Friday book post (late again)

I tell you, all this World Cup soccer is definitely eating into my blogging.  I’m happy enough with the trade myself, but I apologize for those of you expecting more out of me.

So, rather than highlight a specific book this week, I’m just going to riff a little bit on not finishing books.  I’m pretty ruthless about stopping and not finishing books that just aren’t doing it for me.  There’s way more books that I want to read than I will ever have time to, so I’d hate to think I’d be missing out on books I love to keep slogging through anything I don’t.  At this point in my reading life, I’m pretty confident of my judgement by 50 pages in, and sometime much sooner.   I say this, because it seems that every time I decide to just give the  book a little bit longer to pick up, it never does.  I think this is because what I really respond to is not necessarily how exciting the plot it, but simply the author’s ability to tell a story in an interesting and engaging fashion.  Sometimes that can take a little while to get going, but in general, it shows itself pretty early.  For example, last night I started Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon.  I’ve only read 10 pages or so, but I can pretty much guarantee I’ll finish it because Chaon clearly just knows how to engage a reader.   In contrast, take Killing Rommel, by Steven Pressfield.  A subject I find intrinsically interesting– WWII in North Africa– and a book that was well-reviewed, but I could tell very early that Pressfield just did not have a style that was ever going to engage me.

That said, what I wonder is, just what is it about Chaon  (or my favorite authors) that is so compelling, while others leave me flat.  There’s a real difference there in the ability to simply tell an interesting story, but what exactly is that?  Or, is that as far as we can reduce things?

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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