The reader’s dilemma: What to do when you stall out

All right, I”m going to confess. I’ve been reading the same book for the last three months. Which is to admit that I haven’t really been reading much at all. This is embarrassing for a writer with a reading list so long it stretches out the door and down the street.

Here’s the problem. This book just hasn’t grabbed me. It’s not terrible. It’s about some of the same themes I wrote about in my last novel, themes that obviously interest me. And a friend recommended it, so I purchased it AT FULL RETAIL from an actual bookstore, partly because I was feeling guilty for not buying enough from actual bookstores.

Every chapter I think, “Well, that was pretty clever.” But I don’t really care what comes next. I can’t get through more than one chapter at a time. Often, I fall asleep before I can talk myself into picking the book up at all. Honestly, the only reason I’m compelled to keep going is that I PAID FULL RETAIL FOR THIS DAMNED BOOK.

I will finish this book if it kills me. I think I only have another chapter left. I thought I was done last night. I even thought the last paragraph was a very good conclusion. Imagine my horror when I found yet another chapter followed it.

This is the last time, I tell you. The next time I stall out, I’m done!

Novelists, go read Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel if you haven’t already. Seriously. Your novel needs to grab people by the throat and not let them go. Or at least politely tug on the reader’s hand and keep pulling her down the road with you.

Don’t just lightly tap, and then walk away, wandering from one side of the road to the other as a patch of flowers or something catches your eye.

Yeah, I know some literary types look down on potboilers. Even a literary novel, though, needs some suspense to pull readers along to whatever sublime point is being delicately made. Otherwise, you basically have a fine performance of technique that only critics and other writers will appreciate — and even they may start skimming.

Plus, critics get their books for free, and other writers are too small an audience to keep the mortgage paid. The best case scenario is that your book gets such good notices that everyone thinks they have to read it, so they buy it even if they never finish it. (Here’s William Falk complaining about that very phenomenon.)

This is what I’m thinking about at the moment, anyway, as a currently irritated reader. And no, I’m not going to say whose book it is, because that would be mean, and maybe it’s just me. And I should have quit two months ago. (It’s definitely not The Goldfinch, which I have in my Kindle account but won’t start anytime soon after reading Falk’s piece.)

I just hope the next book is absolutely merciless in demanding my attention. As I’ve expressed on Jenny Milchman’s blog “Made It Moments,” I want to be TAKEN HOSTAGE by a book. I think we all do.

So even though my reading list is already too long, tell me what books you’ve read recently that did that for you — that just couldn’t be put down, that were brutally captivating.

Because I need one of those next!