What I didn't finish, and why

Lately, I've found myself  not finishing some books, and while I don't like to write reviews of books I haven't finished, I thought it might be useful to talk about why I let them go. I'll say right here: it's not always because they are bad books. In fact, it's usually just because they aren't the right books and the right time. That said, here are a couple of books I let expire, and (to the best of my ability to suss out) the reasons why.

The Road to Little Dribbling, by Bill Bryson
Yup, that's right: I DNF'd a book by the famously witty Bill Bryson. As a matter of fact, this didn't totally surprise me. I had a love-hate relationship with A Walk in the Woods (yes, he made me laugh, but he also made me want to throw the book across the room with his lack of knowledge and planning, utter ignorance of good hiker etiquette and Leave No Trace principals, etc.). I enjoyed his book about Australia, but then when I read the one on the US, I found that when he wrote about places I know well his version was often shallow, misguided, or just plain wrong.

So I did start Little Dribbling with some trepidation, and it was justified. There was much less than usual of interesting history and stories and description of places, and much more griping about things that have changed in 20 years (I get that; I break my heart over some things that have changed, and not for the better. But as a theme for the book? Not good). But the final straw was that his humor seems to have become mean-spirited. I almost quit when he recounted tormenting a McDonald's employee for doing his job. I did quit after his excoriation of a shop owner who didn't seem to care if Bryson stayed or went. Really, Bryson? He ends up sounding not only like a grumpy old man, but a grumpy rich old man who is kind of annoyed by all the common people around him.

(Credit where it's due: I've enjoyed Bryson's historical work, At Home: A Short History of Private Life and The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way. Regarding that latter, knowing he'd written it and done his research, I was surprised at his rant in this new book about...English spelling. You explained that to us, man).

The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries, by Emily Brightwell
This is a completely different case. The book is fine, really. Well-written and a bit humorous, and all that. But...it's not grabbing me, and after a bit of thought, I think I know why. Actually, it's the same problem as Bryson has, in a way: the humor comes at the expense of someone. I've had issues with this in other books I've read, where a character is presented as just kind of a comic bungler. When it's the main character in a mystery, it kind of works--after all, they manage to solve the crime. It works even better when the bumbling character is the narrator, because that's just humorous self-deprecation and we can take it for what it's worth. But in this case, I feel like the Inspector is just a patsy to allow Mrs. Jeffries to be the smart one. I get the plot device. The author has found a way to avoid the biggest problem of the amateur detective, their difficult position vis-a-vis the police. But.

My take-away: snark is a dangerous weapon. Self-directed snark by a 1st-person narrator is pretty safe, but beyond that, things get risky.

Note: I hesitated about putting this one on here, because for all I know the Inspector will get the last laugh and prove not to be an idiot after all. But I kind of doubt it. For now, I'm leaving the book on my MP3 player and may finish at some point. In which case, if I am more satisfied, I'll write a real review.

Other books
There have been some other books I've not finished, books that I won't name. Those have been books with deeper flaws, often: historical inaccuracies, poor writing or editing, etc. I don't need to reflect much to know why I drop a book with those problems. But I had to think about why I might dump a book with good prose, a strong plot, and a professional proof-reader. I hope it gives me food for thought for my own writing.

How about you? Do you leave books unfinished? If so, do you ever analyze why?

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
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