It’s Okay Not to Read Me

I noted this briefly on Twitter last night but I think it’s worth expanding just a little bit. Last night I read a mostly vaguely negative review of Redshirts on a personal blog in which the reviewer basically admitted, in somewhat different words, that they’re just not an enthusiast of most of my books. This is of course perfectly fine, because I’m like that too — there are many writers out there for whom I am not the perfect audience, including some for whom it would seem I should be the perfect reader. People are quirky and don’t always work the way they’re supposed to. Likewise, I have no beef with the (mostly vaguely) negative review; as I’ve said before, a good (i.e., well thought-out) negative review can be better and more interesting than a positive review, and anyway I’m generally of the opinion that the books I write are good enough to release. So there’s that.

What the review made me feel, paradoxically enough, was a bit of sympathy for the reviewer, who (I imagine), once confronted with yet another of my books, sighed heavily and then set themself down to the mostly unpleasant task of reading an author they have regularly found unsatisfactory. And along with that sympathy, a bit of befuddlement, because, well. They’re reading that author (namely: me) why, exactly? This particular reviewer was not assigned the book for a gig; they were reading it on their own recognizance. So I suppose that my own thought on the matter is, why would you do that to yourself? Life is often unpleasant enough without choosing to fill your recreational hours pursuing a book from an author with whom ample previous readings have shown you have little rapport.

Here’s my thing about my own writing, which I’ve noted before: I write to make my books to be generally accessible, and generally enjoyable, for just about anyone. I cast a wide net, as it were. But within that general intention for a general audience, there will always be particular people who will discover I am not their ideal writer. For whatever reason: Perhaps they don’t like how I write dialogue, or plot the stories, or feel like I should be writing the book differently from how I am actually writing, or so on. Yes, it’s sad, for both of us; I like to sell books, and I assume these particular readers like to read books. When a writer and a reader find their respective books and tastes don’t match, there’s always a sad little moue of the mind, a wistful wish for what could have been. But then you both go on with your lives. For the writer, there are other readers. For the reader, there are other writers. That’s how it works.

As a writer, I’d like readers to give me my work a fair shake — to try what I write to see if we’re a good fit. But if they try it and after a couple of fair-minded attempts they decide I’m just not the writer for them, then from my point of view the obvious solution is to acknowledge the fact and thereby avoid the task of grimly tromping through my future books. Because clearly I am not making them happy, and I have to admit that as a writer I don’t enjoy the idea of someone joylessly hauling themselves through my prose for whatever reason they determine that they absolutely must. I really don’t write books to be joyless slogs. Unless it’s your job (or, in the highly specialized case of awards like the Hugos and Nebulas, you’re reading a slate to determine your voting), there’s probably not a good enough reason to do that to yourself.

I mean, if you’ve determined I’m not the writer for you, it’s okay to check in every three or four books and see if I’m still not working for you. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have changed my writing and/or something about you will have changed, and then suddenly what I write will work for you. Groovy. But otherwise I really would suggest taking the time you’re using to unenthusiastically trudge one of my books and devote it instead either to writers you know you love or (even better!) in the pursuit of newer authors who are looking for their audiences. You could be that audience! It’s worth giving them a fair shake, rather than looking at one of my books and thinking to yourself, oh, crap, another Scalzi book. Here we go.

Don’t go. You don’t have to go. If you don’t really enjoy what I write, stop reading it. Read something else, from someone else. If for some reason you need my permission and blessing to do so, here it is. I sincerely hope you find another writer whose work you like better.

77 thoughts on “It’s Okay Not to Read Me

  1. Paradoxically, I don’t read your books. I tried a couple and decided they weren’t for me. My wife loves them, though. But I do enjoy your other writings, such as Whatever and the columns you write thus I consider myself a fan of your writing, just not your books.

  2. John,
    You made a statement “People are quirky and don’t always work the way they’re supposed to.” when I see phrases like that I always wonder, just how are people supposed to work or to think. I would guess that there are as many supposed to’s as there are people and people work their way whether they really should or not.

  3. I”ve had a hard time finding the time to read much of anything for the past few years, except for things of which I can capture bits of here and there, like this and a few other blogs, and the local newspaper, the SA Current. ( I don’t read that rag, the San Antonio Express News).

    Just taking a few minutes I looked at the preview of “REDSHIRTS”. It looks pretty interesting. Something that I might like to read. One day I might check it out. Until then, the blog’ll have to do me, which I do enjoy and thanks, because your insight is, well, deep and thoughtful.

  4. Hi John.

    I think there is a tension in readers, sometimes, between the author they want the authors they read to be, and the authors they really are. I (think I) know which review you are talking about, and that’s the vibe I get from it.

    It’s not fair to you, though. You need to write what you want to write.

  5. They could be reading it as a way to stay abreast in the fan world. There are some people I’ve met who like to have 1) seen all the latest movies/TV shows or 2) read all the latest books. It’s an accomplishment and something they take pride in, the enjoyment of those movies or books is secondary to “having seen/read it all”. And I’m sure there’s some component of being able to expound on any topic that may come up in conversation at a convention, party, or bar (sometimes all three together) that drives them as well.

  6. @Mike
    You made a statement “People are quirky and don’t always work the way they’re supposed to.” when I see phrases like that I always wonder, just how are people supposed to work or to think.

    I think that was rather the point. Just because I’m “supposed” to like an author doesn’t mean I will. People don’t fall into neat stereotype lines like that.

  7. Steve Buchheit:

    “They could be reading it as a way to stay abreast in the fan world.”

    It’s possible this is the case, although I think in this day and age that might be a fool’s errand; there are simply too many books and short stories out there for one person to read (and do other things with one’s life). I think it’s okay to say “I didn’t get around to that one,” or even “his work doesn’t usually do it for me, so I read something else instead.”

  8. Speaking generally, I agree. As a reader, I know there are several authors that just aren’t for me, and so I avoid their books. Sometimes, I recognise that they’re “good”, and it’s just that I don’t get on with the material; other times, their popularity mystifies me. But either way, I don’t see the point in wasting my time, as I’d prefer to do the other things you say: reading authors I know or suspect I’ll like, or trying someone new who I might.

    That said – and it’s impossible to know for sure in this case – I can imagine a reader/blogger who wants to have an overall view of the state of a genre, and so reads as many of the major releases as possible, fish or fowl. (It would be difficult to have an informed opinion on, say, an award shortlist, if you hadn’t at least dipped into the books that are on it and the other books that could have been on it). Whether you then blog that opinion is perhaps another matter…

  9. You know, I do kind of get the reading books you don’t love by an author who isn’t your favorite. My favorite currently writing author (Elizabeth Bear) has books that absolutely don’t click for me. If I’d not gone on after the first solid miss, I’d never have read some of my favorite books.
    To be honest, your writing falls into the same bucket as Issac Asimov for me. You are one of my favorite essayists, but your fiction is hit or miss for me. I mean I’ve never not enjoyed one of your books, but I don’t fall deeply in love with all of them. That said, if I’d stopped reading your long fiction after being luke-warm about a couple of them, I’d never have read the Sagan Diaries or Zoey’s Tale, which are by my lights some of the best fiction I’ve read in the last ten years.
    I’ve had that pay off several times in my life. I’ll find an author whose work doesn’t quite click for me, but that I enjoy enough to not quit reading, and the wham, all of the little promises that I saw in their earlier work pay off big in the next novel by then I read. Mike Resnick was like that for me. I read several of his future history books and was never really drawn in but there were little gems of “keep going” imbedded in them, so I did and then I hit “Return of Santiago” which is one of my favorite bits of mythmaking ever.

  10. There are so many books I want to read that I’ll never get to, I can’t imagine taking the time to read something I know I won’t enjoy.
    One problem that I have is that there are authors and books that I enjoy, but for some reason their writing just doesn’t flow for me and it takes me forever to finish them, making my reading list back up even more. Neal Stephenson is one of those authors for me. I just finished Reamde, which I enjoyed thoroughly, but it took me a long time to read. I only got halfway through Cryptonomicon, and eventually ended up getting the abridged audiobook from the library so I could listen to it on my commute and finally finish it. I’m having the same issue with Red Mars. It’s fascinating, but I keep getting stalled and moving on to other books.
    Then there are authors whose prose I really connect to. Rowling, for one, and you for another, John. I started reading your books last spring and tore right through all of them (the fiction, anyway) over the summer.
    Right now, I’m reading a novel my brother hopes to get published. His writing really flows for me too, and I hope that publishers like that quality.
    Redshirts is next, then probably Hunger Games, which I hear is a quick read.

  11. I’ve been reading your blog for a while. I’ve yet to read any of your novels. I read the xmas short story you wrote, that you linked to last xmas season. It must be said, it didn’t “click” for me at all, and I found myself wondering if it’d be worth my time/money to read any of your novels. Then it occurred to me that the probable reasons that story didn’t do it for me are A, I’m an atheist, so xmas just doesn’t matter to me, and B, I don’t get along with the Maternal Unit, so if she did die during childbirth it wouldn’t be any skin off my teeth. So I went back and read your story again. I don’t see anything to dislike about your writing *style*…it’s just that, for the reasons I’ve mentioned, xmas stories pretty much send me to Yawnsville, regardless of who wrote them.

  12. Fortunately your books are as addictive to me as a very addictive thing. Unfortunately I run into a book from time to time that just doesn’t work for me. I move on, because dammitt man I may not be able to read all novels and short stories, but I want to try to read all the ones I like.

    My favorite/least favorite negative reviews are the ones that are pretty much just,
    “It’s not OMW, and if it’s not OMW it’s crap.” As though you are incapable of producing a likeable book that isn’t OMW.

  13. Based on other authors/books that I do like there are a couple of authors that I should like but don’t. Quite a few times when one of those authors puts out a new book I will give it a shot thinking “Maybe this time…” Sometimes it takes me a while before finally just giving up, that the author simply does not have a style that I will ever enjoy.

  14. It’s also probably a psychological thing: I know this author is famous, or I like him because he seems cool in other respects or has accomplishments in other quasi-related field, so I feel obligated to give him a try. I’m doing that with a book right now, and I’m even at the point where “Well, I’ve read 1/3 of this, might as well finish.” I should probably just put it down. I have too many unread books, and there are so many as you point out. But on an irrational level I feel like I owe the guy for his excellent work in other areas, even though I obviously do not.

    Also, sometimes just because you don’t love something, it doesn’t mean it’s a chore to read. I wasn’t crazy about Redshirts after about halfway through, but it’s hardly a slow or painful book, so I read it through to see where it was going because why not? Of course, in that case it’s unfair to act like reading it was an agonizing act. It just wasn’t my thing but it didn’t “cost me hours of my life I’ll never get back” or anything.

  15. Thus is the downside of optimism. An optimist, who didn’t enjoy the last few books, looks at John Scalzi, a hub in the sprawl of SciFi and thinks I must be missing something. I will read it and I will like it better than the last few. And since, as noted in the post, Scalzi’s style of writing doesn’t really click with them, they are disappointed. And they wasted their time, instead of realistically looking at situation in front of them and choosing a different book to invest their time in. And then have the gall to complain about it.

  16. Generally, I agree. However I might at some time give Terry Pratchett another chance even though the two books I’ve tried didn’t work for me and I didn’t even finish them. This because it puzzles me that I don’t like it; it seems like that kind of books I would normally enjoy a lot, but for som unknown reason, they just don’t work for me and I can’t tell you what it is that makes it so.

    Also: I have a 100 page rule. This means that if I have picked up a book and started reading it – I have to read at least 100 pages before giving up on it. This because that if I have picked up a book, something about has appealed to me, so there’s a fair chance that there’s something good in it, but that it just starts slowly. I made up that rule after the last time I gave TP a try, so there’s another reason to give him a third chance.

    @Michael Phillips: I’m the opposite of you in that Zoe’s tale and The sagan diaries didn’t do much for me, but I enjoy John Scalzi’s other books a lot. Especially The Ghost Brigades which is my absolute favourite.

  17. itsathought2:

    As noted before, I don’t mind when people complain about the things they don’t like about my books. That’s fair criticism. I am sorry they felt they needed to slog through, is all.

  18. This has happened to me with a few authors. I keep reading, thinking I’m missing something that everyone else “gets.” For instance, Robert Sawyer. He’s won awards, he’s a popular author, but I can’t put my finger on the reason he doesn’t grab me. I’ve actually read six of his books (including the Neanderthal trilogy, so anyone ready to suggest that can stand down) hoping to find that spark, but nothing. And I have no idea why I read six books before giving up. With other authors, though, it takes just one book. For instance, Charles de Lint. An excellent writer, but not what I’m looking for in my reading. We didn’t click at all, so I haven’t pursued other de Lint novels. My loss, as some would say.

  19. I think the thing that attracts me most to your writing, Mr. Scalzi, is that there is Truth to be found in it. It’s not always earth-shattering or galaxy-stunning, and for sure it’s not always comfortable – but almost always a clear nugget of the stuff is there to be discovered in your work. It’s as much that your writing delivers Truth as it is the style of your delivery that makes me want to read every word you write.

  20. When I get a cycle or two, I’ll pull a book off the “to read” shelf and have a go at it. What gets on the “to read” shelf is generally what various other people that I have some awareness of have recommended either to me personally or to anyone in general. If the number of recommendations hit a certain threshold, if the blurb for the book sounds like good, and if I’m in the mood, it ends up on the shelf.

    For whatever reason, once I start reading a book, I generally finish it, regardless of how bad I think it is. Most books that make it through the filter process aren’t horrible. But some of them turn out to be… not my cup of tea. So I read to the end.

  21. More it seems that this blogger could have been suffering from the I-should-read-this-because-it-has-weight syndrome. You know, what juniors in high school through college seniors experience. Though, apparently, some people never grow out of that nascent stage of academic imitation.

    The fact is that the name Scalzi is becoming to this generation what Dick was to earlier generations of sf fans (and still is to the most hardcore of us). And people sense that. They hear the name and they think, I should be reading this. Everybody else is. And then when they read it they forget that beyond the cover is a personal contract between the author and them, and they gloss over the first few pages where the author intimates, “You likey? Then read on!” Instead the reader trudges on… out of what I don’t know. A sense of duty? A want to measure up to their peers? A warped sense of what it means to be a good reader of (insert genre here)?

    The truth is that nobody cares if you haven’t read Moby Dick. If somebody starts talking about it at a party, all you have to say is that whale stories make you nauseous. If somebody starts talking about Redshirts, all you have to say is, I watched Tremors. I’m good. But if Kevin Bacon stars in the movie adaption, I’ll watch it.

    This is why vaguely negative, apathetic reviews happen. They are not so much a reaction to the text, but to the societal pressure of the age. Deal with it. It’s a hazard of becoming iconic.

    Look Scalzi, you’ve written books that feature life size chickens that eat humans. At that point, if a person doesn’t know that they love or don’t like your stuff, then their independent thinking device must be set to a constant state of fetal nostalgia. I can just hear them now, if they could adequately give voice to their inner thoughts: Meh, world! Tell me what to think! Meh! Meh! Meeeeehhhhhhhh!

    Excuse the fallacy, but this is the internet.

  22. I like the Dick analogy, except that John is happily married to someone who is NOT crazy, with all due respect to PKD’s 5 ex-wives, nor does John consume mass quantities of drugs (except cola and bacon). And, since on of my degrees in English Lit, I care if you haven’t read Moby Dick. But I’ll forgive you if you read his ant-war poetry. He likened the Civil War to a machine chewing up people. Great horrific images. Recently reprinted. He just stopped writing novels when Moby Dick, THE Great American novel, got crappy reviews. Hence his writing only poetry thereafter.

  23. Maybe the reviewer feels a kind of obligation because they read and enjoy your blog. I’ve got a couple of your books in the towering TBR pile, but haven’t gotten to them yet. I feel a mite guilty because I am a regular reader of the blog. Obviously, not guilty enough to hurry out and buy a book, post haste, but…guilty. (Most of my reading material comes from the public library.)

  24. I liked Redshirts enough to have been glad to have read it — partly because I’ve been on a Trek nostalgia kick. And I wouldn’t call it a slog, because nothing that only takes a few hours can really be a slog — although having to backtrack to check speaker tags got old after a while. But I didn’t take a whole lot of joy from it, which is, surely, partly that you’re not the author I want you to be.

    No, I read your stuff because I can give it to my dad and we can connect around it, which is something we need now that I live half a continent away and only get back to see them once or twice a year. Even when neither of us likes a book very much, it’s a shared experience, and when we both do, all the better. So that’s why I’m still “slogging through”.

  25. I have a Polaroid of my dog wrapped in a cocoon of bacon and a ransom note written in newspaper clippings from you that says otherwise, Mr. Scalzi. You can’t make me read, darn you! You can’t do it!

    (In all seriousness, I loved Redshirts, and have convinced my friends to read it, too. They love it as well.)

  26. If I enjoy an author’s writing style, I might continue to read his/her books despite not enjoying a particular book. If I stop enjoying an author’s books for long enough though, I stop reading his/her books. If I try reading a few books by an author and don’t enjoy his/her writing style or subject matter, I don’t continue to read books by that author. Surprisingly, it’s all very rational for me, as I tend to be a bit OCD about owning the books themselves. LOL

    I used to finish every book I started, but now I’m getting older and running out of reading time.

    So many books, so little time. And more written every day. -shakes fist-

  27. And you don’t always like every book by a writer you like. Sometimes, the love just wears off; it did for me with P. D. James, after about eight books. Sometimes the writer gets less good (or lazier) with increasing fame; Isaac Asimov’s last six or so novels badly needed an editing job that (I suspect) his publisher didn’t want to annoy him with. Sometimes the writer just goes somewhere you don’t want to follow (Jay Lake, a really good writer, has lost me on occasion). And sometimes you change over time; I can’t read Heinlein with the pleasure I once did.

  28. [Deleted because the person names a reviewer whom they believe is the one I am referring to, which in fact it may not be, and in any event had I wanted to discuss the particular reviewer by name I would have -- JS]

  29. @Dave Branson
    I have been trying to finish the last volume Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle for quite a while. For me, it falls into the category of “good stuff, but not a page turner”. I’d almost compare it to the difference between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars. I enjoy both films, but they are quite different experiences. I had no problem finishing Cryptonomicon though.

  30. I was discussing this with my brother, who is also an avid reader. He realized he had started buying books more because he liked the authors on personal/celebrity level. The idea is that I like John Scalzi, so I’ll buy his books, even if they disappoint (which they rarely do for me.)
    For me, I do not buy books from people I consider to be jerks. This is an unfair judgement, really, because I don’t know personal details about every author I read, and it’s basically an ad hominem preference that has nothing to do with the quality of the work.
    But I think that’s become the norm in a hyper-connected book-buying society.
    I have a lot of friends who are published writers, and I follow blogs, so I try to buy works from these people because I want to give them money. Maybe that’s what the internet economy is all about.

  31. Over the decades I’ve been reading, I’ve noticed that some authors are always “on”. Their books go onto the top of the “to be read” pile (and some never even get onto that pile). Some are started, and are put back into the pile, then being put back to the bottom of the pile, or into the box, or the stack (call him Author.) Then suddenly, Author clicks in my mind, and his unread books come out of the pile, the boxes, and they’re all read in a great frenzy. And then it’s back to whatever’s at the top of the pile.

    Sometimes I can see (looking back) that something about me changed, so that Author’s tales and tellings now resonate (and too, that they have stopped resonating, and they go to the pile and box … and are then redeemed again.)

    Redshirts … I read the first chapter when I got home and was then diverted by other chores, and when I had my nose in a book again I’d fallen into Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center Saga, which I’ve started a half-dozen times and stalled, and this time it sings. So it will be a week or two.

  32. I love you John. You are my Robert Frost of the Blog world. Luckily, so far I also like your books. All of them, actually. Some I love. mayhaps someday you will write something I don’t like, but I had to giggle and share this post just because it is soooo perfect. When I was a reviewer I had to read many books I wish I hadn’t, but am just as flumoxed as you at the number of people who feel obligated to torture themselves and tell the world about it. With that kind of masochism maybe a literary grey instead of red for their shirts. LOL

  33. John, I don’t have a problem with your books but there are some popular authors that I just do not have the stomach for. I had friends that were so enthusiastic about Robert Jordan I was all but forced to read a couple of his and ye gods, talk about wading through hundreds of pages thick viscous mud to get to some action. And now I am trying to read Stieg Larsson for a project and the extraneous detail and exposition is enough to make me pull my hair out. Hell with the 100 page rule, I can make that determination in an opening chapter or less (which is what I did with that little thieving Eragon kid).

  34. I have this problem with China Mieville. I just can’t get into his books, even though when I see interviews, he seems like exactly the sort of geek I’d like to read. But I have a limited lifespan and I can only read so many books, so I never read a book for one second longer than it interests me. “Because I started it,” isn’t a good enough reason for me.

  35. One concern I’ve had the years I went to Worldcon and was therefore hugo-voting-enabled was having missed some gem in the list of nominees, that I might vote away from just out of ignorance.

    I can deal with the loss of fan cred for not having read XYZ; I don’t feel quite right with voting for those in ignorance. Same reason I pay attention in crazy season leading up to elections, and read voter guides and so forth.

  36. I’ve got a master’s degree, so I’ve read A LOT of stuff that was a joyless slog to get through. In reading fiction, however, entertainment is my prime directive. I have two of your books queued up and am fairly confident I will enjoy both.

    There are very few books I have wanted to throw across the room, and have refused on principle to finish. (Among those, “The Da Vinci Code.”) There are only a couple more that I have appreciated but nonetheless stopped reading. (Among those, “Godel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.” An eternal migraine, IMO.)

    Some people’s reading choices seem to be driven by “you ought to read this” and less by “I want to read that.” Not sure why.

  37. A friend of mine says you subtract your age from 100 and that’s the number of pages you have to read before you give up on a book, because those of us older folks don’t have enough time left to be spending it on books we don’t love, you see. Me? I don’t do the math. If I don’ t like a book right away I might dump it or if it’s an author I have hope for, I might read half the book. I gotta tell you, though, there are more and more books I read 3/4 of the way through, then just skip to the end and am done with it. This is particularly true with books in series – too often all those words just aren’t necessary and are only there just to get another volume published. I only write reviews if I really want to support the book or if I feel cheated by the author and then I write for revenge.

  38. @Another Mike
    I think I’ve read everything else by Stephenson, and a lot of his books have earned places among my favorites, but I’m not even going to attempt to read the Baroque Cycle. I know it would take me too long to read. Also, I’ve heard that Isaac Newton is kind of a jerk in that series, so it may not be my cup of tea. I might try the audiobooks after I’m caught up on the Song of Ice and Fire audiobooks. I’m up to Dance with Dragons, and it’s taken me months to get this far, since I only get to listen on my way to and from work.

  39. Pocket feedback on Redshirts (without spoilers): The last third (of the main novel(la?)) felt like it stretched too far and was “too clever” to me, on first impression. I get going meta, I think that it just didn’t quite work.

    Not “Didn’t work”, but didn’t quite work. Your mileage may vary, hold the salt, would you like fries with that?

    And yes, I’ve read nearly everything Scalzi (except Fuzzy Nation, which is on my read-me-next pile next to my bed, and Judge Sn Goes Golfing, which I just didn’t buy out of lazyness…) and generally liked it.

  40. @Dave Branson
    If you didn’t want to finish Cryptonomicon then I suspect you are correct about your perceived interest in the Baroque Cycle. I’ve generally found every other piece by Stephenson to be far more immediately compelling. I did have the impression before starting the Baroque Cycle that Isaac Newton was difficult to get along with, at best. Perhaps that impression was based on faulty fictional portrayals.

  41. I feel this way about George R. R. Martin. He’s good, and I’ve read enough of his stories to know he’s good…but not for me. I was warned off A Song of Ice and Fire by someone who had no intention of doing so. I just can’t stand books where rotten people triumph consistently, good people are doomed either to die, to suffer endlessly, or to stop being good people so they can prosper.

    If I want that, I have the real world, where all those things are general rules.

    Also I can’t stand writers who habitually kill my favorite characters, and apparently that’s GRRM’s very favorite thing to do. So, without any judgment implied on the quality of his writing (or his character), I won’t read him. He just pushes my particular and idiosyncratic buttons.

    Also on my no-read list: Miéville (good-character killing, scumbag characters, and the book I read was a horror novel in the guise of SFF; I don’t like horror), Stephenson (religious bigotry and use of stupid, long-discredited theories about consciousness and the brain), and Card (because he’s a total homophobic scumbag in real life, and it shows in his writing, where gay people always (in the books I read before I stopped torturing myself) die horribly in writerly-sadistic ways). No fight with anyone who likes any of these, though I will try to get you to borrow Card from a friend or a library so that bastard won’t get any of your money.

    But Scalzi? I read The Android’s Dream while I was in the hospital and couldn’t talk, and was under the influence of nasty drugs (a popular sleep aid gave me terrifying nightmares), and liked it anyway, even though it was nothing like the OMW series, which I also loved. So for me Scalzi’s definitely a keeper, even if I read a book of his I don’t love at some point. But I do understand how other people might feel differently.

  42. Since a few have criticize my 100 page rule, I think I should elaborate on how I use it.
    It seems that I’m picky than others about which books I pick up and start reading. Before deciding if I want to start reading it, I read the opening paragraph, maybe a few random samples and I might also skim a bit, just to get a feel for it. If it doesn’t appeal to me after that, I won’t even start reading it and it therefore doesn’t fall under my private 100 pages rule. If it does appeal to me after that, I’ll give it 100 pages – even if it does disappoint me during the first few pages.

  43. I know just what you mean. I wanted to catch up on the WoT series, being a fan of Brandon Sanderson, but toward the end of book 6 I released myself from the obligation of ever reading anything by Rober Jordan again – I hated all the characters and kinda wanted them all to die! Thank goodness for the online synopses, so I can still enjoy the final 3 installments by Mr. S.
    Redshirts surprised me by being IMO more thoughtful than funny, but it was a pleasant surprise. Probably I’m just not savvy to enough of the tropes…

  44. Reading up a little more on Miéville, I find that apparently everyone but me knew he was a horror writer. Not sure why it (specifically Perdido Street Station) was in the SFF section of the bookstore, or why people who know I like SFF but not horror said I should read it. Clearly they were wrong, but also clearly the tropes I complain about, which are standard for horror, mean my criticism of the work as SFF are way off base. So from now on I will just say “I’m not a horror fan” when people talk to me about Miéville, who apparently is a good guy too, and deserves to be read by people who will enjoy his work.

  45. @Xopher I wouldn’t call Mieville a horror writer myself. His Bas Lag books are fantasy with bits of steampunk and, yes, horror, but he certainly doesn’t fit squarely into the genre. Also PSS is easily the most horrific of his books. The Scar and Iron Council are much more fantasy than horror, and everything else he has written is in a different genre entirely: The City & The City is a noir mystery with a Philip K. Dick twist, Kraken is urban fantasy, Embassytown is classic ’70s New Wave sci-fi, Un Lun Dun is a young adult satirical fantasy in the vein of Neil Gaiman.

    I know he’s not for everyone but to write him off because he’s “a horror writer” is inaccurate.

  46. @Joel: OK. Then I’ll go back to not reading him for the reasons I cited in my first post in this thread. </snark> Are his characters generally depressingly venal like the ones in PSS? I found most of them to be losers, scumbags, or scumbag losers. Is their character, whatever you think of it (and I don’t expect your assessment to be the same as mine) typical of his work?

    I’m unlikely to read more of it, because I found PSS pretty disheartening (as in I was bummed out by it for days or maybe weeks), and certainly not before my current personal troubles get better: no need to pile on more reasons to be depressed! But I AM interested in your opinion.

  47. It varies from book to book. PSS is, again, probably the most nihilistic is that respect too. I think the characters in The Scar are much less grim (there are even a few generally admirable ones), but the main protagonist, while not a scumbag by any means, is kind of cold and unlikeable, so I might not start there either. The narrator of The City & The City is an upstanding detective trying to solve a murder, sort of a Jim Gordon-type. Un Lun Dun and his new book, Railsea, aim at a YA audience (though they are suitable for adults too — especially the latter) and have his most true-hearted characters. I don’t think I would have too much negative to say about the narrator of Embassytown either — she has her issues but she’s primarily concerned with doing the right thing.

    I think the characters in PSS and the other books in that series are like that because that’s the world they live in. New Crobuzon is a diseased city, and it eats away at its inhabitants. They are his darkest books, though, and thus his darkest characters.

    If you ever rethink your decision to read more, I can’t imagine anyone being depressed by Un Lun Dun or Railsea.

  48. It’s particularly frustrating when you’re a fan of the author and you like their blog and how they write, but their stories do absolutely nothing for you. I’ve run into this a couple of times and it drives me bonkers. I adore their humor and the way they lay out a picture.. and then the author themselves seem like genuinely awesome people but then when you pick up the book, it’s like work to actually sit down and finish the book and that always bites (for me at least).

    I’m very well aware that my reading preferences comes and goes within phases. But I run into this even as I’m reading my chosen “genre” at the moment (Epic/urban fantasy, I’m looking at you!) and often times its hard to reconcile the fact that someone that I think is really interesting and creative.. well I can’t get into their books for all the chips & salsa in the world.

    So, I can see *why* someone would choose to do so… just my two cents.

  49. @Xopher, glad to be of service. I admit to being a big fan of the author, but I totally understand why he isn’t for everyone. That said, he does write a different kind of book every time, so it’s worth trying another one. BUT if you dislike more than one or two, he probably isn’t going to work for you.

  50. Oh, I did give up on “100 Years of Solitude”. I got quite a ways into it and at some point I just had absolutely no idea who was who or what was going on anymore.

    The prose was quite addictive, but the “plot” if you call it that was weird.

  51. Simply silly. Your writing is wonderful, insightful and often very funny. You are right not all books will be everyone’s taste, so be it. However, a paid book reviewer isn’t paid to review for their ‘taste’ they are paid to provide a ‘critical’ review of within the context of literary definitions, hopefully they at least like the genre and can review within that context.

  52. For me it’s that I enjoy your blog and your are generally on the borderline. They’re well written and I find your style of writing flows well enough that I can get quite engrossed at times. But there are hiccups where I lose that and start thinking about whether the scenario would actually work and the answer is too often “no”. In the “hahaha genocide” sense of going WTF?

    I was genuinely irritated by the human protagonist in Fuzzy Nation to the point where I didn’t want to read it, but there was enough sitcom-style humor in the plot to make it kinda worth digging through. In some ways it’s like Big Bang Theory – if I can suspend my humanity enough to pretend that the situation is plausible the jokes are quite funny, but as soon as I start thinking of the characters as actual people it’s just watching abuse and being expected to laugh along with the bullies.

    Redshirts I expected going in that I didn’t know enough about the various TV series to get most of the jokes (I watch little TV and few movies, TBBT being *the* sitcom I’ve seen in the last 5 years) so when it fell flat I gave up quickly. But somehow the OMW books mostly worked for me, possibly because the underlying thought experiment was interesting enough to cover the gaps.

  53. “However, a paid book reviewer isn’t paid to review for their ‘taste’ they are paid to provide a ‘critical’ review of within the context of literary definitions, hopefully they at least like the genre and can review within that context.”

    The reviewer in this context wasn’t paid, but writing for his personal blog. But regardless, the idea of some kind of unbiased voice of “critical authority” is kind of make-believe if you ask me. It is impossible for someone to entirely remove their taste from the equation when they offer an opinion on something. I have read lots of sci-fi and could review Redshirts in the context of “sci-fi adventure poking fun at genre tropes” but I probably would still come across as a grump because I don’t think John’s “funny” books (Android’s Dream, Agent to the Stars) are particularly funny (though I love the blog, liked OMW, Little Fuzzy was enjoyable, etc., etc.). What I look for in a reviewers is someone who can accurately explain their point of view. I can figure out, then, if that sounds like a POV we’re likely to share.

    I think it is completely pointless to say “this book isn’t XYZ for me, but it might be for you.” Of course. Isn’t that a given?

  54. It took me a couple of false starts before I made it through Perdido Street Station and when I was done I thought “Wow, that was a brilliantly realized world and I never want to visit it again.”

    Chuck Palahniuk is one of those writers who truly doesn’t do it for me. I read the back of the book and think “That’s a neat idea for a story” and then I remember who’s writing it and put the book down.

  55. I have a Masters in English and have slogged through many unpleasant volumes. A few years after getting my degree I was sitting down to read a book I had picked up from a used book table for $1, and I realized I was forcing myself to go back to reading it (I was about 100 pages in) and I thought, “Why am I doing this? I don’t have to read this.” And I threw it way.

  56. I have a certain ebb and flow to what I choose to read. Some books may reside in my to-read pile for a while because I know I have to be in a certain ‘mood’ to read them – Vernor Vinge and EE Knight are both in that category. There’s a China Mieville there too, as I read one of his books and didn’t care for it, but I’m still thinking there might be chance and one of these days I’ll be in the mood to try it again. Then there’s the group of light fun reads such as Scalzi and Ringo and Green that I can pick up and go with at any time. And there’s always a selection of unknowns from my latest visit to the bookstore (latest discovery being Peter Brett) or the local authors whom I like to support. Of late, I’m also looking for short stories for my 98yo granny and I usually read those too (including the requested geriatric erotica genre that I didn’t know existed!). What I read literally depends on mood, time available, and other factors – but sooner or later if it is in the pile it will be read.

    What makes my ‘don’t read’ list will usually be the authors who are ‘in a rut’ and are on their 8th or 9th book in a series but aren’t bringing anything new to the game or who have written themselves into a corner that they can’t resolve. There are of course the ‘one and done’ authors who just don’t appeal, usually for boring me with a superficial story or for telling a story without having any consistency flowing from the premise of the tale.

    So, I can’t understand why anyone would choose to read something they don’t like unless it is part of their job! There’s too much out there I do enjoy, and too much that I might enjoy trying, to waste time on something I’m pretty sure I won’t like.

  57. I think that differing opinions on a book make for a good discussion. But I’m a librarian with a book group (a rowdy, raucous book group), so I expect differing opinions. We just read and discussed Old Man’s War, a book which I hadn’t read before (bad Librarian!!), but which I really, really liked. It was interesting to hear the various opinions of other people who came to the discussion, especially since some of the readers had been drafted, or at least given their draft numbers, for the Vietnam War. Their take on the book was completely different from some of the younger readers, and it made for a pretty interesting discussion.

    John, there was one guy who really didn’t like the book. But, there were others who are die-hard Scalzi fans (so it all balanced out).

    I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re not enjoying a book, and you aren’t required to read it for a class (which can totally spoil a good book, in my opinion), then it’s perfectly okay to not finish it. And not like an author’s books, even if you like the author, personally. I liked reading your thoughts here, and I’m going to put a link to it on our group’s blog, too.

  58. I’m glad you wrote this, because as much as I love reading Whatever (and I really do think you write one of the best blogs anywhere on the net), your books just don’t do much for me. But then I never understood the fascination with Heinlein that seems so prevalent among my peer group (class of ’88), when we had so much better stuff to read.

  59. Perhaps there has been a reply to this.
    And perhaps the writer feels like a terrible person now.

  60. Scalzi, I love your stories, your imagination, and even your sense of humor. BUT… (inevitable, wasn’t it?)

    I have been listening to Wil Wheaton’s Red Shirts audio book. He has a great voice and some good acting skills. He’s no William Dufris (master of several dozen characters), but he’s good.

    What I’m blather on about is this: Your dialog is all choppy-choppy with “said Smart Alec” and “Buttface said”. This on nearly every single line is tedious to hear. I don’t ever remember noticing it while actually _reading_ your stuff, but hearing Wil reading it it’s rather distracting and hard to ignore in the dialog.

    I know some authors actually leave out a lot of this attribution nonsense in their dialog – maybe to avoid this problem when reading aloud? Anyway, I think the question might be worthy of discussion.

    BTW thanks for writing such great stuff!

  61. Have you not, for the past few months,been telling us how fantastically awesome this book is, and how we would be committing an deeply egregious sin if we were not to drink from the font of your light-hearted brilliance? And have you not, dear sir, explained that we would be bereft were we to not go boldly to our local bookstore/library/festival/con when it was graced by your presence and mellifluous voice? And then, when that did not persuade us to run screaming to our bookstores to order advance copies of your enterprise, did you not trot out kittens and the need to feed self and family as astonishingly profound reasons to read this latest book? NOW you tell us that we need not read you if we don’t wanna…?

    It’s enough to give a minion a crisis of faith.

  62. Personally, I’ve always liked your short stuff (mostly your nonfiction essays, but also the few short stories of yours that I’ve found) better than your novels. I think this is mostly because of what Steven Brust calls the “Cool Stuff theory of literature”: the ideas and themes that you find interesting and worthy of in-depth exploration are not those that interest me, so no matter how well the book is written it’s not going to appeal to me because it’s about something I don’t care about.

    I do find your persuasive essays excellent and funny, even when I disagree with them (this is a thought that just occurred to me now, but I think I’m willing to appreciate your essays with which I disagree because the first essays of yours I read were ones I agreed with. It’s always easier to see humor directed at one’s opponents than at oneself, so with that evidence of your abilities I’m more willing to see the value in those parts of your writing that would anger me if I came across them in a vacuum.)

  63. @alanmimms oh, TOTALLY. I noticed this when listening to… I think it was The Ghost Brigades. Dialogue attribution for every. single. line. Even in scenes with two people talking and zero room for confusion. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Or unhear it, at least. Though now I notice it when I’m reading too (because I won’t listen to any more Scalzi audiobooks because it drives me nuts), though it doesn’t bug me as much in print.

  64. Hmm, one thing that nobody has mentioned is: access! I’m not the only one in the house who buys books, and the others don’t always buy books to my taste. Sometimes, if my own pile of new books is depleted, I might give something else a try, even if it’s by an author who hasn’t really pleased me in the past because, A, you never know, and B, it’s right there.

  65. I read to the end of Redshirts, even though I was slightly bored in some spots, and slightly irritated in others. Because, I honestly believe that John Scalzi is going to write a classic. Yes, I’ve read OMW and The God Engines and I still think that his best work is ahead of him. He’s going to write The Shining or 1984 or The Last Unicorn, something permanent, something irreducibly solid. This book wasn’t it, but I couldn’t be sure until I saw the whole thing. You never know how all the threads will tie together until they do. (Fuzzy Nation, for instance, did a lot of interesting things in the last couple of chapters.)

  66. Big Bang Theory – if I can suspend my humanity enough to pretend that the situation is plausible the jokes are quite funny, but as soon as I start thinking of the characters as actual people it’s just watching abuse and being expected to laugh along with the bullies.

    This made me stop in place. I’m not entirely sure yet but that may be why (or part of the reason why) I found the one episode of that show that I watched so painful, instead of funny. And more than a few people have told me that I remind them of some character or another on that show, and I really should watch it… That style of humour doesn’t appeal to me.

  67. I LOVE Scalzi novels, so I shared Zoe’s Tale with my little sister, who will enter 8th grade in the Fall. In 7th grade, I was already reading War and Peace, War and Remembrance, Gone with the Wind, et cetera (lots of “adult” novels) for fun as part of our school’s Accelerated Reader program, so I figured she was finally ready for Zoe’s Tale. She read the first chapter and declared “The words are too small and close together.” So it’s not that she doesn’t like the writing, but she doesn’t like its size.

  68. I’ve read exactly one paragraph of one of your books. Something about that paragraph annoyed me, so even though I love your blog and I’ve read it for years, I put the book back on the bookstore shelf. There is a chance that I will actually read one of your books now that I have a steady income again, maybe when I stop having to borrow money to put my sons through college (in about 4 years). Or maybe I’ll never get around to it. But thanks for the blog.

  69. The reader’s context at the time of reading can strongly affect the reader’s enjoyment. I found out for certain that it was not a good idea for me to read Perdido Street Station when I had the flu. Certain things heterodyned, and it was not pretty. (This may actually be a backhanded compliment for the effectiveness of certain bits of writing there.)

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