Last week I requested a book from my local library - a historical novel - that was set in an era close to one that I'm researching. I was curious as to how the author had gone about weaving the historical detail into the story. It's something all historical novelists wonder about, I think - how others do it! But I'm struggling with this novel. I've read about 50 pages so far, and I feel like nothing has happened. There has been plenty of detail (that I examined with my writer's eye!) but the main character and the story are just not grabbing me.
When I get to this point with a book, I ask "Is it me?" Am I just not in the mood for it right now? Usually I know. I put aside The God of Small Things for nearly a year because I knew I wasn't in the mood for it - it was going to be a book that would require concentration that I just didn't have. When I did finally read it, I loved it. So it's a question worth asking. I've been reading a wide range of stuff lately, so I know it's not that I'm wanting more crime fiction (I can get on a roll with that and read ten in a row).
I think the problem with this particular novel is that it isn't offering me anything substantial. I have a writing book on my shelf that talks about how "a story is a promise". While we hear things like hooks and story questions talked about - in terms of that first chapter - what we really want in a novel is the promise of a great story and interesting characters, and I think this one (so far) is letting me down on both counts.
The main character is passive and her secret passion feels boring and derivative, and the story promised in the blurb is still a long way away from me, even after 50 pages. Maybe I'm too impatient, but I'm about to give up on it. I'm resisting any more pages because I don't want more of the same. But ... this got me thinking about how kids read. How does a child feel when they are expected to read a book, expected to enjoy reading, and yet find it a total chore?
Imagine everyone around you kind of watching you read. Teachers, parents, maybe siblings or friends. You're probably not too good at reading, but you know you're expected to do it, and do it well. But when you try, nothing interests or excites you. The grownups keep telling you that you just have to find a book you like. You think, How hard is that? But every book you take off the shelf is boring or stupid or has a lot of big words that you don't understand.
So you pretend to read and hope one day it'll happen for you. And maybe it will, or maybe it won't. There are lots of kids in your classroom and the teacher leaves you alone if you're pretending to read really well. As an adult, I have the option of throwing a book across the room if it bores me. As a kid, you have to read whether you like it or not. At this point, I think is it any wonder Andy Griffith's books sell so well? If you're resistant to reading, and suddenly there's a book that's rude and funny and makes you laugh out loud, and makes reading something you can do and something you WANT to do, wouldn't you want more of them?
(And no, I'm not going to say which book is going straight back to the library because it probably is me!)