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What Turns You Off When Reading Books? #IWSG

By 07/01/2021February 22nd, 2021books, Featured, guest post
What books have you read lately?

On Books and Reading in 2021

A new year, hopefully a better year, is here. My hiatus in December worked out quite well in that it allowed me to read a few more books than I’d managed each month in 2020. I read a total of about 30 books (I think) in the whole year, far below my usual of 80-100 each year.

I read a variety of books (leaning more towards fiction, I must admit), but this year almost everything failed to grab and keep my attention. This post is for the Insecure Writers Support Group, which asks us to answer the question:

Being a writer, when you’re reading someone else’s work, what stops you from finishing a book/throws you out of the story/frustrates you the most about other people’s books?

The answer for normal times is lack of research: I’m thrown out of a story if it is set in the real world, and yet does not accurately depict it, in terms of locations or technicalities. I’m also thrown out if there are implausible things working out in the plot, which seem completely unbelievable for the character.

Last year though, I found I could mostly keep my attention on lighter reads. If it was heavy, it seemed it was not for me. I usually read a ton of literary books, and often quite dark books, but it was all a little too much last year.

I felt overwhelmed. I put on weight. I battled blue moods. I did not read or write enough( I barely wrote some stories and finished a few long drafts), and this despite being a privileged individual who didn’t have to worry at all about basic necessities at any point of time.

In response, I’ve decided to stay offline for longer spells. To blog less, talk less, read more, and read books that I can cope with at the moment.

What books have you read lately? Which books have held your attention? What books did you not finish? Did you read more or less last year? What reading plans do you have for this one?

Yesterday was the first Wednesday of the month for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

Founded by the Ninja Cap’n Alex J. Cavanaugh, the purpose of the group is to offer a safe space where writers can share their fears and insecurities without being judged. The wonderful co-hosts this time are Ronel Janse van VuurenJ Lenni DornerGwen GardnerSandra Cox and Louise – Fundy Blue.



Are you part of nay online or offline book groups? Founded any? What is the experience like? Do you think online book groups are similar to those offline?My debut literary crime novel,”You Beneath Your Skin,” published by the fab team at Simon and Schuster IN is optioned to be a TV series by Endemol Shine.

It is available in India here.

Worldwide, here.

Reviews are appreciated–please get in touch if you’d like a review copy.

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Congrats on your novel being made into a film. It is certainly an important topic. I have read some good eco books through Ashland Creek Press. 3 Ways to Disappear was set in India and The Balance of Fragile Things set in the USA with a Sikh background.

  • marianallen says:

    I read about the same last year, although I reread a lot of comfort books, so those probably don’t count. I’m currently reading THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK by Kim Michelle Richardson, about the Pack Horse Librarians of rural Kentucky: women who delivered books to patrons in the farthest recesses of the Kentucky hills and woods. As for what turns me off about a book, it’s poor characterization. If I’ve read twenty pages and I don’t care if anybody in the book lives or dies, I stop reading. Unless the style is REALLY REALLY REALLY good. But compelling characters trump anything for me.

  • robertcday says:

    The only reason I’ll stop reading a book I’ve started is if both these conditions are true:
    1 – the author is a persuasive writer
    2 – the values in the book don’t line up with mine.
    If 2 is true and 1 isn’t then I can finish the book and then discard it
    If 1 is true and 2 is not then I can enjoy the book and allow myself to be persuaded
    If 1 and 2 are untrue then I can just enjoy the book as a piece of fluff (light reading as you put it)
    If 1 and 2 are true then I think (something like) ‘I don’t want this sh…tuff in my head’ and I put the book down.
    Nice question. Made me think. I like that. Thanks, Damyanti.

  • denizb33 says:

    I know what you mean about needing lighter reads at the moment! I’ve been rereading a lot of Agatha Christie, and some of my favourite YA from when I was a kid.

  • Natasha says:

    This is so relatable. Except for the bit about reading 80/100 books. I could never do that.

    I like to savour the stories and usually aim for a book a month, sometimes two months depending on how heavy the book is. It’s different from my childhood days when I would read voraciously, but even then i don’t think I could read so many.

    That’s why many of my precious writer friends get miffed when i don’t manage to read their books. It’s just that I do wish to, but usually choose a book depending on the mood I am in.

    But very recently I started working on being a bit detached and not let books/films or any other external situation govern my moods. (easier said than done) For instance I have been reading Tara Westover’s personal memoir, “Educated” since early December. It’s such an intense book, that it is not very easy to always stay detached with what the author goes through in her life. But this time I have told myself that I will finish the book, at my pace. And not rush things.

    As I also believe a book may have come to you with a certain purpose at any given point of time in your life.

    Sometimes I feel the number driven agendas of our external lives puts a lot of pressure on us to do things that we cannot.

    Detaching and detoxing from our devices is the ideal way to gaurantee our peace of mind too.

    I always like how your posts drive me to think and express myself. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Hugs. <3

  • jmh says:

    I relate to this post so much, Damyanti. As you know, I also took a big step back from being online, in terms of blogging and social media. The blog was adding too much pressure (and usually a failed goal every week), and spending time on social media made me feel either unsettled, irritated, or sad.

    I hope this year is much better for you. x

  • Vinitha says:

    I like books that are not filled with too many characters. It makes it impossible to keep track of the plot. Lighter reads are my kind. The last book I read was Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty, even though I love reading her books, it got so hectic by the end reading this book. Now I realized that all of her books carry a similar line. I have decided not to read her for some time now.

  • Modern Gypsy says:

    The one thing that will throw me out of a book is snail pace narration, where the plot seems to go nowhere. The other, is a book that’s obviously not been edited. I don’t have the patience to read grammatically incorrect English!

  • I get pickier about books as I get older, Damyanti. There are so many wonderful books in the world that I don’t bother with ones I’m not enjoying. I generally won’t finish a book that’s not well edited – free of filter words, repeats, dull verbs, and sloppy mistakes. I dislike head-hopping, characters that make stupid choices just to advance the plot, and insta-love. (Gosh, I sound like such a cranky person! Lol). I’ll end on what I like -strong characters and relentless goals. Those will keep me reading regardless of the genre. Happy Writing!

  • Rajlakshmi says:

    I would say slow narration. It is really hard for me to continue reading when the plot doesn’t pick up or there’s just too much description. I didn’t do much fiction reading at all last year. Mostly technical studies. Hopefully, I will get out of my reading slump.

  • Esha says:

    I hardly read anything last year but this year started with me picking up three books and so far, despite the odds, it seems to be going well. I’m not writing or blogging much as reading seems to have become the priority now. To answer your question, I’m generally put off by books that are too slow or too dark. That might be the reason why I’m somewhat picky about what I read.

  • Nick Wilford says:

    I can see why light reads are easier to handle at the moment. I’m reading more and more YA that deals with some issues but doesn’t get too heavy. That’s what I’m writing too, so it’s useful to soak it all up. I hope this year is better for you (and all of us).

  • Tulika says:

    Interestingly, I did more reading last year than I usually do. Badly written books and lazy editing put me off most of all.

  • I experienced some of the same issues last year-I think most of the writing and blogging community did. Taking breaks from technology is a really good idea and something I need to do more often myself. I’m not putting too much pressure on myself with my reading or writing this year-I’m just hoping to recapture the joy from it again.

    I’ve mostly been reading children’s books lately because the only reading time I’ve been able to squeeze in is when I’ve been putting my daughter to bed! We’ve read a lot of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton books lately. But I got a lot of adult fiction for Christmas which I’m looking forward to getting stuck into.

  • I suppose everyone has been put off by darker things, like how you put it, this past year, and we know why. Personally, a tedious pace does it for me. Even slower books have a cadence that keeps you hooked, but if the book is unnaturally slow, being bogged down by too many character arcs, sub plots or info dump, I just never manage to return to it.

  • shilpagupte says:

    My reading reduced last year. I did read a lot initially, then the number of books dwindled and in the past three months, I have read just two books. Those that I received for reviewing. Presently, I am reading the second one–The last queen, by Chitra B. Divakaruni. It’s spellbinding and I will finish reading it tomorrow., after which I will wonder when I will find a book that holds my attention as this one did. ๐Ÿ˜›

  • Aishwariya says:

    I hope you feel better soon<3 Happy 2021, BTW. Hope it's better than last year…

  • DutchIl says:

    Thank you for sharing (also got your gazette, thank you!)!!.. one should not forget to live life and WordPress is just part of life… ๐Ÿ™‚ I read to enjoy and relax, so do not set any goals and if the book gets my interest, I read it… ๐Ÿ™‚

    Until we meet again..

    May love and laughter light your days,
    and warm your heart and home.
    May good and faithful friends be yours,
    wherever you may roam.
    May peace and plenty bless your world
    with joy that long endures.
    May all life’s passing seasons
    bring the best to you and yours!
    (Irish Saying)

  • There are books I’ve loved that are just too long. K Follett is guilty. Last month I bought a nonfiction for my Kindle and then discovered that it was 1000 pages long. I read a few chapters and have not been able to pick it back up.
    Other than that, books that are poorly edited and – in this last year – stories that are just too much of downer to continue.

  • dgkaye says:

    Your writing life sounds very similar to mine. Focus was distracted and a good book is a welcome distraction. Happy Better Year to us all. <3

  • I have three books on Australian aborigines’ to wade through. Probably take me a couple of months. I’m particularly interested in history and culture all the way from pre-history to the present.

  • Oh yes, when the research isn’t there in realism, I’m thrown out. I read more literature in translation this year than in most. Maybe trying to escape to other lands, even if only in my imagination!

  • bikerchick57 says:

    Hi Damyanti! Happy New Year to you!

    I did not read as much as I wanted to in 2020. I will blame work up until September, biking through the summer and then lethargy due to the Covid nonsense. I was much happier finding new shows to watch on Netflix, Hulu, etc. than putting a book in my hand.

    That being said, one book that I did read that was truly eye-opening and well-written was “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson. It is a historical account of the migration of African-Americans from the early 1900’s to around 1960. One of my favorite fiction novels was “Then She was Gone” by Lisa Jewell.

    If I am not engaged in a book after the first two chapters, I may as well put the book down. The beginning of a novel is important to me. I want the author to grab me by the shirt collar and not let go.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      The ones that have their hooks in you in the first chapter are the best!

  • Shilpa Garg says:

    I read very less last year and did not complete my reading challenges. Plan to change it this year.
    It was difficult for me to DNF books earlier. But now I have no qualms in dropping a book if it is not well written or does not hold my interest in the first 80-100 pages!

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Life is too short to stick with books that you do not enjoy or learn from.

  • Shalzmojo says:

    For me it was a slow reading year as I couldnt complete either of my reading challenges. But I was happy to discover Audible and fell in love with listening to books vs just reading them.

  • soniadogra says:

    I missed out on the IWSG post this month. I didn’t plan it as such but I wasn’t prepared to write. Though I wrote just two days later. I’ve started with Alice Walker this year. Not the easiest of reads but I’m carrying on. Don’t plan to put it down. What makes me put away a book is when I can’t connect. That snaps it. Wish you a great 2021.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Some of Alice Walker’s books are difficult but amazing! Which one are you reading?

  • Wow! Congrats on your novel ๐Ÿ˜€
    As for me, I’m also thrown off by improbable plot twists, characters acting out of character to fit a plot point and writing that has too much exposition and infodumps in the middle of conversations or action. I’ve never been a fan of literary fiction, but this year I’ve moved back to reading more mystery/detective and action thrillers.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thank you. I do enjoy the ones with well placed red herrings.

  • jan says:

    I’ve been reading mostly short stories. The thing that turns me off is writers with angry voices and stereotypical characters.

  • Pam Lazos says:

    Repetition throws me out of a story. I don’t need to hear about a particular fact a hundred times or a character trait that is not shown in a different light. It not only bores me but makes me annoyed, as if the writer thinks the reader needs a spotlight on things.
    Happy New Year, Damyanti. May it be fresh and new each day!

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Happy New Year Pam! Telling and not showing doesn’t work for me either.

  • Jemima Pett says:

    I agree with you, especially on poor portrayal of places and impossible actions.
    It was a mad year, but I needed to get Princelings Revolution out, and learned a lot from things like fake news to add to my revolution!
    Then it was back to reading. I had to postpone one complex book till winter (finished yesterday, reviewing tomorrow!), but fortunately had lots of enjoyable books to read.
    Keep safe, and enjoy this year.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – makes sense … just take your time – way too much going on … care of ourselves is most important. Funny isn’t it – I can’t do novels … I need to have something to get my teeth into (actually preferably my brain!) … I do read the odd novel … but the thing that bugs me most … is when the author has written a good book … but the ending fizzles out … hate that – puts me off the author – not yours! – which I really enjoyed … it was very well written. Take care, stay safe and all the best for 2021 – Hilary

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Nothing like building up to a powerful climax and then fizzling out. Thanks for dropping by Hilary.

  • Mick Canning says:

    I think a lot of people have found they needed to read lighter work over this last year, myself included. The world is dark enough as it is.

  • I’m glad you are developing a coping strategy, Damyanti.
    I am aiming to read less and write more this year. Just in case you need any suggestions for reading matter, I have some lists of books I have read and reviewed

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thank You for the suggestions Sue. I will check it out. Wishing you a successful year ahead.

  • Rosie Amber says:

    You are not alone, everyone has been touched by the world crisis. I enjoyed non fiction this year, especially travel memoirs. I have had some great armchair travel days through many parts of the world. I also have my comfort read genre and that is romance, I think the happy ever after endings have called to me particularly at low points. Take care of yourself, things will change.

  • setinthepast says:

    Unexplained historical inaccuracies!

  • I hear you.
    I mix and match my reading. I usually have at least one fiction and one non-fiction on the go at the same time. And feel no shame about including lighter works in the mix.
    A lack of editing and characters who do not grow turn me off. Any book which glorifies cruelty or violence is firmly shut too.

  • I do agree, about reading taste in 2020. Lighter rather than darker. Less literary fiction and more genre. I wanted to escape rather than learn (that’ll come later). Good post, Damyanti.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Yes, we were all looking for an escape from our own reality.

  • For me it’s when the author bashes me over the head with a favorite cause (doesn’t matter which one, both sides of any debate are doing it) instead of working it into the story as a part of it’s fabric and letting me discover why it’s right or wrongt on my own. It makes me feel like the author thinks I’m two years old and needs to MAKE SURE I GET IT (all caps because it’s usually every other page with the commentary).

    What I love is when that message is not a lecture and it weaves in and out of the story. I love it when I finish a book, I’ve seen how much the theme means to the author and can relate to the story and the author through that meaning. S.L. Huang’s Burning Roses does it the right way …

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Oh yes! Those can be frustrating. I’ll look up Burning Roses soon.

  • Emma says:

    Lovely to see you back ๐Ÿ˜€

  • I think most read and wrote less last year. I switched to graphic novels and that’s mostly what I’ve read the past few months. Some are dark, but they are far from reality and easy to digest.

  • I feel almost the exact same way when reading books, no matter the genre. I am actually shocked when I read books that are so poorly researched and written that it makes me wonder how in the world this made it to an agent and then into publication! I enjoy your blog. Thank you.

  • Since I started reviewing novels on my Focus on Fiction blog, I have found myself doing more reading than usual. New books, old books, books whose titles or descriptions caught my fancy.
    And while I have found some that I have really enjoyed, there were far too manyโ€”even those that are by “NYT’s best-selling” authorsโ€”that I couldn’t finish. Why? Factual errors, Poor character development. Stilted dialogue. Narrative that sounded more like author notes. Backstory sections that were repeated in several places. Unrealistic conflict or character reactions. Boring stories. Stories that were repeats of the author’s previous books–just changes in names and settings.
    Some books were by authors who hadn’t written all that many, but others were by authors whose books would fill a bookcase. In the latter case, I’m starting to wonder if those authors who pride themselves are turning out multiple books in relatively short time periods are sacrificing quality for quantity.