I’m rethinking “Page-turners”…

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I’m not a very fast reader. I tell you this not only because my alter-ego gets annoyed when I confess such things (See my Fictional Author’s Bio for more examples…) but also because it will give you some context when I say that I remember the first book I read in one day.

It was The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, and before that book I didn’t even know I was capable of devouring an entire novel in one sitting. I even wrote a fan letter to Suzanne Collins to tell her that her books were my very first ‘one day read.’ The unchallenged conclusion in my mind was:

This book was so great I read it in one sitting!

Fast forward a couple years to today, where I am currently reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom. This is not a long book, nor is the style particularly challenging, nor am I overwhelmingly busy, but still I’ve been working at it for a long time and I’m not even half finished.

But here’s the thing: The Five People You Meet in Heaven is an amazing book! Like, really. Amazing. I am so in love with this novel.

But wait… if I love it so much, shouldn’t I be done with it by now? Shouldn’t I have read it all in one day?

Friends, I am confused.

Up until now, I have always equated a book’s momentum with the quality. I’ve read so many articles about how to make your book a page-turner, and I’ve done my best to incorporate those elements. But suddenly, I have to sit back and wonder: Why?

It has been tattooed on my mind that you need to grab the reader and hold them hostage to your words; that even when they say “I’ll go to sleep after this chapter” you need to make the last line of the chapter so interesting that they are powerless to stop reading.

But as I read Five People I don’t have that sense of urgency or desperation. I finish a chapter, and generally I don’t want to keep reading because that chapter was so lovely that I want to give it a room of its own in my mind. I want to savor the words and bask in the ideas.

But wait! I didn’t feel the need to savor and bask in The Hunger Games. Does that mean I liked the book any less?

So, let’s revisit my earlier confusion.

This book was so great I read it in one sitting!

In reality, this isn’t a cause and effect. Just two different statements.

This book was so great! I read it in one sitting!

I can say with just as much validity, This book was so great! It took me a month to finish it!

Writing Candles

While I enjoy revelations like this, it raises some interesting questions in my own writing. Should I be trying so hard to reach that ‘couldn’t put it down’ status, or is it actually okay to give the reader permission to breathe and sleep and make dinner once in a while?

Honestly, I don’t know anymore. I’m wonder if I’m inserting momentum for momentum’s sake alone, and that doesn’t seem healthy for the book.

Does anyone want to help unravel this for me? (Or perhaps we can just languish in confusion together…) I’d love to get some other thoughts on this topic.

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10 responses »

  1. I too read the hunger games in one day. Read the whole series in the course of one weekend. However, I didn’t even like the second and third books. Yet I couldn’t put them down.

    There is definitely something to be said for the pace of a book, how some are simply page turners, but I believe it is completely unrelated to quality. Just like long books are not inherently better than short books, pace is just another feature. If the pace happens to be what hooks your reader, so be it. The truly important thing is that SOMETHING does. Whether is characters we get attached to, or a plot we simply must know the resolution of, a world we’re dying to know more of, or an authors voice we never tire of hearing- some THING compells our readers to stay with us. I have no idea how to figure out what that thing may be for person to person, sadly, but those are my thoughts.

    • Wow, that’s actually a really good point. I hadn’t thought of “page-turning” as a separate element from the rest of the book before. I guess I’ve previously considered “This is a page turner” and “I like this book” to be synonyms, and they both would require an explanation. “I like this book because…” “This is a page turner because…”

      But if I’m understanding your take on the subject (am I?), it would be legit to say, “I like this book because it is a page turner.” And that’s a really neat notion, I think.

      • Yup, you got it. Another way of saying it might be “I look for books that are page turners.” For you, this isn’t true, since you are also enjoying the slower pace of Five People, but for some, the pace might be a more important factor.

        This will drive you crazy, however, if you’re trying to write for an audience. I work under the assumption that if I want to read what I’ve written, surely someone else will too. Of course, I haven’t published anything yet, so take my advice with a grain of salt. 🙂

      • Mmm… Yeah, that’s definitely the truth. I’ve been struggling for a long time with the “you can’t please every reader” idea. (And for the record, some of the wisest writers I know are not yet published 🙂 And I am so looking forward to reading their books some day!)

  2. You’ve raised an interesting point, and one I hadn’t previously considered. I also tore through the Hunger Games books in a matter of days, and have taken the speed at which I’m getting through Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium as a sign of what a great book it is. But thinking about it I also read The Da Vinci Code at incredible speed, and have since sworn off Dan Brown’s books forever.

    As I was writing this response I started theorising on the factors that might lead to this difference. Then I realised that my theory didn’t work and so deleted those words. But I’m now going to be thinking about this for a while, and wondering how it applies in my own writing. Maybe I’ll even find a more convincing theory later, or maybe the factors are just too complex. But either way you’re right, great and page-turning aren’t always the same thing.

    • Hm, you know I actually hadn’t considered when I wrote the post if there were any books which I read quickly and *weren’t* interesting to me. But now that I think of it: they do exist! And chances are if they hadn’t been ‘fast’ reads, I probably wouldn’t have finished them. I wonder if that’s because subconsciously I told myself “well, I’m reading it fast, so it must be good; therefore I might as well stick it out until the ending.”

      • I think that might be the trap I fell into, and why I read a second Brown book despite the issues with the first. That feeling of ‘hey, that must have been good, right?’, when the real answer was ‘no’.

        And as you may have seen, I really did end up thinking about this during the rest of the day, and blogging about it myself. Still haven’t found a neat, satisfying answer to my questions on the subject, but then life is seldom neat.

      • Just read your blog post on the subject! (It’s here if anyone else wants some more intriguing insights on this topic 🙂 ) I feel like we’re definitely chipping away at the question, even if there’s no real answer.

  3. Pingback: What makes a compelling read? | Andrew Knighton writes

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