Thursday, February 09, 2012

Why Good Books Are Hard To Find

(Warning: it is 10:20 p.m. on Thursday night. I have the world's worst headache and because I have surgery in six days, I am unable to take ibuprofen or aspirin, and Tylenol doesn't work on me. So I'm awake because I can't sleep because my head hurts too darn bad, and thus, if this post reads a bit odd, you'll know why.)

I should probably clarify the title of this blog post. Good books are everywhere. But what I think is a good book and what someone else thinks is a good book are often radically different. On occasion, there are some books that transcend this divide and nearly everyone agrees on how magnificent it is (The Book Thief is such a book, and if you haven't read it, READ IT. NOW.).

Recently I picked up a book that I'd ordered a few months ago. It received good reviews and I'd had it on my to-read list on GoodReads. Since there was nary a bad review in the bunch, I figured I was golden.

Oh boy, was I wrong.

The writing was just so awful that I couldn't even get interested in the story itself. There was no hook at the beginning, flat characters, and really, really bad prose. After two chapters, I threw it down in disgust. How did this get published?

We've all read bad books, true. But I can't help but wonder if I'm finding fault with more books these days because of how I'm growing as a writer. I could have read this book ten years ago, perhaps, and not had a problem with it. But I've come so far in the writing craft (though I have a lot to learn yet) that I immediately saw all the flaws in the story. I couldn't make myself continue. While the idea for the book was intriguing, I couldn't get past the poor prose and lack of craft.

As my writing has developed, my reading tastes have become much more discerning. I can't pick up any book and invest my time in it if it's not written well. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I cannot read a book that is written poorly, no matter how good the plot is. Bad writing pulls me completely out of the fictional world.

Whenever I go to the library, I get at least three books. Why? Because if one is a dud, I can go on to the next, and so on.

In a way, I feel awful for abandoning these books. As a writer, I know how much work goes into them. On the other hand, I wonder if they put enough work into it. However, this has only reinforced the subjectivity of this business. What one person loves, another hates. That's why we have one star reviews and five star reviews on the same book. In a way, it's rather fascinating to see how we all look at the world through different lenses.

Have you seen a shift in your book-reading tastes in regards to where you're at with your writing? Have you gravitated toward more well-written books as your writing has grown or can you overlook poor writing in favor of a good story?

21 comments:

  1. There is SUCH a taste in my reading tastes. When I'm in serious editing/revising mode I can't help but pick apart the book I am reading. Some books, one in particular that I recently read, was painful.

    I'm the same as you then. How did this book get published?

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    1. I think that's partly my problem, too - I'm in editing mode and it makes it really hard to find a good book.

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  2. I thought I was the only one who felt this way, Melissa. Before I started writing, if I could not get into a book I just assumed the fault was mine-and that the book was "over my head" or something. After all, if the reviews were good then it had to be good, right? Not any more. I'm finding more and more books that amaze me in that they got published. I just don't get it. Where does that leave a truly gifted writer like you, my dear? I wish I knew.

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    1. I wish I knew, too, Valerie! It is truly amazing some of the stuff out there on the shelves.

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  3. I totally know what your saying. I've become a lot more discerning in my reading so it's getting harder to find a really good book.

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    1. It makes those books we DO find to read that much better, doesn't it? :-)

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  4. Have always loved a well crafted, character driven book no matter what my personal writing "does." ;)

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    1. Oh, I have, too - it's just the "well-crafted" part that I can't seem to find lately!

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  5. I have the same experience with books. The better my writing becomes the harder it is to find a good book. I come across a book (that often has good reviews) and I just can't get past the first chapter; the faults are just so glaringly obvious.

    I have the Book Thief on my shelf, waiting - I must make it my next read!

    Sorry you're not feeling well. All the best for your surgery.

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    1. You will LOVE The Book Thief! I bought it when I was in London a few years ago and read it on the entire plane ride home. Couldn't put it down. Thanks for the good wishes on my surgery. Much appreciated!

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  6. I loved The Book Thief. I read a lot of books written in first person because the novel I'm working on is written in first person. I rarely read books for adults, as I hate writing for adults. I would say my reading taste depends on what I’m working on. I have no qualms about giving up on a book (I give an author a chapter at the most to convince me to continue reading her book). Good writing is expected! Characters are also important to me. If I don’t like an author’s main character then I won’t continue to read her book.

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    1. Yay! Someone else likes The Book Thief! :-) I think my reading tastes depend on what I'm working on, too. I often like to read WW2 era stuff since that's what I write, but sometimes I get in the mood for a good thriller.

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  7. I feel really bad for abandoning books too. I think, if I can just get past this slow part, I'm sure it will get really good! Chime by Fran Billingsly was one of those. I read her first book and LOVED IT and Chime was an award winner, but I just couldn't force myself to get into it.

    Unfortunately Book Thief was another one!!! (I'm almost afraid to admit this - you won't respect me anymore!!!) I love historicals and I read over 1/2 of it, determined to keep reading because it was so highly recommended and talked about so much. But I never connected with the characters! It may have been a bad time for me to read it though; I may give it another shot in the future.

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  8. I don't feel bad at all for abandoning a novel that just doesn't hit the sweet spot; more room for other books!

    Taste is so random, discretionary; even the classics have the occasional I don't get this review. You gave it a shot, and that's all that can be asked.

    Hope you're feeling better!

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  9. Hello, stopping by to say Congrats on the blog awards. You can check them out here.

    http://raebethmcgeeswriting.blogspot.com/2012/02/blog-awards.html

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  10. I've experienced a very similar shift: things I might've been able to overlook before, I simply can't now. And where before I *always* finished a book, no matter how much I disliked it, I no longer do. And I don't feel badly. There are waaaay too many books out there to read and not nearly enough time to get to them all.

    This has also helped me take publishing rejection in stride, rather than take it personally. If my book or my characters aren't someone's cup of tea, that's OK; I just keep looking for the people who get it.

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  11. Margo - Don't feel bad! You just exactly proved my point, that reading tastes are subjective! It honestly took me awhile to get into that book (I bought it when I was in London) but when I did, oh boy. Couldn't put it down.

    Anna - I completely agree! There are some classics that I can't read, either, and I feel like I'm missing something.

    Christien - You make an important point. Rejection from agents is highly subjective, too, and it does take the sting out of it knowing this.

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  12. Hi RaeBeth! Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the award!

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  13. I loved the Book Thief and no I find it difficult to read a book if I dont think the writing's good enough. Actually doing that right now cos it's for an interview, and that is difficult!

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    1. Oh, when I have to read really bad books for reviews, it's so difficult to slog through, so I know how you feel!

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  14. A good friend once told me that life was too short to read books you didn't like! I'm in a stage of life where I entirely agree with her. (I just friended you on Goodreads!)

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