Quick question for the readers

I have not seen The King and I in many years, and I have fond memories of it– not quite at the point where I really have anything memorized, mind you, but I think about it more often than I think about a lot of things. At any rate, I have a puzzlement for y’all.

Those of you who are readers, and especially those of you who enjoy speculative fiction of some stripe or another: how good are you at ignoring bad and/or problematic aspects of a work and concentrating on the bits that you like? This may sound a bit more serious than I want it to; I’m not necessarily talking about anything like, oh, the racist and sexist elements of The King and I that will likely get on my nerves much more now than they did when I last watched it, probably two decades ago now, but more like a book with propulsive writing, interesting characters, and a plot that makes no Goddamn sense at all. Or, say, a science fiction novel that gets a lot of basic science stuff wrong, but not in a handwaves-it-away sort of sense, just gets it wrong. This is probably going to be something that’s going to be hard to answer in a general sense, but is there something (poor characterization, for example) that you’re generally able to put aside, or is there something that will always throw you out of a book that you’re reading even if you’re otherwise enjoying it without the troublesome part?

I will provide more context if I decide that the book I’m reading right now deserves a full review, but for right now I’m just curious.

(Snow day, again, today. We had an ice storm last night, and I woke up to a two-hour delay that became a full cancel just as I was getting ready to leave to take the boy to school. He had school. I did not. Video games and comic books all day for the win.)

12 thoughts on “Quick question for the readers

  1. I read anything that engaged me sufficiently with my critical faculties parked comfortably out of reach… until I started writing seriously myself. For years I mourned that lost freedom to immerse myself, but now I am positively energised by having my whole brain on tap while reading. (I still enjoy snatches of the King and I)

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    1. I think the book that ended up triggering this post is getting slotted in This is Enjoyable but Terrible. Like, the sequel’s out sometime in the next week or so and I might actually end up ordering it. 🙂

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  2. If I engage with the characters I can usually excuse sketchy plotting and subpar writing. This makes a lot of sci-fi a tough nut to crack because as a genre it tends to privelege plot and detail over character. (Also, the music in The King And I is Rodgers & Hammerstein’s best, so I tend to plug my nose to it’s more problematic elements. Of which there are many.)

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  3. If the storytelling sucks and/or the editing is still at ‘first draft’ level, I’m outta there … but other than that it depends on how important whatever is objectionable is to me both personally and politically.

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  4. For me it takes an accumulation of things. I started a book recently that was supposedly from the POV of a 5-year-old, but the language was beyond sophisticated. That I could have overcome, except that the prose was excessively dense and the story laboriously slow. Any one its own, fine; together, DNF after a handful of pages.
    I also have a problem with with a certain segment of steampunk SF – particularly the ones involving spacegoing balloons or some such. Not only is the science nonexistent, but the genre tends to glorify the colonial era in which it’s based, normalizing slavery, patriarchy, and a rigid class system. Again, one I could overcome for a good enough story; more than that, DNF.

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    1. I remember occasionally getting caught up in the Ender’s Game books and remembering how old the characters were supposed to be and ultimately shrugging and not worrying about it. POV of a five-year-old would be a hell of a thing to have to write. What was the book?

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  5. I DNF’d a historical fantasy (?) trilogy in the middle of the second book. After establishing two main narrative threads in book one, book two shifted focus to an entirely new thread whose connection to the original two I did not understand. On top of that, there were too many characters for me to keep track of. Ultimately it got too frustrating to read. I just wanted to get back to what I thought was the main story.

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  6. For me it depends on different factors, including the age of the media. If it’s a scifi book from 1960, I’m gonna just gloss over any bad/wrong science because I can’t tell if it’s actually bad science or if it was good science in 1960 that doesn’t hold up now.

    I can ignore a weak or somewhat problematic plot of I care enough about the characters, but I’ll bitch about it–so maybe ignore is the wrong word. Tolerate?

    Sexism or social theory issues will really depend on the publication date. I have authors that I love whose books would be horrid by today’s social standards, but that were on point for the era they were written and trying to be progressive. If the book is clearly a product of its times, I’m fine.

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    1. Anything written before I was born can be eligible for a pass on certain things if there’s something redeeming about the rest of the work. In this case I’m mostly thinking about weaknesses in the writing as opposed to, say, more political stuff, though.

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  7. I have read books that seem so promising, and yet they have multiple spelling and punctuation errors, and that was on the first page. I tried to persevere but got halfway through the chapter and DNF it. Even a spellcheck run through would have saved this book.
    So, for me, it depends on ‘how bad’ something is, I can forgive poorly written characters if the story is compelling enough, but everything has its limits.

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