He said he was finding it hard going, but would keep reading to see if it picked up. I won’t do that. I’m the same with anything I read be it a short story, a novel or an article, if it doesn’t grab me pretty quickly, I give up and find something that does.

Which brings me to why I asked the question at the beginning. My son asked if reading a bad book makes me want to write something better?


The good book wins every time. Reading something I’m not enjoying crushes my creativity. It doesn’t make me want to write. It makes me not want to write.

So how do you eat yours? Are you inspired to write by a good book or a bad book? How long do you give a book before you give up? Or do you always finish what you start?


  1. I think sometimes it's hard not to be overwhelmed by really good writing. I absolutely love Kate Atkinson, but sometimes when I read her books I feel like giving up. I don't though!

  2. I read the first 100 pages, if I can manage it, but if I'm underwhelmed, it's in to the charity shop bag. Those sorts of books make me feel I could do better. So I'm trying - and enjoying the creative process far more than wasting my time reading that novel!

  3. I think because, as writers, we are so critical of our own writing and we understand the roller coaster that is the writing process, all the pitfalls and gnashing of teeth and the joy of creating something, that we can't help but 'dissect' books by other writers in the same way as we do our own.

    We recognise the difference between 'good' and 'bad' writing (if there is such a thing.) It's all very subjective and down to personal taste I think, as you said, Teresa - your husband dislikes a book you've raved about and vice versa.

    I always try to give every book I open a fair crack of the whip but I have been known to take a book to the charity shop after a couple of pages before now! It's not the book or the author's fault necessarily. I am in awe of anyone who has got a book published but it just might not be to my taste.

    Julie xx

  4. I used to feel I had to finish every book I started whether I was enjoying it or not (don't ask me why). But as I've got older I realise there are just too many good books out there to waste time ploughing through something I'm not getting any pleasure from. Same goes for articles although I usually always finish a short story.

  5. I try to give every book a chance, but if I haven't got into it by the end of the first third, then I don't proceed.

    The ones I don't finish, I don't necessarily perceive as 'bad' books - merely they failed to grab my attention - they clearly grabbed an editor's attention! But I try to examine why they failed to grab my attention. You can always learn from other people's mistakes.

    And of course, if they can get published, then so can I!

  6. All good books make my typing fingers itch. Bad books just make me want to pull out my hair and bald is not a good look for me :)

  7. I know what you mean about feeling overwhelmed, Helen. I feel like that when I read Anne Tyler. Overwhelmed but inspired!

    That’s a good way to look at it, Anonymous.

    There have been books I’ve given up on after a couple of pages too Julie. I know I’m on to a winner when I find I’m losing myself in it. Once I start picking holes there’s no going back – or rather no going forward, the book is gone! But as you say it is just a matter of taste.

    Me too, Elizabeth – I used to force myself to read to the end and I don’t know why either. Now I’ve decided life is too short to do that!

    Very true, Simon. The last one I gave up on wasn’t a bad book (although I have read a few over the years that made me wonder how they ever made it into print), it just wasn’t for me. It was very flat and nothing was happening so yes, a lesson to be learned there.

    That is exactly how I feel, Lacey – itchy typing fingers! For the sake of your hair, stay away from bad books.

  8. I used to persevere, even with bad books - it was the way I was brought up. Then I heard Anne Fine speak and she said how children give up if the book they are given doesn't grab them early on, but adults persevere because a friend raved about a particular book, or it won a prize and they feel obliged to read it. I decided from then on that I would only read what grabbed me. I went home and chucked Captain Corelli's Mandolin in the charity bag.
    I know loads of people loved this, but I didn't and we can't all like the same things and I'm not going to feel guilty about it.
    Some writers make me feel inadequate but then I realised that I don't want to, and couldn't, write like them, so that's OK :-)
    I just finished Reginald Hill's latest Dalziel and Pascoe. It was a great story but I didn't like how complementary therapists were called 'alternative' and wondered how the hell anyone could be stabbed to death with an acupuncturist's needle. In spite of these points (no pun intended) I enjoyed the book. So sometimes even glaring mistakes can be forgiven because the book is a good read.

  9. As with most entertainment, we can't expect books to be a one size fits all. There are bound to be some we like and some we don't and that hasn't necessarily got anything to do with the quality of writing.

    Anyway, wouldn't it be boring if we all liked the same books? There wouldn't be any point in having at sneaky nose at someone else's bookshelves.

  10. I'm with the crowd who used to power through regardless, but an hour spent reading a book I find tedious is an hour I'll never get back... There are too many good books out there to waste time on the ones I don't like.


  11. Sometimes I have struggled to get through a Stephen King, but knowing that his books have a tendency to be slow moving to begin with, building to a crescendo at the end, it was worth while struggling with them. The finale is always a reward.

    But I do usually give up once I realise that I'm getting a tad bored with it all, and off it goes to charity. Good novels both inspire and intimidate me, but I'm learning so I can be excused...

  12. I’ve never much fancied Captain Corelli or his mandolin, Lynne.
    I’m still trying to get my head round someone being stabbed to death with an acupuncturist’s needle, but I do agree if you’re really enjoying a book you can overlook such things!

    Life would indeed be boring if we all liked the same things, Juliet! So you peek at other people’s bookshelves too do you – I find them fascinating.

    Exactly, Suzanne – those hours are too precious to squander!

    I agree about Stephen King, Teresa, I love his books (he’s a writer who inspires me!) and have read several of his more than once but I couldn’t finish Lisey’s Story which I gave up on quite deep in. I blame myself for that one and I’ve kept the book and will try to read it again sometime.

  13. I always used to feel that I should persevere through a book, once started. But these days, I don't - there are too many books in the world that I want to read, and if I've got to about 30% of the way through and I'm not enjoying one, I give up. But I never think of it as a bad book - just one that I, personally, am not enjoying. Since writing my own books, I feel too sensitive about other authors' feelings to even THINK a book is 'bad'! I certainly couldn't ever say it publicly so I'd be rubbish as a critic!

  14. I'd be a rubbish critic for the same reasons, Olivia.

    I keep a notebook and write down every book I read and give it a score out of 10. And I note the names of authors I like and others I wouldn't touch again with the aid of a very long bargepole. The bargepole list is very short!

  15. I too am in the must-finish-it-at-all-costs camp, or I used to be. Nowadays if I'm not grabbed after about 150 pages (or sometimes less if it's really dire), I give up. Life's too short and there are so many books! I can forgive anything except sloppily written stuff - it's just depressing. Some authors I can recognise the writing is brilliant, but I actually just don't like it eg: Kate Atkinson. However, I agree, I'm just in awe of anyone who managed to sucessfully negociate the publishing process!

  16. I don't consciously give up on a book. I just don't continue it. I guess I often have a few books on the go at any one time, so it's quite easy for one to slip to the bottom of the pile of magazines, stories etc that clutters the floor beside my bed. At the moment, for example, I'm rereading Women who run with the Wolves (Clarissa Pinkola Estes) - it's brilliant but I like to absorb it slowly. So I'm also reading True Romance magazine (US), a Woman's Weekly fiction special and a Fiction Feast a friend sent me. And my daughter's just lent me a Sheila O'Flanagan. I find I need to read one of hers or Marian Keyes if I want to write a chicklit story. Sometimes I'll clean up and discover half-read books.

  17. I think life's too short to perservere with a bad book for more than a couple of chapters. I usually give it up and give it away. Having said that though, sometimes I just haven't been in the right mood to read the book. So, if that is the case, I will hang on to it and try again another time. Mostly though, if it doesn't grab me at the beginning, then it's not my type of book.

  18. I've just attempted a massive blitz on my bookshelves. It took me a couple of days to decide which books went to the charity shop/friends etc.
    The problem was, the ones I enjoyed I couldn't get rid of because...well, they were inspirational and I might read them again.
    The ones I didn't enjoy/couldn't finish...well, maybe I'll try again with them.
    My bookshelves are still full!

    I also have the problem that if I love a particular writer ie Stephen King, and come upon one I can't get into - and Lisey's Story was that one for me - I won't give up on it because I assume it's my fault I can't see it's excellence...when it may NOT be his best...or is it? Was it? Dunno ;0)

  19. I agree Lydia – I’m in awe too and reluctant to criticise, but it is depressing if it’s dire. The book I was talking about in my post – my husband has got to page 120 and he says it’s really good now it’s picked up, but he’s still getting confused over which character is which. I don’t think I’ll bother . . .

    Interesting Glynis! I’ve got Women who Run with the Wolves in my Amazon Wish list – I may buy it next time I have a spree. The floor next to your bed sounds like mine! Trouble is the dogs use my magazines as skateboards!!

    I think mood has a lot to do with it, Lynette. I often pick up 3 or 4 very different books from my pile and read the first few lines before deciding which I'm in the mood to read.

    I knew you wouldn’t be able to part with your books, Sue! I had a blitz a while ago and I can think of several books I wish I’d hung on to! It’s interesting you couldn’t get into Lisey’s Story either. It didn’t have the same feel did it? But like you I've kept my copy and will try again - when I'm in the mood.

  20. Hello, just wanted to say how much I've enjoyed reading your posts. Thank you for sharing ! Best wishes

  21. Thank you, Elise! Your comment really means a lot. I've just been visiting your blog and that takes me back to my childhood dreams - I yearned to be a ballerina but my mum told me I'd be too tall so I gave up on that dream. And how tall did I grow . . . five feet two!!

  22. If I'm reading for pleasure and I don't enjoy the first few pages, I stop reading and try something else. I wouldn't continue eting a chocolate bar I didn't like the taste of either.

    I do sometimes try a book again later, as our mood at the time can influence what we wish to read (or eat). I'm glad I did that with 'To Kill a Mockingbird' as I'd givn up on it after just one page the first time I looked at it. Now I can't see whi I didn't love it from the start.

  23. I went to a charity shop today and browsed through the books - had to smile when I found three copies of Captain Corelli's Mandolin

  24. One of my favourite books, Patsy - To Kill a Mockingbird.
    Is there such a thing as chocolate that isn't good?

  25. That's funny, Glynis!! Did you find any treasures?

  26. I tried garlic chocolate once. I won't be trying it again.

  27. Patsy! Garlic chocolate??? I love garlic and I love chocolate, but together? I feel ill just thinking about it!!

  28. Seperately, they're both great and after discovering chilli chocolate (which is yummy)I thought the garlic stuff was worth a go. We all make mistakes.