Allan J. Emerson

Allan Emerson's Blog

Great Leaps Forward--the stuff you skip...

June 30, 2015

Clara twisted feverishly in her bed as she attempted to escape the voices that chanted her name. She was running down a long hallway with doors that appeared open, but through which she could never pass. Behind her the voices grew louder, more threatening. She tried to scream, but no sound emerged. She felt the surface beneath her giving way, and then she was falling, fallingÖ

I made up the previous paragraph as a (bad) example of a dream description. Even if it were well done, Iíd likely never read about what poor Clara was running from, since I always skip dream sequences when Iím reading.
Descriptions of dreams bore me in in real life, and even more so in fiction. Iíve never noticed that skipping them affects my ability to follow the plot or enjoy the story.

I also skip long passages in italics. I find them hard on the eyes. A paragraph, two at the max, is the limit of my tolerance. Several pages of italics arenít going to get read. So if Clara wakes up and continues living in italics for the rest of the chapter, Iíll wait for her to revert to regular fonts and pick up the story from there.

Iíve been talking about stylistic choices that turn me off, but sometimes itís what the story is about that makes me put it down. This isnít a moral judgment, just a reader preference.

For example, I donít like stories where people are held captive for lengthy periods. They arenít a trigger problem for meóI just donít like them. A while back, I picked up a novel by a talented writer who opened with scenes told through a childís eyes. The ability to write credibly from a childís point of view is rare, and I was intrigued by the talent on display. When I realized the child and his mother were being held captive, I stopped reading. This is no judgment on the book; it was a best seller and won well-deserved awards. The authorís next book described some grim situations too, but nobody was held captive and I enjoyed reading it.

Readersí dislikes can be highly idiosyncratic. I have a friend who wonít read any book thatís co-authored. (James Patterson has no chance with him.) Heíd been reading Perri O'Shaughnessy suspense novels quite happily for years until he discovered Perri was actually two sisters using a pseudonym.

ďWhat difference does it make,Ē I asked. ďIf you like the stories and canít tell where one writer left off and the other took over, why not keep reading the books?Ē

Heís not convinced. I havenít the heart to tell him about Charles Todd. Or Ellery Queen.

My high school librarian considered skipping any part of a book unconscionable. She felt it showed disrespect for the author's art. What do you think? What reader quirks do you have, reasonable or unreasonable?

I show up here every Tuesday and I hope you will too. And please hit the Comment button and let me know what you think about the topic of the day.


  1. June 30, 2015 7:05 PM PDT
    I generally don't skip over passages; however, some books info dump and that's a turn off for me. So I turn pages when authors and editors include extraneous material.
    - Jacqueline Seewald
  2. June 30, 2015 10:04 PM PDT

    Me too, Jacqueline. I forgot that one--when the author spends two pages explaining how the framistan is connected to the turborocket in the time machine, I move on.

    - -------------------
  3. July 1, 2015 10:08 AM PDT
    I don't have hard and fast rules for parts to skip -- unless I just skip the rest of the book because the first 20 pages didn't grab me. I tend to read prefaces, prologues, epilogues, notes, and even the acknowledgements. At the moment I'm slowly reading and savoring Bram Stoker's Dracula. It's nothing like I thought it would be.
    - Patricia Stoltey
  4. July 1, 2015 11:43 AM PDT

    I'm a fan of the prefaces, epilogues and acknowledgements too, Pat, but I read them after I've finished the book. I like to plunge into the story without any introduction. When I've finished, the other material occasionally leads me into exploring works I might not have discovered.
    - ----------------------------------

Short Story
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine