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?

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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