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Knowing when to quit


By Kathy Pillatzki
Assistant Director
Henry County Library System

  Recently, I read two books that I found a bit of a challenge. I suppose it would be more accurate to say I tried to read them. I finished one and have shelved the other for now. This brings up an interesting dilemma: when do you give up on a book?

  I know people who wonít read past the first few pages if they donít find a book engaging from the get-go. I typically keep plugging along until I either finish it or find some compelling reason not to. The further along I get, the more I feel like I have to finish or risk having wasted the time already invested. Of course, this sets up another risk: if I finish the book and find that it never got any better, Iíve wasted even more time. What to do?

  Last fall I eagerly snapped up a copy of J.K. Rowlingís The Casual Vacancy, her first novel for adults. I figured Iíd devour it over the weekend and write a brilliantly insightful review for this column. Except ... I didnít like it. I knew beforehand that it was a dramatic departure from her Harry Potter series. I knew it was realistic fiction set in the sometimes mundane world of everyday people. I just didnít realize how mundane.

  There was little action, aside from the briefly described death of a character early on. But I didnít have enough information about him at that point to be moved by his death. Other characters were either nasty-tempered or just plain dull. I got to page 59, and there I stayed. That was plenty of time for the author to make me care about the characters, but I just didnít.

  On the other hand, I also found myself bogged down in the second book of the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. Shadow of Night is the sequel to A Discovery of Witches, which I reviewed favorably in this column. Because of the quality of the writing, I considered it a real standout in a crowded field of adult novels featuring witches, vampires and all manner of paranormal activity.

  Interestingly, Shadow of Night picks up at the exact moment following the cliffhanger ending of book one. After the resolution of that dramatic moment, the story slows. There are a lot of characters who have a lot of dialogue. Occasionally the conversation is interrupted by action, and frankly, a lot of that action is sexual. Itís not especially graphic, but it is frequent. And then they talk some more.

  I frequently found myself wishing that Harkness would just get on with the story. I stuck it out to the finish because I really wanted to see where the story was leading, and because of the time investment I mentioned, not just in this book but in the previous volume. I would recommend it to those who enjoyed book one, but it wonít garner Harkness any new fans. I would love to see her end the trilogy on a strong note, so this one was enough to keep me reading in anticipation of book three.

  I have yet to pick up The Casual Vacancy again, though I might. For the record, Iíd hate to admit I gave up on it. If you ask, Iíll say Iím still reading it, and Iím on page 59. But more interesting books beckon and call, so who knows?



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