Friday, May 26, 2006

I Can't Seem to Cross the Finish Line

I don't know what's wrong with me, whether I've gotten older or my patience has just dwindled, but these days if I'm not enjoying a book, rather than push through to the end I simply put it down.

That's what finally happened last night with ANGELS & DEMONS. Halfway through, I was rather enjoying the book. Ridiculous, but fun. But after the 700th death-defying escape by bookish Harvard professor Robert Langdon, and approximately 30 straight pages without a single line of dialogue (needed, of course, to expound on Christian theology) I gave up. It stopped being fun and became tedious.

And I don't feel bad. I gave it my all, but reading a book is different than watching a movie. A bad movie is over in 2 hours. A bad book can take you days. And since my bookshelves are overflowing to begin with, I'd rather spend my time with a book that truly engrosses me.

It might be my editor mentality, where if I don't like a submission I stop reading because there's not enough time in the day to spend on a project you know won't work. Right now there are 37 submissions piled up in my inbox. Maybe 2 or 3 of them I'll like enough to bring to our edit board. The others, well, better luck next time.

So sorry Mr. Brown, I gave it my best shot. I know you'll be crying yourself to sleep tonight in a swimming pool filled with hundred dollar bills.

But I noticed that recently all the books I haven't been able to finish are series fiction. The 7th or 8th book by an author whose recurring characters I was once enamored with, but have since grown tired of. They're like a good friend who sleeps on your couch for a few days. The first few nights are fun. You throw back a few beers, watch some good movies and shoot the shiznit. But by the 7th or 8th night you just wish he would leave.

How hard is it to keep a series fresh? I look at television, shows like "The Shield" and "24," which seem to grow stronger and more confident with age. Then I look at some mystery and thriller series, and they seem worn, tired. As though the author knows these characters pay the bills and don't want to push their nest egg too far out on the ledge lest it falls and shatters.

Since I'm always looking for good new reads and series to fall in love with, I'd like to hear some opinions on authors who are growing stronger with each outing. There's nothing more satisfying as a reader than discovering a terrifically talented author you've never read, then going to your bookstore and buying their entire backlist.

So let me know what you think. My nightstand is looking awfully bare...

14 Comments:

Blogger Sarah said...

It's the "life's too short" theory - I usually give books a 50 page test, but some don't even get there. And with all the books in my TBR pile I don't have time to waste on what's essentially a lemon, even if it turns out to be a subjectively judged lemon.

A more important question is: can you read and not have the editor part of your brain kick in? Or does that not detract from your enjoyment of a book?

10:46 AM  
Blogger JT Ellison said...

Hi Jason,
Series wise, Lee Child seems to do that for me, as does Karin Slaughter, John Connolly and Barry Eisler. I love seeing how their characters mature, and how their experiences in the past alter their actions when faced with new scenarios. Books that don't grow the characters, let them get into stupid scrape after scrape, those are the ones I discount quickly.
You should finishANGELS & DEMONS. The ending is fantastical, and makes it worthwhile. That's not a typo -- fantastical is the perfect term.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Sarah, it's often hard for the editor part of my brain "not" to kick in, and it really sucks sometimes. I'll be reading books and think, "That could use tightening, there's a POV shift that doesn't work, there's a continuity error."

It's hard to put up with this as a reader, but I think it helps as a writer since I'm more conscious of my own errors. I think...

JT, good list. I'm a big Lee Child fan, and I think he's gotten better over the years (even though KILLING FLOOR is one of my al-time favorites). I read Karin's first book, liked it, and have been meaning to revisit Grant County. John Connolly's definitely an author I want to pick up.
And maybe I'll give ANGELS another shot this weekend, but after that ludicrous "Fire" scene I had a hard time moving on. But if the ending is that good, I'll take your word and finish the sucker.

11:06 AM  
Blogger S. W. Vaughn said...

Don't make me imagine Dan Brown crying himself to sleep in a swimming pool full of hundred-dollar bills while I'm trying to drink coffee. Now my keyboard is all wet... *snort* Great post. I'm with you on not bothering to finish novels that don't hold my interest. I used to make myself get through it anyway. Not any more. I just put it down and move on...

And as for series authors who get stronger with each installment, I'd like to nominate myself (since the first novel in my series is coming out in three weeks and yes this is a shameless plug).

I'd also put in a word for Johanna Lindsey (romance, so you might not be interested in her), and agree with JT on Barry Eisler. Terry Pratchett reached a peak with his Guards series and then sort of slid down, IMHO. All the Witches books of his I've read are excellent, though.

PJ Parrish shows great upward progression in the Louis Kincaid series too.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Allison Brennan said...

Karin Slaughter, Ridley Pearson (the Lou Boldt books), and Linda Fairstein. I think, with the last book excepted, that the JD Robb series has consistently gotten better. Skip the first 4 or 5, though, they are nowhere near the level of her later work.

Oh, and I love, love, love Keith Ablow. You might remember his NYT bestseller NF book INSIDE THE MIND OF SCOTT PETERSON, which was good, but I love his fiction. His protagonist is a forensic psychiatrist and is flawed but very readable. While my mom and I like the same books in general, Ablow is too dark for her.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

I love dark novels, and if you haven't read him yet check out Charlie Huston. I recently read his debut, CAUGHT STEALING, and loved it. If you're a fan of crime novels, CAUGHT STEALING is a refreshing shot of Jack that totally cleans your palate.

3:10 PM  
Blogger JT Ellison said...

Oh yes, you are absolutely correct. I just read Caught Stealing too, and it was fantastic. Though I had to force myself through the beginning, that poor cat.
You're not going to hate me if the ending of A&D isn't up to snuff, right???

3:48 PM  
Blogger Allison Brennan said...

I've heard great things about Huston. I need more time to read. Doesn't he have a new book called SIX BAD THINGS that's out now? I might be getting him confused with someone else.

FWIW, my best friend read both DVC and A&D and said I'd love A&D but hate DVC. I haven't read either (I think I'm the only one on the planet) but I do have A&D for when I have, oh, 8 hours of uninterrupted time (hahahahahahaha) . . . maybe I should read the first hundred and last hundred pages?

5:00 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

I won't hate you, just never comment on one of your posts again (just kidding).

SIX BAD THINGS is Charlie Huston's, he also wrote ALREADY DEAD which is the first novel in a vampire series. Haven't read either one yet, but I'm looking forward to them both. Vampire Noir just sounds too cool to pass up.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Bernita said...

Lee Child.
An old one is Rex Stout/ Nero Wolf.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Vicki Pettersson said...

Two words for you: Dennis Lehane. Period. Period. Period. Though you've probably already read the Kenzie/Gennaro series (if not, start with A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR). I want to be him when I grow up.

1:47 PM  
Blogger dcher said...

Just keep getting better- I would say Brian Haig (start with Secret Sanction I believe), Colin Cotterill (he's only written two but they're original and I liked the second even better than the first so that counts right?), Reed Farrel Coleman, and Craig Johnson. All Must Read series.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Vicki, Lehane is my favorite contemporary writer, bar none. I've read every one of his novels multiple times, and I'm currently going insane waiting for his next one.

Reed Coleman is on my TBR list. Man, I need to make some free time...

9:41 AM  
Blogger Vicki Pettersson said...

Jason,
Bar none?
Now you have my undying respect.
And where the hell is Lehane these days? I didn't get to go to Bouchercon last year so I didn't hear him speak or genuflect at his feet. I'm in full-on withdrawls.

Guess I'll go post now in one of your more _current_ entries. {rolling eyes}

(Oh, try Sara Gran's DOPE, too. Dark, gritty, twisty, great.)

12:20 PM  

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