Breaking Up with Authors

Monday, April 8, 2013

I’m wondering, how many books will you read by an author you don’t love before you "break up" with them? How many chances will you give them before you cut them off for good and refuse to read any more of their work?

Here’s a great example, I've read 7 books by Ian McEwan, that’s a lot of books for an author I really don’t enjoy, but I always think I’ll like his next one. Atonement was the first one of his books I even read and it was so good! Everything after that has just been a disappointment to me. I just read one of his earliest books, The Cement Garden and I hated it. I think this was officially the straw that broke the camel’s back and I’m completely done with him. I feel like I've given him more than a fair shake.

I don’t even want to review Cement Garden; it was just disturbing and awful. It was about four siblings who lose both of their parents and to try and keep their family together they just bury their mom in the basement so no one will know she is dead. The problem is that all the kids are strange and horrible. It’s all incestuous and weird and the whole book felt like an awful dream.

Another example is Cormac McCarthy. I've only read two of his novels, The Road and All the Pretty Horses, yet I'm pretty sure his style is just not for me. Even when action was happening I was bored because of how the story is told. I think McCarthy’s writing style might not be for me. There’s no denying the fact that he has a talent with words, but I couldn’t enjoy the plot because it felt like such a convoluted way to tell it.
For example, another author might say, "They went outside." But Cormac McCarthy would instead say, "The Cowboys wandered into the wide expanse of rolling hills that were dotted with the last shreds of the sun's warm touch." Ugh. Just tell me that they walked outside!!! It's not that the writing is bad it's just a lot more words than I think you need.

I have also read three of John Irving’s novels and I think I might give him up as well. I loved one (Owen Meany!) and didn’t care for the other two (Garp and Hotel New Hampshire). Do I give him another chance or call it a day?

Trust me; I’m not saying these are bad authors. All three of the ones I mentioned are authors that are excellent writers. I wouldn’t even been contemplating reading another one of their books if I thought they were horrible. But sometimes books don’t work for you; sometimes it's writing style, sometimes it's subject matter, sometimes it's a combination of the two What I’m asking is, when do you officially decide a writer, for whatever reason, just doesn’t click with your taste?

So tell me how a lot how many books do you give an offer before you break up with them?

Image from here


Anonymous said...

Two or three, depending on genre, their style, etc. If it's their style I'm not keen on but the content is great (usually non-fiction here) I might read more.

annieb said...

For some reason I don't get hooked on writers very often and when I do, I stick with them pretty much all the way. For example, Anna Quindlen and Augusten Burroughs. I usually have an instinct for whether I will like a writer or not. All three of the ones you mentioned were ones I wouldn't even try, except for John Irving and for me Garp was only so-so. I say there are so many books out there give up if you feel like it.

Jeanne said...

I've been thinking about the first five years of my blog like a first novel, and looking around for ideas for a second now that the urgency of what I wanted to say is exhausted. This gives me a different perspective on your question--as an inveterate optimist, I'm always thinking an author I once liked can do it again. So as part of the process of finding out if this is the novel, I get it out of the library and try the first couple of chapters. If it's not the one, it goes back. But what if it is?
John Irving, for instance--you should try The Cider House Rules. At least the movie!

Anonymous said...

I think it's hardest to break up with an author who is universally lauded and revered. That's the reason I tried Joyce Carol Oates three times before I finally gave up. Barbara Kingsolver is another one that I simply can't read - I gave up on two of her books 100 pages in - even though I know most people adore her.

Cori said...

I think two, unless someone gives me a recommendation that seems too good to pass up. Too many books to waste time on authors who don't work for me!

Ellie said...

I'm perhaps a bit too quick to judge authors because if I read a new author and don't like it I just won't read another. There are so many books out there that I want to read I can't bring myself to struggle on with an author that I don't really love. That, and I have no patience :) I'm sure two is probably more acceptable than just going on first impressions!

Anonymous said...

there are so many good books waiting for me out there, I'm not THAT persistent. For instance I loved the 1st Philippa Gregory, the 2nd was ok, then the 3rd was a kind of repeat, so I gave up on her.
I tried Winspear with #10 of the series, and not too excited, so I may just stop here!
I used to love Sedaris, but was very disappointed by the Squirrel one; will give him 1 more chance with his latest, if it's not terrific after 20 pages, ciao Sedaris!

Kristi said...

We are so agreed on Ian McEwan. I read and loved Atonment then read Amsterdam (hated it), and On Chesil Beach (was okay). I checked out Cement Garden from the library and ended up returning it unread after I saw a synopsis. I didn't want to read something that twisted and disturbing, and it sounds like I made the right choice. I'm done with McEwan. He's a brilliant writer, but in the end, his stories don't do much but annoy me.

I've only read one McCarthy--The Road, and the style of writing just didn't work for me. I have All the Pretty Horses on my shelf and based on what you said, I probably won't like it (we seem to have similar taste). I might give it 50 pages or so just to say I tried then ditch it if it's not working.

The Relentless Reader said...

When an author is lauded by the masses you can almost think something is wrong with you if you don't like their work ;)

I agree with Jeanne, give The Cider House Rules a shot. I thought that one was excellent!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Charlie - Two or three sounds like a good number.

annieb – There really are so many good books out there. I don’t know why I get stuck reading authors I don’t like.

Jeanne – Ok, you win, I will give Irving another chance and try that one. I remember seeing the movie years ago and enjoying it.

Carrie – It really is! I feel the same about Kingsolver. I loved one of her books and haven’t liked any of the others I’ve tried. But I keep reading more thinking I can recreate my feelings for that first book (Poisonwood Bible).

Cori – I think I may just stick to two or three from now on. Too many good books out there.

Ellie – I think I give authors too many chances and I’m reaching a point that I don’t want to do it anymore.

Wordsandpeace – Ha, that’s another example. I’ve probably read 5 or 6 or Gregory’s books, but I haven’t like the last three or four. I’ve got to stop that.

Kristi - We seriously do have similar taste. I'm glad I'm not alone on McEwan, ugh!

Jennifer - Exactly! I feel like I just have to keep trying their books, like I'm missing something.

Meytal Radzinski said...

This is a really good question I wish I had an answer to. I think a lot of it has to do with expectations, though. Readers (and particularly book reviewers) feel like they need to be in. There are certain books you need to read (or review) because those are the ones people want to read or want to hear about.

And even when it's just for you, it's a strange obligation. The internet makes it so obvious when people like a book, not reading one that has been highly praised just because you didn't like another book by the same author seems trivial. But it really, really isn't.

Personally, I try to figure out what I didn't like about the book. If I feel like there's an inherent flaw in the author's approach to writing (for example, creating unrealistic characters, overwriting, etc.), it'll take something extreme to convince me to try them again. If I didn't like the book because of a specific stylistic choice, or I wasn't particularly engaged, or I didn't like the characters much... then I'm more likely to try something else by the author (especially if I've already had a good experience with them).

Anonymous said...


RE: "They went outside." - Isn't good fiction supposed to show and not tell? I mean, if we prefer to be told of what is happening instead of creating the scene in our heads of the cowboys walking out while the sun is setting, there wouldn't be much reason for writers to make attempts at "literariness," is there? (Although I do get your point about being too wordy; perhaps I prefer wordiness over minimalism.)

Cedar Creek PTA said...

Like an earlier commenter, I don't tend to get hooked on authors, but I would say as a general rule if after 2 books you don't like someone, don't bother.

I think most people have that reaction to McEwan. I liked Atonement, but thought On Chesil Beach was just okay. I am going to try Sweet Tooth, and after that I give up.

One of the issues I face with reading many works by the same author is boredom. I feel like some authors' work becomes repetitive, but that's usually the lighter stuff that I try to read.

Bybee said...

I battled with Philip Roth for decades. Finally gave up after 4 books.

Anonymous said...

What a great question! For me, if the first book doesn't work for me, then there's no second chance unless there is a particularly compelling reason to give the author another try (for example, I might read it if it comes highly recommended by someone with similar reading interests who also didn't like the first book).

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Biblibio - That is so true! I will hear about how amazing an author is from everyone's blog, then I'll read them and think, "meh, I don't get it." I think my expectations were too high and also it might not be my tastes to begin with.

angus25 - Great point. I think it partially comes down to personal tastes. I don't mind when an author gets wordy to describe something, but I think it's the poetic language that bugs me. Also, just for full disclosure, that passage isn't a quote from McCarthy, it's just my own silly example.

Rachel - I completely agree about the "lighter" authors becoming very repetitive. Also, if everyone else feels that way about McEwan, how is he so popular!

Bybee - I have been battling with him too! I've read 2 or 3 of his and still don't love him. Maybe it's time to give up.

misfortuneofknowing - I always feel like an author should be allowed at least one bad book, so I'll give them a second chance. But I'm thinking 3 or 4 books might be too much.

Chrisbookarama said...

I give a favorite author a couple of 'bad' books before I give them up. Anne Rice is the only one I can think of right now.

Jenners said...

If the first book I read by an author isn't a good fit, I'll give up on them right away. If I read a book by them that I LOVE but then the rest don't work for me, I'd give them about 3 or 4 before I'll break up. It is painful to break up with an author, isn't it … especially when there is a book they wrote that you love.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Chrisbookarama - I've read a couple bad ones by her too.

Jenners - That's such a good policy! Even if I don't like the author's first book I tend to give them another chance in case that was an "off" book for them.

Book Dragon said...

Tough question. There aren't that many authors that I won't read but I refuse to read anymore of the Twilight series and disliked the first book so much that I won't read The Host.

I read an adult book by a children's author that was so disturbing I won't read any more. I was so upset at a scene in one author's book that I threw it away without finishing it.

I do have favorite authors but I'm so much more book driven in my reading that I'm often surprised when I've read several books by the same author.

Now that I've written the above, it looks like my answer is 1. Interesting.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Book Dragon - Well I just finished The Host, you aren't missing anything! It's interesting to see how one experience can turn a reader off an author forever.