Occasionally, when asked how they liked a book, a reader will say, “I just couldn’t get into it.” But what does this mean? It’s obviously not the same as someone outright hating the book. It’s not a definitive thumbs down. In fact, it’s slightly open-ended. As if the problem could have been on the reader’s end.
From a writer’s perspective, that answer — “I just couldn’t get into it” — could prompt a follow-up question: “Why? Why couldn’t you get into the book?” Because there’s some wiggle room for other possibilities. You see, if the problem’s on my end, and there’s something I can do about it, I’d like to try.
- Sometimes the problem is on the writer’s end.
- Sometimes the problem is on the reader’s end.
The fun thing about reading is that there’s so many intangibles. A book could be well-written, even interesting. But for some reason, it just isn’t working for you. So why waste time on a book you can’t get into? There’s too many books out there to slog through a book you’re not into. Just lay it aside and move on. What’s the big deal? I mean, you’re not slamming the book or anything. You’re simply admitting that something wasn’t clicking.
But why? Why wasn’t it clicking? Could the problem be on your end? After all, so many people loved that book. You must be missing something. Maybe if you stick with it, you will be rewarded. That’s happened before, you know?
Then again, perhaps this is part of the intangibles. Let’s face it, there’s some writers we click with and some we don’t. I’ve always loved Woody Allen’s sense of humor. My wife hates it. There’s no amount of coaxing or explanations that will help her “get” Woody Allen. Likewise, as a writer, there’s some people who will get you, and some who won’t. It’s biology. Chemistry. Magic. Who knows exactly? Must we diagnose everything?
If my writing is clunky and cluttered and bloated, if my plot is predictable, my characters are one-dimensional, and my dialog is unrealistic, I want to know so that I can attempt to improve it. I want to do my best to make sure readers “get” my stories. However, I also need to make room for the fact that some readers won’t. They won’t get my voice. They won’t get my sense of humor. They won’t get my stories.
And that’s fine.
As a reader, however, I want to do my best to “get” a book. I want to give the writer the benefit of the doubt. Of course, this won’t guarantee anything. Sometimes I need to just concede there’s no spark, put the book down, and move on. Nevertheless, to a certain degree, I am responsible to put myself in a place to get the most out of a book.
Here’s some of the things that potentially keep me from getting more into a book:
- Reading in small chunks. I get a better feel for a story when I can devote larger blocks of reading time to it.
- Reading when I’m distracted. I’m one of those readers who needs quiet to concentrate — no background noise, music, conversation, etc.
- Reading too many books at once. I am a promiscuous reader. But it’s harder to love any one book when my affection is divided.
- Reading when the “timing” is wrong. This is an intangible. Somehow I need to match my reading schedule with my season of life.
I know I’m probably over-thinking this. But I’m interested in your thoughts. Do you think a reader is responsible to “put themselves in a place to get the most out of a book”? How long do you stick with a book that is not clicking for you? What are some of the things that potentially keep you from getting the most out of a book? How much should a writer worry about helping readers “get” them?