Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Literary Deal Breakers...

I may have talked about this before. I did a quick search of my blog and couldn't find any specific posts that talk about what I call literary deal breakers, but we've often spoken of politics in fiction and at whether or not that affects our decision to read a certain author.

But what other things will derail you from reading a book?

I ask because I just picked up Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence and made it about two chapters before I put it down for good. I'm surprised I made it that far.

I don't want to pick on Lawrence's book, but his main character is a deal breaker for me. He's an unrepentant rapist and murderer and it doesn't matter what kind of turnaround there is later in the book-- I despise the character as he exists in the early chapters. Years ago I tried to read "Lord Foul's Bane" and couldn't make it past the rape committed by the main character. "Prince of Thorns" makes that depiction seem beyond mild in comparison.

I can't do it. I can't read through the beginning while waiting for some kind of turning point. It's that stomach-turning in my opinion.

What about you? What are your literary deal breakers?

I have a few. Murder and rape by the main character are certainly issues, as are politics that clearly come from the author's point of view and leap out of the context of the story. I'm also not a fan of stories that take cheap shots at religion. I'm all for questioning the hypocrisy of people who use religion to manipulate others, but using that context to insult the general belief in God or mainstream religion is a definite turn off for me. Stephen King has become someone I have a hard time reading because he likes to take ham-fisted shots at religion and the military-- which is a shame because I loved his earlier work. (I have family that have served in Vietnam and friends who have served in Afghanistan, so the military thing is kind of personal for me).

It's a fine line sometimes. I don't pick and choose authors based on their personal politics. I read many authors that don't share my politics, but it doesn't derail me from reading their work if I feel confident that I won't be sucker-punched along the way. If I do feel sucker-punched I stop buying their books--who wants to pay to be offended?

What are your hot-button issues?

**Quick Note** Be sure to read the comments on this post for some good input on "Prince of Thorns" and what themes the author may be trying to convey.


Blodeuedd said...

I am the same. I actually started the book too, read perhaps 2 chapters, got that horrible feeling in my tummy and could not read any more. I do not wanna read about a rapist.

If he had killed someone yes, bad times, but raping and thinking it's ok?! That is a total dealbreaker.

and gotta read the book, but ok will hate him all way through then, ok just skip a few chapters

SQT said...

I'm glad I'm not the only that feels this way. I mean, I thought it was repugnant. How are we supposed to overcome that?

If I had to read it, I'd skim a few chapters and see if I could find something that wasn't offensive.

Good luck.

Budd said...

I think so many people attack religion and the military that I have built up a tolerenct to it and can just shrug it off while tisk, tisk, tisking. In line with that if the author is just obviously getting stuff wrong. I read a book a few year ago that had the military in it that had officers manning checkpoints and enlisted people being called sir. I mean, how much research is that. Write what you know. Lots of books due this with science. I guess their theory is, "who is going to know any better." That is just lazy.

SQT said...

Budd- I've read a lot of comments from scifi fans that inaccuracy is a major turn-off for them (sadly I'm in the don't-know-any-better crowd when it comes to science fact). But inaccuracy in anything is bad. I have read books that are just flat off-base. I tore up a book on review about a year ago because the logic-gaps were just huge.

dave said...

several points of insanity here

i) rape is not worse than murder
ii) 'gotta read'? Nobody has to read anything, but if you do then skipping chapters is ridiculous.

iii) Donaldson had a mature man from our society rape a yong girl. Lawrence talks by reference (does not show) about a rape by what we would consider a child in the company of men in a society clearly far more barbaric and harsh than ours.

Neither author glorifies the act or uses it to titilate. Both (though more with Lawrence) have strong literary elements to their work. It's fine that these books may not be your type of read, but the thing to do is move on.

SQT said...

Dave-- I don't know, but I'm guessing Blodeuedd committed to reading the book for review.

I'm guessing you've read Lawrence's work and are okay with it. I can't. But I appreciate that you can defend it. I don't want to just attack his book. I don't intend to review it and I'm glad to have someone who is able to give context to the story add to the conversation.

SQT said...

Dave-- Also, to be fair, I think Blodeuedd meant that there are contexts in which killing can be accepted--especially in a self-defense situation. But rape, to most women, is not something we can read about with ease. When a character acts like it's inconsequential, even funny, we're not going to be able to let that pass.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I'm pretty easy going and tend to finish what I start reading, but with some books..if I can't follow what is going on, I'm annoyed quickly. Writers shouldn't write in code. They should write and rely on subtext and metaphor to get their themes and subthemes across.

dave said...

well each to their own I guess... I don't tend to limit my reading to books containing characters doing things I approve of.

The shelves are full of books where gruesome murders are committed - some of those books are good reads, some aren't.

I can see the disconnect in your earliest assumptions. You expect to be somehow persuaded to forgive the main character, that somehow (impossibly) the story will attempt to excuse him and you'll end up with the hero you expected. That doesn't happen. No excuses are made.

I read that 'A Clockwork Orange' was an inspiration for this book. A book widely accepted as a classic of 20th century literary fiction. The main character in that book committs worse crimes than Jorg in Prince of Thorns and makes no excuses. It's not just another 'hero stands against the odds' fantasy, the object is not to coerce the story back into that mould after a shakey start. It's a book to make you think about nature vs nurture, about good and evil. I'm not trying to convince you to read it, just to step away from it with a little more understanding.

PS, you've probably guessed: I liked it :)

SQT said...

Stu-- Vagueness will drive me away from a book for sure. I'm not good at reading between the lines sometimes. I don't like having to guess at what the point is supposed to be. That said, I can't stand being bludgeoned by the main point either. I guess I'm a demanding reader.

Dave-- Thank you so much for adding some background to the story. I really appreciate it. I'm sure it's just a personal preference thing-- I never made it through "A Clockwork Orange" either. I'm not much of a Kubrick fan. But I like knowing where the book is coming from. And I'm really hope people will take the time to read the comments so they'll have a fuller idea of what the author is trying to convey.

dave said...

of course Kubrick was just the man who made a film of the book. 'A Clockwork Orange' was written by Anthony Burgess.

SQT said...

I've never read Burgess and I have no idea if I would react the same way to his work as Kubrick's. I liked "The Shining" as a book, but not as much as a movie. In fact, I can't think of a Kubrick movie I've ever liked. So I don't want to say I don't like the story of "A Clockwork Orange" if I've only ever seen the on-screen interpretation. I hope that makes sense.

Sullivan McPig said...

I will confess this discussion made me curious about this book and I might give it a try.
I myself don't mind rape in a story as long as it fits in the story. Patricia Briggs for example used it very well in Iron Kissed I think.

SQT said...

Sullivan-- I don't want to discourage people from reading this. In fact, I hope this will encourage people to keep an open mind.

Emma said...

Politics and rape are definitely huge factors in making me hate books! I am generally too stubborn/ neurotic to stop reading a book halfway through but there are a bunch of authors I'm never reading again due to those issues.

Charles Gramlich said...

And there's no reason you should. Life is too short to force yourself to read something that bothers you in that way. I did make it through the Thomas covenant books but I continued to despise Covenant throughout the whole series.

SQT said...

Emma-- I don't know how people finish books they don't like. It amazes me.

Charles-- That's interesting to me that Covenant doesn't become a more sympathetic character. I know people who love that series so I assumed there was progression throughout the series.

Blodeuedd said...

Thanks for standing up for me there SQT :)
Cos yes when I commit to something I follow through, that is why I have to read this book.

And that is sure what I mean about killing too. This is fantasy after all, they are often harsh societies where it's killed or be killed. I am used to it, yes it wrong a lot of times when for example innocents are killed but I will dislike the killers then if they think it's all fun and roses.

But rape, as a woman I just can't read about that. For me it does feel like it's worse than killing someone sometimes. You are taking everything from that person. But of course I can still read about it, here it was just worse. It was just the way he acted about it, like there was nothing wrong. And like you said as it was funny. And I didn't see it as it wasn't as bad just cos he was with older men, that actually made it worse.

M. McGriff said...

I haven't read the book so I can't comment on what's in it but from what I can tell in the comments I don't think I would have that much of a hard time reading it if all the craziness happens in the story for a reason. If an author is just putting in scenes like that for the sake of it, then no, I would probably put it down. There are sometimes where an author has to take you dark places just to get their theme across and that's fine. But if they are just putting those type of scenes in there for the hell of it, I get quickly annoyed.

The only thing I probably can't deal with is anything that has to do with killing babies. I don't have any children but it's just a major liteary/movie/story deal breaker for me that's just very hard for me to stomach.

Jim Haley said...

I've read books where I can tell the political leanings of the author and been ok with it - but it has to be not too obtrusive (and that's both with viewpoints I agree and disagree with - frankly, I'm not looking for much more than Star Trek levels of an exploration of the human condition in my fiction). Likewise, probably the most blatant anti-religion sentiment in an author that I consistantly read is Ben Bova - not that's he's too anti-religious, he just has a tendancy to make all his villains religious nuts who are anti-science. All too often in his books, no sane person could both be a man of science and believe. But, one of his heroes (Grant Archer in Jupiter) breaks that mold and is both, so I know Bova is capable of making a character who doesn't have to be a religious wack job (which when those characters are shown to be completely nuts, I can agree with that characterization). But as a person who enjoys science fiction and as someone who also believes in God, I don't want to be told that belief is wrong (I'm better with being told that "religion" the institution is used as a tool by characters in books to hold back science and progress).

But honestly, the deal-breaker for me is just my own perception of poor writing. Sometimes it's overuse of a phrase (R.A. Salvatore loves to describe every character as speaking dryly, giving a dry look and generally being very very dry). Sometimes the voice of the author just isn't what I'm looking for (an overly descriptive author is something I dislike, especially when they do that as opposed to letting characters converse). I'm also not a big fan of 1st person books - I've read some I've enjoyed, but I don't seek them out. I'd rather a tight 3rd person (one perspective to the novel, but not told as an "I") than 1st person. Ultimately, there are just some authors whose writing I absolutely love and can read anything they write, and others who I struggle with and wind up never wanting to read again.

Richard said...

@ M. McGriff
Adding to your comment about taking you to dark places. The Night Angel Series by Brent Weeks is an example of rape/violence being used to build an immersive environment.

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

The only thing I've seen that has presented me with unlikable characters to begin with and managed to make me root for them by the end is HBO's Rome series. That may be because, for the most part, any acts a character might commit that the audience would disagree with happen in backstory or are hardly mentioned.

Ultimately, I want to root for the protagonist. If I can't do that, I'll find it very hard to keep reading or watching. I never liked Thomas Covenant, myself. I don't expect Brady Bunch morals in my heroes, but if I'm having trouble seperating the hero from the villain, not because of grey areas in the concept of good and evil, but because of the horrible things both do, then I'm likely to move on to something else.