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Auditioning Books

I used to be a pick-up-a-book-and-read-it sort of person.  I could read a description of the book on someone’s blog or in a magazine, glance at the first page, and generally get through the whole thing, happily.  I rarely stopped reading a book in the middle, and because I only started books that piqued my interest in the first place, I almost always had a four-or-five star experience.  I considered myself an excellent judge of a good-for-me book.

[I like to qualify that as good-for-me, because there are plenty of books that other people enjoy that I find unbearable.  And plenty of books that I love that you may find a yawn-fest.  The only person I can accurately recommend books to is myself.]

Recently, I started two books and abandoned them each after a chapter, completely disappointed with the story and characters and writing styles.  These were books that were on the best-selling list on iBooks and Amazon, so clearly other people thought they were readable.   They had received a lot of media attention.

They should have been good-for-me.  But they weren’t.

So was it me?  Or was it them?  Maybe I’m in a reading slump.  Have you ever had one of those nights where you’re hungry, but nothing sounds good when you’re trying to figure out what to eat?  Maybe that’s where I am right now with fiction.


Josh came home with a few books and told me he was auditioning them for the beach trip.  Were they beach-worthy?  Because… you know… you’re on the sand, you’re stuck reading what you’ve brought with you to read.  And while I had never had to audition books before, I decided this was probably a sound idea because I have been a crap judge of books this month.

I grabbed from my to-read list and then scoured the library, building an enormous stack of books.  And now I’m going through them, one-by-one, auditioning them.  Making sure they’re right for a role on my beach trip.

So far, six have made the short list.  One will be given the lead role and two will be brought along as supporting cast.  I’ll file the headshots of the last three books and hold them for the next reading production.  It’s good to have books waiting in the wings.

Do you ever audition a stack of books?  Which books made leading roles in your world this summer?


1 katherinea12 { 08.10.16 at 8:38 am }

I love this idea! Next time I have a trip, I’ll have to try auditioning books – although with e-readers one of the things I love is that I can carry an entire library in my purse. For beaches, however, actual books are the only way to go (too much sun/sand/water for electronics), so picking a good one is important.

I’m always vaguely surprised when I wind up hating a critically acclaimed book (or movie), but it makes sense that even critics have distinct, personal tastes.

2 Ana { 08.10.16 at 9:14 am }

I’ve had a string of duds this summer, too. I used to read through to the bitter end, no matter what, but I’ve started abandoning books a few years ago if they were REALLY not good-for-me. In 3 years, I probably quit 4 books. This summer I gave up on 4 already. Maybe there is some bad-book-juju going on?

3 Cristy { 08.10.16 at 9:36 am }

This is a great idea! I’m usually a grab and read girl, but I’ve also found myself abandoning books after a few chapters. It usually the writing style that gets me that or the story just going nowhere. So this is a fantastic idea.

Hope the audition leads to some lovely reading on the beach

4 Beth { 08.10.16 at 9:37 am }

This is a good idea. I went through this with my book club (which I have since quit). I was never one to quit a book but decided it’s time to let go… If it’s not good for me, why am I wasting my time? (It’s the English teacher in me that wasn’t letting me quit…) I’ve had a rough run with books this summer as well. Guess it’s going around.

5 gwinne { 08.10.16 at 10:10 am }

I’m a very fussy fiction reader at this stage of my career. Like, I will rarely ever read a novel written in first person. What the fussiness has solidified for me is *why* I read fiction. Which is very different than why I read a memoir or a poem. Also it’s helped me figure out what I’m doing as I’m delving into writing short stories for the first time since college…

6 Lori Lavender Luz { 08.10.16 at 12:18 pm }

I totally do this! Beside the two factors of the book and me, there is also the timing. Certain situations (like beach time), and whatever I’m going through at the moment influence how well a book is going to match me.

7 Sharon { 08.10.16 at 1:22 pm }

Like you, I used to pick up a book based on a friend’s recommendation or even the blurb on the cover and read the whole thing. Now that my available time for reading is so much less than it used to be, I am much more particular about what I read. I will check a few reviews, especially from friends, before I start a book, and I will also put it down after only a chapter or two if I don’t like it.

8 A. { 08.10.16 at 4:08 pm }

I am striking out this summer, suffering through The Girls on audiobook and Franzen’s Freedom on paper. One is insufferably overwritten and the other is a highbrow snooze. Maybe it’s me? I’m thinking of picking up Americanah next.

9 Arnebya { 08.11.16 at 10:01 am }

I’ve stopped letting word of mouth determine if I’d enjoy something. I started “We Could Be Beautiful” and though mildly intrigued, I just don’t care and by chapter 3 I think I should. I’d say the one most people adored that I found myself forcing my way through, is Girls On Fire. I’m reading “Queen Sugar” now and I absolutely adore it.

10 Jess { 08.11.16 at 11:18 am }

I like this idea of auditioning books, and I might steal it when talking to my students this fall about choosing books and it being okay to abandon one that doesn’t fit you. I have gotten better at letting go of books that don’t suit me, but I’ve done pretty well this summer with finding great books that keep me engaged, although I really like to read things that are fairly disturbing. For some reason, this has been a summer of child abduction and school shootings. I read a book of short stories that I really wanted to love, but found myself slogging through it. I did finish though because it wasn’t very many pages and some stories were better than others, kind of a fresh start every 15-30 pages or so.
Some picks I’ve read this summer that were fabulous: The Girl in the Red Coat by Katie Hamer; This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp; The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater; The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz; Between the World and Me by Ta-nehesi Coates.

11 md { 08.11.16 at 11:10 pm }

glad to know it isn’t just me, and that this ‘bad-book-juju’ is going around :PP
i always audition books -and the ebook samples available on amazon are a total blessing! it was a school trait that books should not be abandoned half way through, but i grew out of that -why would i waste the time and energy on a book that was painful to read??! nowadays i don’t even make it past the first two pages of books that just aren’t working.

leading books this summer have been fangirl by rainbow rowell, the continuation of ben aaronovitch’s peter grant series and chime by franny billingsley.

12 a { 08.12.16 at 5:18 pm }

I just have a ton of books available (always at the library or on my phone or at the library via my phone), so if I have something bad, there’s an alternative somewhere. I no longer doggedly finish books just because I started them. If they’re boring, they can go. *shrug* And if I don’t have a book…well, there’s always something to read or play on the internet!

13 torthuil { 08.12.16 at 6:37 pm }

I totally cheat because I mostly buy books with my kobo, which means I can have almost any book I want as long as I have an Internet connection. Lately, fiction hasn’t appealed to me. I’m reading and rereading 3 extremely interesting books: Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Defying Hitler by Sebastien Haffner, and Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance. I’m deep into it: taking notes, late night pacing and thinking, the whole bit. Hopefully in the next 3 months I’ll synthesize it into a series of posts. In the meantime: I highly recommend all those books! And if anyone wants to read and discuss they should email me 😀

14 Mali { 08.15.16 at 1:41 am }

I’ve kept away from the internet for days, so completely missed this, and now you’ve been and gone. I do like to consider which books are appropriate for particular occasions – beach reading, aeroplane reading, cold, rainy day reading, etc – and our bookclub used to have an annual award for the best airborne (eg on a flight) book, which was almost always lighter than our average fare. So I totally get the idea of auditioning books.

I find myself starting and then abandoning books quite frequently these days. Some books I’ll happily go back to when I’m in a different mood/place/circumstances, and others I just can’t face.

15 Arnebya { 08.16.16 at 11:35 am }

I kept thinking about this post as I finished and started new books over the past few days and realized that there are times when I go in absolutely blind, based on author. I adore Liane Moriarty so her newest was available for pre-order and I did it, no questions asked (I’m reading it now). But then I happened to see a friend’s review of it and though I didn’t read the whole thing, the part I read that compared it to her previous books kind of stuck in my head and now I’m reading it assuming it’s not as good as the others. So, I remembered that I typically don’t read reviews prior to reading a book.

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