October 25, 2012

Boring and Bored

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A quote, wandering around on Pinterest as quotes are wont to do, states: "If you think reading is boring, you're doing it wrong."  It amused me at the time, but then I continued on and didn't think much about it until last night, which happened to be one of those where sleep seems to have gone on a brief holiday.  It occurred to me then that in many cases (not all, just many), "reading" can be exchanged for "a book" and that quote would be as accurate.

Don't get me wrong: there are some books I have attempted that I ended up finding indescribably dull.  But some of them, probably most of them, would have been redeemable to some other reader.  I don't think there are many books that are totally, irrevocably, objectively boring.  Even if a book is badly written, there is almost always some sort of amusement to be had from it - if only the kind of amusement derived from laughing hysterically over the sheer badness.  Other books have been written for a very small niche, and people in the niche find them fascinating.  I wouldn't enjoy a book on the different kinds of amoeba or the habits of the triple-eyed, red-spotted hairy antelope (actually, if there were such a thing I would be very interested), but others consider such works the cat's meow.  As Anna quoted just the other day in a different context:

there are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.

We ought to be careful, I think, before allowing ourselves to be bored by a book.  We are far too ADD in the 21st Century; why else would authors be instructed to have a "catchy" first line and to be sure their story grabs the reader's interest in the first chapter?  As readers, we are no longer willing to give the book our attention - it has to grab our attention.  And if it doesn't do so quickly, we tend to put it aside and pick up something more in line with our tastes.

I don't like to let myself not finish a book, generally not because of any well thought out reason, but because it goes against my grain.  Sometimes I do set one aside; just recently I tossed away a book I had been reading for research, highly disgusted with its lack of helpfulness and the author's obnoxious use of the word "hegemony."  But most of the time I stick to the book with a kind of grim will, while a series of thoughts run through my mind.  I start out by telling myself, "Maybe it will get better," and that takes me through about half the book.  At that point I lose hope, but start telling myself, "I've gotten this far, and I'm just too stubborn to quit!"  That gets me three quarters of the way through.  Then, if the book still hasn't picked up, I've stopped being at all hopeful and started being desperate, but can't bear to give up so near the finish line.  That would be like the blonde who swam three quarters of the way across the Channel, got tired and swam back.  (My apologies to all blondes!)

All of that to say that as we read, we should be cautious of our opinions, considering them closely and not cementing them too soon.  If a book is neither dirty nor mere drivel, we ought to give it time to develop before "pronouncing an adverse judgment," as Mary Bennet would say.  If it is outside our usual range, good: we might find we like these new stomping grounds, and if not, we can at least have a glimpse of how they look.  If we find the style or language trying, fine: our brains can always use a bit of exercise with wrangling out the meaning of Shakespeare.  If the book is huge, it's good practice for keeping our minds engaged - and besides, the feeling of success is greater in the end.

None of this is to say that we should never put a book aside as long as it isn't obscene.  But I do think we ought to consider why we're not finishing it, and be able to give ourselves a good reason.  We should not let ourselves turn away for the mere trifling reason that a book seems "boring."  Perhaps the real issue will turn out to be not that the book is uninteresting, but that we are simply uninterested - and the book might even be one that we would do well to make ourselves be interested in.

12 comments:

  1. As readers, we are no longer willing to give the book our attention - it has to grab our attention; And if it doesn't do so quickly, we tend to put it aside and pick up something more in line with our tastes.

    Oh yes. It gets me upset on so many levels when I hear teens, even adults, say Classical novels are "boring" and "In need of a remake" when they only read about 2 chapters in to it before giving up. Great Expectations, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, A Tale of Two Cities, these are simply great works of art that many find 'boring' because they could never get past the first two humdrum chapters. I've tried explaining to people that classics always start off slow and dull, its what makes their charm. But they simply don't understand.

    Humph. Their loss.

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  2. This is so true. I haven't not finished a book in a really long time, but the other day I tossed aside a G. A. Henty book because he is (or I am not interested ;) ) so incredibly dull. Because of his over-description of everything breathing thing, and every non breathing thing, I tossed the book aside. Everyone was surprised, because G. A. Henty is supposed to be so "good." But maybe I didn't give him a chance. Anyway, this was really insightful. I do try to finish a book. Of course, I am the kind of person who will groan/squeal/slam the chair/throw the book while reading. So even if it is bad, I get plenty of enjoyment out of it. ;)

    B

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  3. *every breathing thing. This writer needs to edit more than novels.
    B

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  4. A very true post, Abigail; if the book is neither dirty or mere drivel... if once you start something, than it is a true pity to abandon it because it was "dull". I have often found that my tastes can differ depending on my mood... what I might find extremely tragic and depressing on day, the next would be beautifully sad and emotive, and touching. So I have found. BUT, I have abandoned books before and usually for that one reason of it being 'dull' or not awfully exciting.

    But I plan on relooking into them one day :).

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  5. There are some books that I tried reading but didn't get into before having to take them back to the library, but one day I may check them out again.
    I so agree with you! Nothing is uninteresting - we're just uninterested! When people complain that a book that I liked is slow, I said this, "I don't think about a book as being slow. I just... read it." There are some "slow" books that I really enjoy! I enjoy them because of the world and the writing and I don't really think of some as slow. Other books are just too fast. Some books (movies too, ahem) don't show much of the world and culture, a lot of the time. A good fantasy book should have its own culture within the towns of the story (Wingfeather Saga is a good example).
    I hope people won't call my books slow once I write them. O.O

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  6. YES. I'm one of those cling-tenaciously-in-case-it-gets-better readers and I'm always annoyed when I recommend a book to a friend or relative who duly reads the first chapter and then says, "oh... I just couldn't get into it." Humbug. If you were only meant to get into it from the very first chapter, it would be a short story and not a novel. That's the beauty of a long book, to paraphrase what Ashley said.

    Anyways, this post was exactly what's been on my mind recently. ;)

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  7. Ashley - Their loss, indeed. They lose the enjoyment of the books, but I also think they lose some of the brain-power that comes from being able to stick with a book to the end. And not just classics, but works of history and science (deficient in that genre myself) and God's own self-revelation.

    B. - I confess, I've only read one Henty novel; or rather, I had it read to me years ago. I remember enjoying it, but I wonder how I would like one if I tried reading it now. Flowery prose was certainly in style!

    Joy - My tastes differ depending on mood as well. I often find myself having to put aside a Sutcliff novel for a while, until I can read it without feeling absolutely crushed!

    Writer - Ah, the trouble with libraries! And why I never use them for anything other than research material... I think the attitude you mentioned is a good one to have; the same goes for calling a book "hard." Some are, but we toss that word around far too often.

    Miss Dashwood - I feel much the same when trying to write a catchy first chapter. "Can't you just, you know, read the middle chapter? Or the murder? Murders are good, right...? No? You want the first one? Oh..." And that's why I can't seem to write short stories.

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  8. So true, Abigail. It irritates me to no end when friends of mine reject books I've recommended, only because they think they're "dull" or "too hard". They have no idea what they're missing. An easy book is nice in its own respect, but in the same way that man cannot live on bread alone, readers cannot live on fluffy books alone. The best reads are those that force you out of your comfort zone and make you see the world in a new way. When I read Oliver Twist a few years ago, I found the beginning a bit slow and the language was a hurdle at first, but as I got into the story, the intriguing plot and complicated characters completely drew me in. Plus, there's nothing so rewarding as finishing a long book, especially if it has some challenges to overcome. Are we so dull of wit that we need everything handed to us in Chapter 1? Where is the journey, the struggle, and the sense of accomplishment at the end? 21st century readers miss out on so much.

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  9. Congratulations on an awesome post!!!

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  10. Oh, thanks for your nano name a few posts down! I am writeinthelight17.

    B

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  11. Elizabeth Rose - "...there's nothing so rewarding as finishing a long book, especially if it has some challenges to overcome." Exactly! Much as I enjoy smaller books, I generally don't come away with the sense of accomplishment that The Count of Monte Cristo or Alexander Hamilton give me. Other, easier books give my mind a much needed rest; but you can't rest all of the time!

    Mirriam - Aw, thank you! I'm glad you liked it.

    B. - Jolly good! And, by the way, anyone else participating in NaNo is welcome to find me over there. The more comrades-in-arms the better, I say.

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  12. I enjoyed this thoughtful post. You are so right. If we stick with a good book even though it's slow-going at first (or all the way through), we will reap some rewards. If nothing else, the process trains our minds.

    Here's my 21st century ADD: I read quickly, and I read too many books back-to-back. I don't think that's a problem when I'm reading something light. However, to get the most out of books that are beautifully written and/or mentally or spiritually nourishing, I think I need to ponder them more deeply.

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meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
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Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
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Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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