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Allan Emerson's Blog

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

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, falling…

I made up the previous paragraph as a (bad) example of a dream description. Even if it were well done, I’d likely never read about what poor Clara was running from, since I always skip dream sequences when I’m reading.
Descriptions of dreams bore me in in real life, and even more so in fiction. I’ve 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 aren’t going to get read. So if Clara wakes up and continues living in italics for the rest of the chapter, I’ll wait for her to revert to regular fonts and pick up the story from there.

I’ve been talking about stylistic choices that turn me off, but sometimes it’s what the story is about that makes me put it down. This isn’t a moral judgment, just a reader preference.

For example, I don’t like stories where people are held captive for lengthy periods. They aren’t a trigger problem for me—I just don’t like them. A while back, I picked up a novel by a talented writer who opened with scenes told through a child’s eyes. The ability to write credibly from a child’s 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 author’s next book described some grim situations too, but nobody was held captive and I enjoyed reading it.

Readers’ dislikes can be highly idiosyncratic. I have a friend who won’t read any book that’s co-authored. (James Patterson has no chance with him.) He’d been reading Perri O'Shaughnessy suspense novels quite happily for years until he discovered Perri was actually two sisters using a pseudonym.

“What difference does it make,” I asked. “If you like the stories and can’t tell where one writer left off and the other took over, why not keep reading the books?”

He’s not convinced. I haven’t 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.
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