Any Suggestions for Avoiding the Lousy Read?

I recently read a book that had lots of potential; the novel Surveillance by Jonathan Raban.

Raban is a talented writer.  His characters are well developed, flawed, and interesting.

He crafted what I thought was an exciting plot, while developing several good subplots.

His vivid descriptions of the character's actions made the story come to life--to the point that I would have preferred he not be so graphically disgusting.

In any event, as I neared the last page of the book, it became alarmingly apparent that the author was going to need a miraculous ending to resolve all of the storylines.

Then, inexplicably, Raban decides to just end the story.

Not one of the book's issues are dealt with.

The end.


As it turns out the plot and subplots were merely a window for the reader to observe the character's lives at a point in time.

He left me hanging like when I was a child and had received permission to stay up past bedtime to watch Hawaii Five-O--only to learn at the end of the hour that the episode was "To Be Continued" next week. 

It was a next week that I would not have permission to stay up late again for TV viewing. 

As in I had just wasted an hour of my life.

If only I had checked the reader reviews on a site like Amazon and saw that it rated only 2 stars before getting this one from the library.  I should have researched the title, read quotes like the following, and done a little homework:
...But it is as if the publisher was on the phone with an insurmountable deadline to meet, and he had to leave the ending out in order to reach it.
Obviously, most of the reviewers argued that the ending (or lack of a suitable one) doomed the novel.


Do you look at reader reviews online before reading a book?

Any suggestions for selecting books to avoid feeling like the read was time wasted?


Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

I find myself putting down a book that has too graphic details even if they are correct. Yuk!

And can't the writer say it well without continuous use of vulgar language?!

I love using my Kindle where I can get a sample download to read and then decide whether or not it may be a good read. Also I can read the reviews. This has helped me read and enjoy more books.

Confessions From A Working Mom said...

Such a timely post!!! I picked up a Barbara Kingsolver novel (author of 'The Poisonwood Bible') at the library a few weeks ago. I was STRUGGLING to get past page 50. I'm a reader who can find the good in just about everything, but as the story went on, I just realized I could care less what happened to each and every character. I put the book down and returned it unfinished. Made me feel like a bit of a reading failure; maybe I SHOULD have done more research about that specific title before checking it out!


My Husband's Watching TV... said...

I hate those "To be continued..." episodes! I usually pick up a book at the recommendation of other bloggers but then again, that's just me!

Sue said...

I usually choose my books based on word-of-mouth recommendations. My husband is an avid King fan, but it took me seven years to pick up anything King (out of protest, partially). I'm a Koontz fan, but he also has a habit of poor endings and recycling character types and themes (read a dozen Koontz books and you'll know what I'm talking about).

Reviews are helpful, but not golden. After all, they are just opinions, and yours may differ.

Theresa Milstein said...

I read online reviews more and more because, like you, I hate to waste precious reading time.

If I'm not hooked by page 30, often I'll abandon the book. But that wouldn't have helped you in this case.

Audrey Allure said...

I guess that could be good and bad. It was so good that readers wanted more, but bad because of the disappointment for the lack of ending. I hate when that happens, but at least you were entertained for most of the book!

satire24/7 said...

This is why I prefer reading blogs. Short, to the point, beginning, middle and end. No great investment in time and effort. (Usually)
I hate it when a book, TV Show or Movie doesn't give a satisfactory ending. My daughter and I got into watching the TV show, "Flash Forward" and invested weeks into it, stuck with it when it went on hiatus, came back to it, and the network pulled it! Very unsatisfying. No one likes to be left hanging. Nice job here though, keep up the good work and thanks for visiting. Best of luck.

James (SeattleDad) said...

It's not the destination, it's the journey. Keep repeating that and you will forget how annoyed you were at the ending.

Or not.

Stephanie Faris said...

Don't you wonder how a book like this EVER got published??? Where were the editors? Why didn't somebody make him put an ending on it?

Herding Cats said...

Actually....I don't really look at reader reviews, but I do take heed to what friends and family members are reading. I figure since they know me, they may have a clue as to what I would like to read. I also read a lot of Young Adult novels so I can recommend books to students.

Jackie said...

I find that I tend to read series, usually by word of mouth, (or internet) I'm an aspiring writer so i'm always picking up books learning hints and tips trying to avoid the book with no ending etc.

Amazon is always a good place to look for reviews so is good reads.


Matthew Rush said...

I must admit I hate it when this happens - and yet I feel that there is still some value in reading even bad books. For example it was one particularly poorly written novel that shall remain unnamed that convinced me I should write.

Elena said...

That drives me crazy and I usually end up flinging the book across the room when I feel cheated. I find that happening with more novels than nonfiction books so unless fiction gets rave reviews I won't bother with it. Sometimes I feel as if the book was written with a computer program that asked for the setting, characters, basic plot, etc and then the computer just spit it out. Too pat.

There was once upon a time a book had to be really horrible for me to give up on it...not any longer. If I don't "feel" it after a couple of chapters I abandon it.

Dan said...

There are books that I would kill for a sequel even as I finish. There are books that I swear were written with a word count window open and when it reached the magical number, the writing was over.

I don't find the reviews to be real useful. There are books that I love that have been panned and books that i hate that have rave reviews. So if I consult reviews at all, it is only from book reviewers that I know tend to have my preferences.

(Sort of like the old Siskel and Ebert shows - I liked what Ebert had to say, but Siskel's ratings matched my subjective feelings much better.)

Luisa Doraz said...

I always just check a few books out by reading the cover and then just keeping the one that has the most interesting start. :) Nice run on sentence, huh? lol

carma said...

GAH! I hate it when that happens. My former boss used to recommend books ALL THE TIME only our taste in books was completely different; she loved to discuss the books - most of them were non-fiction set in the middle east (I kid not) -- it got to the point that I would read a page skip a page read 10 skip 20 pages, etc. just to be done with them. I do look at amazon reviews but mostly just browse the new fiction at the library.

Here's an example of another of her book recommendations:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society *yawns* if I could find the darn review I wrote about it I'd send you the link

LisaF said...

Sounds eerily like the series finale of LOST. Nothing settled, nothing really answered. I'm still processing and prefer to end the series with my own version.

But I digress. I have my authors I like to read. John Grisham is my favorite. Most of the time he come through for me in his storytelling. A couple have been stinkers, but I'm a forgiving person.

Except when it comes to LOST.

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
YES!!! I do have hints.

1. Look at the size of the print in the book. If it is too large, they were trying to make a full book out of a half book--but it's not literary enough to just be a small book.

2. How long has the writer been writing about the same characters? After awhile, they do not explain characters well and just repeat themselves. This is true from great writers to poor ones, and the plots get more unrealistic over time.

3. Fiction with double authors will be bad. Nonfiction, this rule does not apply unless it is a biography or current events--even then for nonfiction it may not apply.

4. Does the title tell you what you need to know? In a self-help book, a catchy slogan title is the sign of a one-sentence thesis that goes on forever. Same with current events. You don't need to buy a book that announces it hates the president. You've already figured out where you stand.

There's probably others, too. . . so many books are products now . . . that's the difference.

Love talking books! Thank you!
Ann T.

jodeeluna said...

I am influenced by the book recommendations of friends,family, and colleagues. Usually their suggestions please me but not always. I definitely need to try some of the suggestions you posted and also those found in the comments posted.

Javajune said...

Oh I hate it when I think a book or movie is going to be so good and then boom the big let down. I'm notorious for starting books and never finishing them.

SuziCate said...

Sometimes, I do read reader review, but if I really want the book, I'll buy it anyway and then wish I had taken the review to heart.

izziedarling said...

I have OCD re: book selection. Don't go on recs much, but examine the pages to pieces before reading. Even so, still pick up some bummers. Age has allowed me to close the bad read and dismiss without finishing. Life is too short.

Anonymous said...

Slam I enjoyed reading the comments on your post. I believe it makes me feel more human. Sounds like you wasted some valueable vacation time on the book.

Nikole Hahn said...

No suggestions. I think that was an editor problem. A good editor would have caught that and sent it back for a rewrite. I reviewed Broken Angel and was very disappointed in that one. It felt like the story had not ended yet. It just ended. I know what you are feeling.

Kristin said...

I guess I usually take book reviews the say way I take film reviews...with a grain of salt. But I can see why you're annoyed!

Suzanne said...

Usually I know if I will like a book within a few chapters. I'm also one of those people who if I love a book, I won't put it down, even for food.

I usually don't read reviews on books. So I've had my share of bad books that I have finished. I try to overlook the fact that I wasted my time reading it. Maybe that is why I don't read many current authors except the ones that write series, cause then I know what I'm getting into since I've read the previous book(s) in the series.

Momma Fargo said...

I found myself chuckling to this...sorry. It was amusing only because I have had those same thoughts about other books and shows. I'm not liking to the BE CONTINUED thingy. Like to know all of the right now. LOL. Great post!

anniefrey said...

I just wait for the movie.

Anastasia said...

I hate it when that happens. Or when they come up with something ridiculous to end it because they wrote themselves into a corner. "Oh I know, it was all a dream" or "it was all the aliens" I hate that!

terri said...

I've only had a similar experience one time, when reading "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle." I have never loved a book the way I loved that one. I couldn't put it down. The author's descriptions of the characters and settings were off the charts... beautiful. I thought he was an artist with his words. But when I read the last page, all I could think was, "What???? That's it?" I too went and read reviews and found that apparently, had I had a better appreciation for Shakespeare, I might have appreciated the ending more. (The book was described as a modern-day version of Hamlet. And I never did appreciate Shakespeare.)

Usually when a book is going to disappoint me, I become aware of it long before the last page and simply give up reading it.