Big Name Books We Don’t Love

Last week’s post on why a particular book didn’t draw me in ended up generating quite an interesting discussion! And, according to my stats, last Thursday got more hits than any other day so far. Most of my blog followers are readers (many are also writers), so we all love discussing books. But when it really got interesting was when the author of the book in question outed herself in the comments, after we chatted on Facebook. It hadn’t been my intention to identify the book, but I had to give enough detail to discuss why it didn’t work for me, and who would know the book better than its author? I only hope I’m as professional and willing to learn as Elizabeth West was when bad reviews come in for my book – and I’ve no doubt they will. I’m not sure who said it, but one of my favorite quotes is, “Nothing is so good that someone, somewhere, won’t hate it.”

The comments also made me realize that Elizabeth is in some pretty prestigious company when it comes to books I didn’t like enough to finish. Prestigious as in, I am talking J.K. Rowling and Stephen King!


Yes! Harry Potter was a DNF for me! I love a good fantasy novel – in fact, I just read an absolutely wonderful untrained-mage-goes-to-college story: Fire in the Mist, by Holly Lisle. I enjoyed the first three Harry Potter books, too. The fourth… it was okay, and I finished it. But Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix began with eighty or a hundred pages of nothing happening, and I just lost interest in it. I’d been reading it aloud to my daughter, who was seven at the time, and she was bored too. After the first couple books in the series, each was longer than the prior installment, and not necessarily because more was happening, or it was a more complex story. Maybe I’ll pick Phoenix up again someday. But with three shelves full of books I haven’t read, not to mention dozens on my netbook and smartphone, it’s unlikely. It just seemed bloated. Now I have been guilty of this myself – in fact, I just went over Time’s Fugitive with one of my beta readers, who pointed out a section where she caught herself skimming, because it was all boring, unimportant details where nothing was happening that added to the story. At least it wasn’t in the beginning of the book. But thanks to her, it will get cut!

One thing I have not been guilty of – at least, since I started writing with the aim of publication – is the bloated, tedious writing I found in Black House, by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Although this book too, began with pages upon pages of nothing happening, it was far more egregious than the Harry Potter book. At least in Phoenix, we had a main character to focus on, root for (and wait for to do something). Black House began with over a dozen pages of nothing but omniscient description – a nameless, personality-less presence flying over a small town, describing it in minute (and boring) detail. It did eventually touch on Jack, the main character, but even this was boring description. Talk about a disappointment! Black House was supposed to be the sequel to The Talisman, a book I loved so much I’ve read it multiple times. I say “supposed to be,” because Black House was nothing like The Talisman, either stylistically or content-wise. There were hardly even any allusions or references to it! Well, at least in the 16 or 18 pages I managed to struggle through until I dropped the book on the floor.

I’ve put down romance novels, too, some by NYT best-sellers. Paranormals with characters I didn’t care about – heroines that were too invincible, too kick-ass. Romantic suspense with “as-you-know-Bob” dialogue and characters that were doing stupid things without enough reason. Contemporaries with watered-down conflict. Historicals that were the same as the last three historicals I read. And yes, plenty that just didn’t pull me in like the one discussed last week.

Don’t get me wrong, DNFs are the exception for me, rather than the rule. Next week, we’ll talk about books we love. But for now, what about you? Have you read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? That’s one I’ve heard a lot of people have trouble getting into, but it’s worth it – after about 100 pages! I’m not that patient. I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any blockbusters among your DNFs?

22 Responses to \

  1. I have to confess, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a DNF for me. I couldn’t get past the first two chapters. Talk about boring! I LOVED the movie, but the book…oye! It was worse than boring, it was confusing and dry too. I chalked it up to translation issues. Maybe some day I’ll try again and start at Chapter 5. Another DNF for me is George RR Martin…yep, I’m ashamed to admit I did not finish Game of Thrones. He doesn’t care about any of his characters, so why should I? I found some of them fascinating, true…but after awhile I was tired of the ones I liked getting killed and what not. I’m not big into war epics…and I wanted more magic. Hinting at it, but not giving it to me, drove me crazy.

  2. Yes, I too gave up on the Potter series about book #4. I gave up early on Robert Jordan’s wheel of Time series. Sorry folks, but it is all personal taste. I don’t get upset if someone puts down my book and I have no real problem putting down someone else’s. You can’t please all the people all the time. I don’t criticize a writer nor do I write bad reviews, but if a book can’t hold me, I will put it down.

  3. A long time ago (back in high school), I attempted to read “Stranger in a Strange Land”. The book started out GREAT. I loved it. I loved the alien guy. But then it just got weird and I couldn’t finish it. About 20 years later, I finally forced myself to re-read it. I almost stopped at the same point, but hunkered down and finished. Yeah, I hated the ending. Maybe I shouldn’t have bothered!

    I did read “Black House”. Didn’t realize it was the sequel to “The Talisman” until I was about half-way through it. I thought the book was okay, but I did go out and get “The Talisman” shortly after. Can’t say “Black House” really was a sequel. Just had the same character, but all grown up.

  4. Melinda – Dragon Tattoo was also a DNF for my mom – not only because it started out very slowly, but because she kept tripping over the hard-to-pronounce Scandinavian names. If she couldn’t stick with it, I doubt I could, so I’ll just see the movie! I did like Game of Thrones, but I agree that it was too much war stuff and not enough magic – which is probably why I read it two years ago and still haven’t picked up #2.

    Prudence, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who gave up on Harry Potter! And you’re right, it’s all about personal taste – after all, these are bestsellers I’ve put down. But I think as authors we can learn a lot by analyzing what didn’t work for us. I’ll do that here on my blog, but I only review books I finish – which is why I never post anything under a 4-star review. 🙂

    Stacy, I’ve only read one Heinlein book, Number of the Beast, which I’ve heard is not his best. While it was a cool premise, I didn’t care for the characters, and like you said about Stranger, it just got too weird for me. I’m glad to hear my perception of Black House as not much of a sequel wasn’t off-base!

  5. Well, I haven’t had a lot of luck with several of King’s books. The most recent big name book I just couldn’t stand…”Matched.” It did nothing for me at all. It moved slow and the voice was totally blah where I was concerned. But to each their own I guess. Too bad I paid to get the hardback.

  6. I can’ think of nay that aren’t classics which I had to read in school. What sucks is when someone I’m friends with in person or online has written a DNF. Guh it’s so hard to know what to do.

  7. Debra – ouch. Guess it’s a good thing I don’t buy hardbacks! I’m not familiar with Matched, but as you say, to each their own!

    Alicia – yes, so many of the “had to read” books were awful! If I’m reading a book by someone I know, I usually don’t mention it to them until I’m far enough into it that I know I like it, because I’d hate to have them ask later (I’m a terrible liar). Luckily, I must have really talented writer friends, because I can’t remember the last time this happened. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I willingly put a book down if it doesn’t hold my attention. and i read about 1/4 and then the end. so it’s got to be good, for me, to get me to go back to where I left off and begin again.

    i don’t read king – I hate all the violence. wasn’t compelled to get book 2 of Harry potter either. but that’s just me. obviously I’m in the minority with both these writers. LOL

  9. I remember a book that sent me snoring within the first chapter. I just forgot the title and the author since I never bought another one from him ever since.

  10. Oh, what a relief. Other people who don’t like the Harry Potter books. I’ve liked one or two of the movies, but I’ve tried to read the books and just can’t seem to get into them. I think it’s because Harry doesn’t do anything in the beginning of the books, he just reacts/pouts/whines. I finished the first book of GRR Martin’s Game of Thrones, I got into the characters and the setting, but the story moved so slowly and there were so many different layers, that it did not compel me to pick up the next book in the series. Neal Stephenson’s book Snow Crash left me cold (pun intended) and James L Morrow’s book Towing Jehovah was another one. In these two books I found no character I wanted to follow for pages, no character whose desire I even vaguely understood. Other folks loved those books. Different strokes . . . .

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  12. I think I’m really indulgent when it comes to most books. When I pick them up, I usually feel honor-bound to finish them, even if I hate it. I love pretty much everything I read in high school (except for Wuthering Heights, because everyone was so horrible), but there have been a couple of DNF books I’ve encountered. One is “The Shadow and the Claw” by Gene Wolfe, and the other that might as well make the list, even though I finished it, is “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.” They’re both fantasy novels, but ohhhhh, I just couldn’t get into them at all, and it made me so sad.

  13. Ok so I couldn’t get through Pride & Prejudice, but I have to say I love the story and the movies. So maybe it’s just the style of writing?
    Anyway, I really the quote “Nothing is so good that someone, somewhere, won’t hate it” too. It’s a good reminder for me when I need to push past that fear that my work is dreadful b/c no matter what I won’t be pleasing everyone!

  14. I did all the Potters on audio, so my only disappointment was that I didn’t do the British versions. Jim Dale is good, but I would have loved to hear Stephen Fry even more.

    The book that absolutely outraged me, partly because the worst offender in praising it was the author himself, was The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Franzen took 11 pages to establish that an old couple was a pair of hoarders, one of them mildly senile, who didn’t get along.

    Let’s take King at his most verbose. We’d have gathered that in about 5 pages and been treated to the famous King snark and a slice of Maine life. I’d have done it in two, and I don’t consider myself Mann-Booker material by a long shot.

    Franzen’s prose, to put it bluntly, is nauseating, and rightly or wrongly, he has become my personal punching bag for everything I don’t like about certain books.

  15. Louise – good on you for at least finding out the ending! When I put down a book, I’m usually past caring. Although the author of last week’s book told me how it ended when we chatted and it sounded like a great twist – but not if one was expecting a romance. Still, it was fun to find out!

    Ginifer – LOL I’ve read those, too! In fact, one book turned me off romance for years, it was so bad. All I remember now was it was a pirate romance, and purpler (prose) than Barney the dinosaur. I think I must have blocked the title and author from my mind.

    Lynette – “I think it’s because Harry doesn’t do anything in the beginning of the books, he just reacts/pouts/whines.” Whoa, maybe THAT’s why I got tired of Harry! The older I get, the less tolerant I am (or interested I am) of passive characters. And maybe that’s why I also haven’t read the 2nd GRR Martin book yet.

    Lena – I used to feel like that, too. I don’t think I ever put down a book when I was a kid, except for a few we had to read in school. Tess of the D’Urbervilles was one. And I hate it when a book I was really looking forward to turns out to be a dud. I haven’t read Wuthering Heights, but my daughter described it the same way – she kept reading because she wanted everyone to DIE, LOL!

    Coleen, would you believe I haven’t read P&P? (Do I need to turn in my license to write romance now? LOL) I do have a hard time getting into the centuries-old stuff, just because of the writing style. I want to read some early 20th century work this year (because some of my books are set in that time) but even those can be hard to get into. And yes, that’s why I tell myself that quote! 🙂

    Jim, you’re a braver soul than I. Literary fiction’s not my thing to begin with, but Franzen is so arrogant and pretentious I have no desire to read anything of his, expecting it to be the same. And if he even puts Stephen King’s verbosity to shame, that just confirms that it’s best not to even bother.

  16. I never finished Kavalier and Clay. I don’t even know where it is in my house.

    I finally caved and purchased The Hunger Games, but honestly I don’t even know if I want to start it or not. Gore factor + kid slaughter and all that…but everyone says it’s fabulous…I don’t know…

  17. First, I have to agree that Elizabeth Ann West was a class act in her comment from the post last week. I read CANCELLED and liked it myself.

    I have started Gulliver’s Travels three separate times and cannot finish. I also didn’t finish Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and James Fenimore Cooper novels. I have tried two books by Stephen King and stopped reading both. Do I think these are poorly written? Well, I could find things to be critical about, but what bothered me about them might hook someone else. They simply didn’t capture this reader’s attention. Great post, Jennette!

  18. Jennifer, I’m not familiar with Kavalier and Clay, but I also haven’t read The Hunger Games. One reason is I’m not fond of first person present tense, but “kid slaughter” would probably deter me too!

    Julie, I don’t think the question is whether a book is well-written, but why some that are popular just don’t do it for us. IMO Stephen King is a fantastic writer and Black House is the only thing of his I’ve read that I couldn’t finish – it was the omniscient point-of-view, pages and pages of nothing but description that bored me to death. But if you look at the reviews on Amazon, it got many more positive reviews than negative. I like to analyze why something didn’t work for me to learn from it, and a lot of it comes down simply to reader expectations.

  19. I have a hard time putting books down. Something about spending that hard earned money and seeing it wasted. I tend to slog through to the end, unless they are putting me to sleep like P.D. James’ The Private Patient did recently. In some ways I consider it a lesson in what-not-to-do when writing. I only read the first two Harry Potter books, but saw all the movies. I had to agree with the critics (which I rarely do) when they said the last movie was drawn out to make more money. It was sloooow. As for Stranger in a Strange Land, I love that book, weiredness and all. If you think P&P is hard to read, try activating the voice option on your Kindle. That will either put you to sleep or make you roll on the floor laughing.

  20. The first book that jumped to mind when I read your post was Life of Pi. That one tops my DNL list. I would hear everyone raving about it, and it was hugely popular, but something about it just struck me wrong. I got bored halfway through and had a difficult time even finishing it. (To be honest, I only actually finished it because my brother kept asking me if I was done yet and what I thought of it). Another one for me was Mitch Albom’s Five People You Meet in Heave. DNL.

  21. C.D. – “In some ways I consider it a lesson in what-not-to-do when writing.” Exactly! Sure, other people have loved these books, but I always try to pinpoint why they don’t work for *me*. Great way to learn! I don’t have a Kindle, but if I get one, I’m definitely going to try having it read P&P – I bet it’s hilarious!

    Marcy – I had the same experience reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. It’s time travel (which I write – and love!) and several of my friends just rave about her, so I got it from the library. The only reason I slogged through the whole thing was I kept thinking, surely it has to get better, the way my friends talked about it. It did, but not enough that I’d have kept reading if not for my friends’ urgings.

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