We love mystery!

When a Mystery isn’t the Right Fit

Have you ever not finished reading a mystery? Brook and Sarah discuss the reasons why they have put a book down before finishing it and share ideas on what to do when a book just isn’t right for you (right now).


“Guilt Complex: Why Leaving a Book Half-Read Is So Hard” Wall Street Journal (June 5, 2013) Matthew Willhelm

“You Really Don’t Have to Finish Every Book You Start” Tor.com (October 28, 2021) Molly Templeton

The Alienist (1994) Caleb Carr

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Music: Signs To Nowhere by Shane Ivers – www.silvermansound.com


This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery.
SarahHi Brook!
BrookHi Sarah. How are you doing today?
SarahI’m doing well how about you?
BrookWonderful. It’s good to talk to you again. But I have a question for you. Do you ever feel guilty for not finishing a book.
SarahI do, yes. And there was a time when I finished every book I started, but I now I will put down a book if it’s not working for me. What about you?
BrookYeah I definitely have that that angst as well if I if I’m not going to finish a book and in a Wall Street Journal article, clinical psychologist Matthew Wilhelm suggests that it has to do with our personalities. And certain types of people are more likely to push through a book than others and it’s that type-a personality, we probably aren’t very surprised that might be more likely to just stick with it and get it done because they have that achievement or not wanting to have negative consequences so that they’ll have that follow through. And conversely, I thought this was interesting, a type-b personality may never even start a book they know they won’t finish like I I would never get through that I’m not even going to pick it up. So different from me I have to say um, but the more important motivator of finishing a book. He says is social pressure which is why book clubs are so good at getting people to get through clear to the epilogue.
SarahInteresting. Well, I will admit, there are some books that I have read because you know you see a lot of um coverage of them on social media and. So, you know I I’ll pick it up because I feel like “oh everybody is reading this” and I typically do finish the books but I have not enjoyed them as much as others seem to have.
BrookYeah, there’s that ah fear of missing out like “oh everyone loves this so I should do that too” and I sometimes I get that feeling with classics as well. Like “oh I should read that and I should like that because it’s a quote unquote classic.” So then if you get into it and you’re not digging it then it’s really hard to be a quitter and um and give up halfway through.
SarahWell and and sometimes I’ve found with reading some of the classics is the writing style is very different than what we see in books that are published now. Um with either a lot more description or a much slower pace and I can see why someone um wouldn’t finish ah a classic or would feel obliged to finish one and kind of really slog through. Because they’re just some of them can be very yeah, very challenging to read.
BrookI definitely have that feeling and I mean I was a lit major so I was given lots of lists of books that are hard to read and you you do get a different brain set if you’re doing a lot of it I think that you can sort of train yourself to get into those but um I think ah after having done that I got better about well heck now I don’t have a teacher telling me what to read, so if I’m not enjoying this then I’m not going to continue reading it And it also doesn’t mean that it’s a bad story or a bad book because um, so it might be someone else’s favorite right? There’s taste. There’s also timing like I know sometimes I’ve picked up a book and like oh I’m just not into this at all and then for whatever reason I’ll go back to it and really like it.
SarahYeah I’ve had a similar experience where um I started reading a book and was like you know what? This is not my jam. And then and then returned to it and and ended up finishing it. But um I find if there’s a book that I’m reading and you know maybe it’s my attention span. It’s really short. But if I’m not into it and I’m at you know page 50 or page a hundred that’s kind of where I’ll be like well is it worth me finishing this? I think since writing my own books I try to be a little bit more forgiving of authors. I’ve reached page 50 I’m still not quite into it ,I’ll I’ll give it another 50 pages and that’s typically how I end up finishing the book right? Ok I’ll just give it I now, I’ve only got 50 pages left I might as well finish it right?
BrookI think that’s a good point that we have to give it enough of a chance. Sometimes you start a book and… A good example surprisingly enough was Richard Osmond’s Thursday Murder Club. For some reason maybe it was what I had just read previously or maybe what I was working on personally I had a hard time getting into the fact that he was it was it’s third person multiple pov and for whatever reason I couldn’t get into these characters’ heads. But then once I did it was smooth sailing and it’s one of my favorite um, ah, series now but it was for whether it was that day or that experience I had a hard time just getting into it so you’re right, you have to give it a chance.
SarahYou can’t just be like 3 pages I don’t think is enough. Um you might fall in love with a book within the first 3 pages but I don’t want to fall out of love with one that early. Um often if there’s a book that I’ve been disappointed by I’ll finish it. But then I won’t read anything else by that author. Um, or I might read a second like the second in the series kind of give the first ok, it’s the first in the series has to be a lot of you know setting the stage or whatever. Um, and then I’ll I’ll read the second one and if I’ve read the second one and and that hasn’t swayed me then that’s probably it’s probably not an author I’m going to read any more of.
BrookYeah, I would agree with that. I was doing a little research for this and I found a Reddit forum with comments from other readers about why they feel torn whether or not they’re going to finish a book or not and I thought these were really great and I could relate to them. They worry that it’s just about to get good. So, if they quit it’s like “well what if I’m going to turn the page and it gets to the good part”. Um, and we said this. “It’s a classic so I’m supposed to read it or like it.” “I want to know the ending, but I’m stuck in the middle.” And I’ve felt that way a lot like well I want to know who the who the murderer is but this muddy middle is kind of sticking me down. Um, and this one “I’ve spent the money on it.” You know you go and you spent you might drop twenty bucks right on a traditionally published book and it’s like well heck now I’m in it because I’ve spent the money.
SarahYeah, yeah I think I I agree with all of those I think I’ve probably felt all of those feelings. Um I have found some success where I’ve started say reading the ebook and really not been able to get into it and then found an audio version. You know at the library and that just makes a world of difference and I don’t know you know I don’t know what it is if it’s just having the voices in my ears, rather than me trying to keep the voices straight you know, ah from the page or what but there have been several books that I was a little bit. “Okay I don’t know how I’m going to like this.” But once I listened to the audio version, I was hooked. Yeah.
BrookAbsolutely I have found the exact thing and I love audiobooks for that. I’ve also found I had a particular book that I was it was just simply long. It wasn’t that I wasn’t enjoying it but it was long and um I found that I had the physical version and I also had the audio version and so that helped me get through it more quickly, because you know when I had a few minutes in the evening to sit down and read you know some pages that was great. But then when I was driving around town doing my errands or whatnot, then I could play it in the car. And it was tricky for me because those weren’t synced but it still wasn’t too bad. You could like okay I’m on chapter 30 you know and and find my place in the audiobook. But I know that for instance, if you’re somebody who reads and listens with the Amazon world, those 2 things sync and so you could have your ebook and your audiobook in the same place at all times I think that could really help get through one that you really want to finish but you’re just having difficulty getting the either the time or the like you say like the the vibe of it that it helps with the voices.
SarahI think that’s a really great suggestion, Brook. When I think about like why is it that I haven’t liked a book or I’ve struggled to finish a book, I think it’s often because so like I said in the beginning it hasn’t lived up to its hype or it’s been billed as being this really great mystery and then it’s actually not right. There were a couple of books I think I read in the fall of last year I think there was 3 of them in a row that I read that were billed as being Agatha Christie like mysteries there was a mystery element in all of those books but it wasn’t the driver of the story and so I really was like well are people like just are publishers just trying to um capture that kind of moment that mystery is having and trying to squeeze these books into the mystery space and that they’re probably disappointing everyone right because if I’m looking for a mystery book and there’s you know 10% of the book is mystery and 90% of it is um, like women’s fiction or romance then I’m not going to be satisfied with that and someone who really is looking for something in in one of those genres probably not going to pick it up if it’s billed as a mystery.
BrookYeah, I would agree. You’re right mystery is having a moment and so I do think that some of these book Blurbs or book descriptions are leaning heavily on Mystery and let’s face it. Every single piece of fiction has an element of mystery because that’s it’s pushing us through. An element of mystery, meaning what could possibly happen next? What’s going to happen in that relationship? What did that note mean? But that is not a murder mystery and those books are frustrating when they have you know the next Agatha Christie in the tagline and in fact, that’s not at all what type of book it is I would agree, Sarah.
SarahAnd I think in those circumstances, that’s certainly an example of I’m not going to pick up another book by this author because you know it’s fool me once.
BrookAnd sadly those decisions were probably made by the publisher right? And not the author at all.
SarahYeah, and that’s why I feel a bit bad for those authors right? I know how hard they would have worked on on their stories and if they’re not being positioned in the right way, they’re never going to find their audience because there are probably people who really would have enjoyed those books but like I said if if the miss the book is billed as a mystery and that’s not your thing. You’re not going to pick that up.
BrookRight? So mispositioning is definitely a big reason why we find that we don’t finish a book. Um, some of our my other reasons are oddly enough quite complicated like sometimes. There’s not enough mystery tropes for me and sometimes it’s too tropy. A lot of times for me, it comes down to like gore and violence because I don’t need that in my mysteries.
BrookYes, a little bit of spooky and scary is fine but I actually had a did not finish this week um and I’ll go ahead and drop the name because I can do this series absolutely no harm I could not finish The Alienist. And this is an older book I think it was actually came out in the mid nineties. But there is now television adaptations and huge success and it it was it simply came down to the fact that it was too dark for me, especially surrounding kids and I also think it could be 1 of those we mentioned that at another season of my life I may have been okay with it. But um, we know or or the timing. Because it was a great story and I love the characters and the concepts were great but I just can’t do darkness in hurting kids.
SarahYeah I I I think that’s right Brook like there’s just some things that I don’t I don’t need to read about. Um, and yeah, if if a book is particularly violent I’m either going to just. skim through those scenes so that I can get to the the next scene that isn’t so violent but if kind of that is pervasive throughout the whole book then I’m probably not going to finish that.
BrookAnd probably the other thing that really will make me put a book down is if everything is too coincidental like if it’s just too contrived and like oh that’s convenient like yes. I realize I’m saying that as someone who writes cozy mystery and we do get some coincidences in cozy mystery. Bakers tend to find dead bodies all the time. But I think you know what I mean like the storyline is just too convenient and too coincidental that that sleuth just happens upon the solution that but that usually bothers me.
SarahYeah I mean there’s a difference between suspending your disbelief and abandoning your disbelief.
BrookThank you.
SarahWhen I flip this around and I think about Okay, why do I continue reading a book? It’s because the characters are compelling or because they um the pacing is like you just you can’t put it down right? You have to know what’s going to happen next? When you find a book like that that you like you just have to I don’t know put your life on hold so that you can finish reading this. Like that’s such a wonderful experience and obviously we’re not going to get that with every book that we read. But um, yeah I want I want to hold on to those to those books and those are the ones that you recommend to people and kind of like I can’t wait for you to read this because it was just so good.
BrookYeah, the book that you think about all day that you know it’s waiting for you at home when you’re when your workday is done. You get that little jolt of excitement because your books they are waiting for you? Yeah, those are the special ones and um. And you’re right? You don’t get that every time but man when you find 1 you just want to shout it from the rooftops.
SarahAbsolutely yeah.
BrookSo what do we do with those books that we weren’t able to finish? Molly Templeton is an author. She wrote an article called “You really don’t have to finish every book you start” and she suggests making a did not finish list of books right alongside the list of books you read each year um and I really like this because they still count. Like for those other type-a’s out there like me who don’t want to be a quitter um and it’s a record of things you might want to come back to when the time is right? or as we say try a different format then just play around with it and see if there’s another time in your life when you want to bring that back. And I liked that suggestion a lot and then for those who feel badly about purchasing a book and then ah just having it sit on your shelf consider gifting it to a friend or putting it in a little lending library around town. Someone else will enjoy it.
SarahThose are fantastic ideas, Brook and I I do like the idea of keeping track of the books that we just don’t get into because as you say there may become a time when you want to revisit that. Or um, you know you might want to just say okay this particular subgenre just really doesn’t work for me so, I’m going to make sure that my next book isn’t one of those.
BrookYeah, you’re curating your tastes and again it’s not a um criticism on the author or the subgenre or the book because someone else it could be their favorite but for you personally you’re you’re finding Out. What’s important to you in your precious reading time.
SarahGreat. Well thanks for the suggestions, Brook.
BrookAbsolutely this was so fun, Sarah.
SarahYeah I think this was um, you know it was a bit of a different conversation than we than we typically have but um I think a good one to have.
BrookAnd thank you all for joining us today on Clued in Mystery I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.