Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ten Books I Almost Put Down, But Didn't

Head over The Broke and The Bookish for this Top Ten Tuesday and more! 

It took me a long time to realize that I don't have to finish every book I start. Maybe not a good rule for grad school assignments. But in real life, in the realm of books I read simply because I want to, it's not like the author is twisting my arm and forcing me to turn the next page. I'm not sure why it took me twenty years to realize this simple fact, but I try to impart it to my students as well. I'm a firm believer in book abandoning. 

At the same time, I take abandonment very seriously. (What a weird sentence that could be if taken out of context.) I always try to read far enough to make an informed decision. While I don't want to waste precious pages on boredom when I could be on to the next title, I also don't want to find later that I put down the book just before the moment that could have redeemed it. It's a delicate balance, one only bibliophiles understand. There's no set number of pages. Sometimes you just know. 

Imagine my surprise and delight when these ten books that I almost abandoned ended up being worth the wait.

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I have this thing about dystopian stuff. Books, movies, thoughts in general...I don't like it. I have these awful visions of my dad watching those horrid Mad Max movies or whatever, and I can't deal. The YA genre is starting to win me over just a little. The Hunger Games was my first foray into reading something so uncomfortable for me. I did okay throughout the exposition, but once the games began, I was disgusted beyond belief. I think it's my abnormal ability to empathize with fictional characters. I was appalled. The world is in love with the concept of children senselessly killing other children for the amusement of those of higher social standing? WTH? But at the insistence of my colleagues, I carried on, skimming through the more gruesome scenes until I was so invested in the main characters that I had no choice but to slow down and really process what was going on. And cry. A lot. Once the intricacies of the political dynamic emerged more prominently, and I understood what Collins and her characters were trying to teach me, I became a fan. 

2. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

I wasn't being a savvy consumer when I picked up the hardcover of this book at Kroger one weekend. The hubs and I were away on one of our bed and breakfast weekends, and I wanted something to read while relaxing in the rustic cabin in northern Kentucky. I am a Jodi Picoult lover, but somehow I had missed the release of this novel and was so excited to stumble across it. However, once we got in the car and I realized I had just forked over the ridiculous hardcover price for Holocaust literature, I was pretty mad at myself. The only thing I hate more than dystopia is the Holocaust. While the middle third or so of the book was survivor testimony-style (albeit fictional, still painful), I thoroughly enjoyed the modern-day frame and the ethical and legal dilemmas faced by the main characters in true Picoult fashion. 

3. Looking for Alaska by John Green

This book did not prepare me for the John Green fangirl I would turn out to be. I actually read it in its entirety aloud to a class of mostly boys. If you've ever read it, you know how...um, awkward....that could be at times. They, like me, enjoyed portions of the plot and the voice of the narrator. But we collectively felt long lulls that led us to contemplate picking another book instead. I even checked out something different from the library and read the first few chapters one day, asking them which they preferred. They voted to finish Looking for Alaska, though I think it was only because it sounded better than starting over from scratch with something else. Whatever their motivations, I'm glad they chose as they did. By the end, we were reeling with emotion and very happy that we hung around to read about what happened "after." If you haven't yet, I recommend it. 

P.S. Same thing happened with The Fault in Our Stars. Except I didn't want to read it because I hate reading about kids with cancer almost as much as dystopia and the Holocaust. I didn't realize how finnicky a reader I am until just now. Like, literally right this second. 

4. The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks

Back when I was a book snob who didn't dare touch YA unless I was being paid to shelve, all I knew about Nicholas Sparks was that I liked to watch The Notebook. Then BFF Rach loaned me The Last Song from her classroom library. I picked it up and put it down, reading superficially and feeling sort of obligated because I knew she was going to ask if I'd liked it. Obviously, this was before we were BFFs because now I'd just tell her I couldn't stomach the darn thing. Ha ha. Honestly, I'm glad I finished it, though I remember little other than it being set near where Adam and I got married, which I thought was kind of cool at the time. However, the reason I'm thankful to have read it is that it broke the Sparks ice for me, which led me to read Safe Haven and a few others which I actually do remember and legitimately enjoyed. 

5. Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield 

I don't really remember how I happened to own this one or what caught my attention about it. Probably the title. I like metaphors, love, and mix tapes. That's probably what got me. It's a beautiful true love story, raw and honest, and the organization of the story (with mix tape track listings at the start of each chapter) was inventive. I'm happy to have read it because I'm not generally the non-fiction type, so I'm always pleased when I find something that surprises me and pushes my normal boundaries. 

6. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway 

Ironically, this ended up being one of my all-time faves, right up there with Gatsby. I wasn't captivated initially, but I learned to like Hemingway's signature starkness and adapted to the style after some work at sticking with it. Like most novels worth loving, this one taught me something without outright effort. And some of the most beautiful descriptions are hidden in Hemingway's prose (here's looking at you, "curves like a racing yacht"). 

7. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

This was another co-worker recommend, though it was vaguely on my radar already. I couldn't get past the narrator at first. I mean, what twenty-something woman wants to know the innermost thoughts of an adolescent boy as he watches cheerleaders at a car wash? No thanks, right? Well, after taking a break for a few years, I picked it back up when several students in my class elected to read it for literature circles, and honestly, I was only motivated because I wanted to be able to discuss it with them and didn't trust them to really read it. Turns out, they did. They liked it. And I did, too. 

8. The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold 

Kinda snarky, but I'm glad I didn't put this book down so I wouldn't make the mistake of recommending it to a student. They all love to love The Lovely Bones, and using the same logic I'm sure they would use too, I picked up The Almost Moon thinking it would be as good. Wrong. Weird. So weird. I mean, the main character kills her mother and spends the rest of the book doing awful things trying to cover it up. Awful. Hate. 

9. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan 

The parallels were almost too heavy-handed at times, but this futuristic twist on The Scarlet Letter makes for an excellent companion to the classic version. I really enjoyed the concept of chroming, and it's cool when kids see the connections and it sparks ethical debates about our own roles in the misdeeds of others. I can't imagine living in this (again, dystopian) world, but I'm glad Jordan dreamed it up for us. 

10. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Oh, how I loved this series! I didn't read it; I consumed it. It was unhealthy, seriously. Like, I'm not sure how I managed to function. But at first, I wasn't sold on the idea. It seemed...fluffy and a tad juvenile. And don't even get me started on the horrendous attempt at a movie. I was outraged. But this book, it just...ah. I'm at a loss for words. 

Seems like a good place to stop then, huh? What books are you glad you read? 


  1. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb. I picked it up and put it down several times. Once I got passed the first part I was hooked and it is one of my favorites. I love all of Wally Lamb books!

  2. I tried to read She's Come Undone when I was too young. Maybe I should give Wally Lamb another try!