I have a confession to make. Due to my deep disinterest, a number of serial killers will go on the loose forever.
I am of course talking about fictitious assassins. Those found on various streaming services.
The latest victims of my indifference are the Danish targets of Netflix’s Chestnut Man. Although I have also let Norwegians, Finns, Americans and even Canadians hang TV series right in the middle.
Besides, I’ve also abandoned families dealing with multigenerational trauma, wacky workers laughing in dysfunctional offices, and in-depth documentaries on genuinely boring topics.
But a book – I can never give up.
This approach flies in the face of the advice of best-selling English novelist Mark Billingham, who has reignited a centuries-old debate in recent weeks by advising readers to “angrily” throw out any book they don’t care about after 20 pages.
Vancouver writer Jen Sookfong Lee says she agrees with Billingham.
And if life’s too short to stick to bad books, she says she has even less patience for a TV series that can’t hold her attention.
As long as they’re paying the price for the cover, Lee says she doesn’t take it personally if readers don’t finish something she wrote. It’s not her, it’s them.
“I think most readers will give it about 30 pages, but, I would say, in the first 30 pages, what the author is trying to do is build trust with the reader,” says Lee, whose the 2016 novel The spouse was nominated for the Dublin International Literary Prize.
“It’s like a first date. And if it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t.”
Tedious books, boring housework and milquetoast men
Billingham’s comments sparked a storm of comments.
Guardian columnist Rebecca Nicholson professed her admiration for the author whose Tom thorne detective novels have been adapted for television. She described her own miserable attempts to get by Wolves Room and Lighting.
âThe ability to throw away a book that isn’t immediately appealing is a super power, a recognition of the value of one’s time and something that shows great confidence in one’s own taste,â Nicholson wrote.
âThere are a lot more brilliant stories that anyone else could read in their life and there are a lot more books that I wish I had thrown away than books that I’m glad I didn’t. “
New Zealand journalist and author Rosemary McLeod wrote that she had the same patience for tedious books as she did for boring housework and milquetoast men.
She gave up Moby dick and Under the volcano. And don’t even throw McLeod Eat Pray Love.
“There is no power on earth, or money, that can make me read or watch the movie unless I am both sedated and in a straitjacket,” McLeod wrote in a recent chronicle.
Rupert Hawksley, editor of the Independent newspaper, was one of the few voices defending the completists.
âReading should challenge and confuse us; it should immerse us in the minds and lives of those we dislike or find difficult to understand. It may not always be captivating, but it is often rewarding, âHawksley wrote.
“We owe it to writers to give them a full hearing before passing judgment – and finishing a book is the only way to do it. Giving an author only 20 pages of your time is insulting.”
As a blogger and celebrity gossip author, Elaine ‘Lainey’ Lui is a heavy consumer of books and television.
The former Canada Reads panelist sees the explosion of quality content on the small screen as one of the main reasons people are less inclined to stick with any type of cultural product when the going gets tough.
“I was the kind of person who, even if I hated a book, I would finish it. And that only changed recently,” says Lui, author of Hear the squeaky chicken.
“I gave up and agreed not to finish a book after anything – 50 pages – because, of course, life is too short, but there is also so much content to consume.”
He calls her FOMO [fear of missing out] backwards.
âYou would force yourself to finish a book because you would have FOMO, you would tick it off the list,â she said.
“But actually, now I have FOMO on, ‘Oh, I’m wasting time on this book, and everybody’s talking about this show.'”
Not all stories have to be for you
For the record, I gave up a few books, including Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.
But I made my way through the endless ballroom scenes in War and peace and a particularly dull biography of Fidel Castro. I don’t think any of these accomplishments revealed any depth to my character – beyond being stubborn. Years later, I also can’t remember what either of those books was actually about.
I also watched a lot of TV series until the end. But I don’t feel the same loyalty to the characters on TV, and the sense that time is running out becomes acute as the seasons of supposedly binge-worthy shows pile up that I missed.
Lee says the same logic applies to TV shows and books. Although she feels even less guilty for dropping out of a TV show because creators are more likely to make money than the average writer.
Even so, she says, it’s important to keep in mind that some episodes are likely to be less interesting than others.
Elaine Lui thinks people read and watch television for the same reason: the desire to immerse themselves in a different world.
It might be controversial, but she didn’t really like Seinfeld. She couldn’t get into Easttown mare. And when it comes to books, He doesn’t have time to On the road.
He advises viewers to keep their judgment on a series until they have seen two episodes. But then, she said, don’t be afraid to go with your own taste.
âYou are going to have this immersive experience in a different story,â she says.
“Not all stories have to be for you.”