Why I hate starting new books

I often get books from the library and then they just sit there waiting for me to dive in. I’m not sure why this happens but I think it’s because starting new books requires extra concentration and sometimes this is in short supply. There’s a whole new bunch of characters to get acquainted with and you need to really focus to work out who’s who in the zoo. I find it especially hard when the book has a lot of foreign names or people with similar names, but sometimes I think I’m still attached to the people I met (and grew to love) in the last book that I was reading. I don’t want to let go of them just yet.

Once you are in a book and caught up in the story, the pages just seem to turn themselves and before you know it, it’s past your bedtime. You become invested in other people’s lives and think about them when you are washing up or cleaning the shower. I love it when that happens.

Someone once told me that if f you are going on a long plane trip or into hospital for any length of time, it’s best to take a book that you have already started reading. In both these situations your concentration is poor, so it’s preferable to be in the middle of a book rather than right at the beginning.

I remember trying to read “I know why the caged bird sings” by the writer and poet Maya Angelou when I was in early labour with my first child and realising that I should have brought a murder mystery or a romance novel with me.

I also recall going to Tasmania with my family for a lovely holiday and being unable to read any of the books I had ‘saved’ for the trip. I spent quite a bit of the plane trip trying to read Harry Potter over the shoulder of the woman next to me who was a complete stranger. I think she cottoned on in the end because she looked a bit annoyed and tried to angle the book away from me. It didn’t help that I’m quite a fast reader and kept getting to the end of the page before she did. I had taken three books with me but none of them were just right.

In Paula Munier’s book “The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings” she lists the questions that readers want answered when they start a new book.

We need to work out what kind of book we are reading, who is telling the story and where it takes place, but most of all we need to know why we should care about them. Very clever writers can answer most of these questions in the first couple of paragraphs. It doesn’t necessarily need to answer all our questions, we just need to get hooked enough to make us turn the first page.

Choosing your next book is also a very personal thing. I like to download samples onto my iPad and read the first couple of chapters before I purchase a book or request a title from the library (it’s usually the latter). When I’m looking for something new to read, I just browse through my sample chapters until something takes my fancy. Either that, or I go to my circle of friends (which includes my reading family) and ask them what they’ve been reading lately.

How do you choose your next read?

12 thoughts on “Why I hate starting new books

  1. Hi Margaret.
    I have been working on a book on my husband’s family history, particularly looking at the lives of his ancestors, what brought them to Australia, and how they lived through the challenges of their lives. In the process of researching, some interesting details have come to light, which have added more “flesh” to the “bare bones” of just a name, dates and locations. Coming across a death warrant of an ancestor, followed by records of the reprieve he received, sent shivers down our spines. If he’d been hanged, as one of his accomplices was, my husband and children wouldn’t have existed! A sobering thought, and a realisation of the grace of God (to the Pearce family).
    All very time-consuming and challenging, but it has given me an interest and appreciation for history, and more of an understanding and respect for those who’ve gone before us.
    By the way, I wondered if you may be related to the Pearce family, and if you know Reg Millar by any chance…?

    1. Yes I think you should always have at least two. A paper book and a digital book, otherwise you might have a serious crisis.

  2. This is all so very true, and I find the older I get the harder it often is to begin new books. It has to be the right book for that moment, and often I request books from the library that I want to read, but then when I get them it somehow isn’t the right time. I have learned to bring some books back unread without regret. I tend to choose books almost as an afterthought – what tends to happen is in all my online reading I come across new or recommended books….so I don’t intentionally look for books to read. Also, I tend to read much less fiction these days, so that is probably a factor, too, because for me the fiction – usually a novel – just has to be the right one, the story has to catch me right away. Again, as I get older, I’m often not attracted to the stories I once was…..I guess a lot comes down to the voice…..it could be a younger voice or an older voice, it doesn’t matter, but it has to be a voice that somehow catches me…..I like these posts of yours, Margaret, when you muse on these reading matters.

    1. I have also adopted the attitude that it’s okay to return books to the library unread. I started reading a novel recently and the main character was very irritating (she kept whining about everything) so I just took it back. Even though I’ve got all the time in the world, I still don’t have time to read books that aren’t grabbing me.
      I have a massively long TBR list that I keep on my phone, on sticky notes, in my notebook and various other places but I’ve grown a bit wary of books that are too literary. I find Booker prize-winners pretty hard to get into but the latest one (Shuggie Bain), looks interesting. I’m particularly drawn to the author’s happy smiling face in the reviews, which is a very shallow reason for reading a book, but there you go.
      Thanks also for your kind words re my posts, I’m feeling a bit flat about my writing at the moment (don’t seem to be getting anywhere with my other writing projects) so I really appreciate your support.

      1. Margaret, I know what you mean about literary books. On the one hand, I seem to be drawn to books that are steeped in nature, even quite complex books that can be off-putting to many readers. But there are many “literary” books I just can’t get into.

        I’ve had the same experience about my writing and projects…..of course, we have had so many catastrophes (I mean the world and the US) and there has been so much upheaval here I try to keep that in mind. I have finally managed to get back to one or two projects I’d wanted to work on, but it was difficult and my commitment to them is still tenuous.

        I wonder if you have thought about turning your blog posts into a collection of essays. I’ve been thinking of doing that with my blog….but haven’t really begun yet. It would have to be selected posts only, according to a theme, and the posts would have to be substantially rewritten, and I think the book would have appeal to a limited, specific audience. But it strikes me you have a lot to say about reading, in that you relate it to your real, personal life, and you also have a lot to say about creativity…..plus your overall tone and voice I find quite appealing and I imagine it could be quite a broad audience you’d appeal to….readers and creatives or those who aspire to be.

      2. Hello there Valorie
        I’ve been thinking a lot about your comments which were both inspiring and incredibly affirming. I think your blog would lend itself beautifully to a book of essays because you write so well, but I hadn’t thought about doing that myself. It’s definitely something to consider but seems quite bold!
        I’ve just borrowed Mary Laura Philpott’s book “I Miss You When I Blink” and I would love to write something in that vein. Mostly, I’d just like to get some more words on the page which definitely requires more time writing and less time daydreaming.

  3. I also feel trepidation before starting a new book. It can be intimidating! I agree that it takes the right frame of mind and energy to start a new book. But I find that once I plunge in, it doesn’t take long to get swept away (well, if the author has done in the first pages what you say they should do). I keep a “wish list” of books, mostly ones that I have read about in the New York Times or the Minneapolis StarTribune. If I see a book’s name pop up over and over again, then I feel confident that I should read it.

    1. I agree that once you’ve seen a book being recommended a few times it kind of sticks in your brain, but I’m not a very intellectual reader (see previous comments about Booker Prize winners) so I tend to shy away from anything too demanding. I don’t enjoy books that are too dark and couldn’t get into Trent Dalton’s last book despite trying to read it twice. His new book is getting a lot of good reviews so I might attempt that one. I think I probably like middle-brow books best.

  4. I always choose my plane books with care and look forward to starting it. I can’t imagine having a half-read book, it would spoil the anticipation. With the advent of ebooks, I often request a book from our state library service (which is inevitably out on loan but that’s OK) when I have read a review somewhere. I am always a bit flummoxed when it comes available earlier than I had expected. I have just ordered a murder mystery which I hope doesn’t disappoint. Of the 4 or 5 I have read this year, none were really memorable and I had sussed out the plot twists quite early. Perhaps I watch too many of this genre on TV and have the formula down pat.

    1. I agree that it can be hard to find a top class murder mystery. They are often formulaic or maybe you are just good as guessing the ending!
      Re reading on planes, you don’t necessarily need to be halfway through, just far enough to know you are going to like it. Nothing worse than being stranded without a book.

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