Friday, November 18, 2005

Books that last

Someone forwarded this quote from The Washington Post, an interview with reviewer (I believe) Michael Dirda, to a loop I'm on. I found it very interesting for all sorts of reasons.
Question: [...] Are there books that for whatever reason you despise?

Michael Dirda: Despise? Well, I think there are meretricious books, books only written to make a buck. This usually includes about half the best seller list. I think most nonfiction best sellers are utterly ephemeral--I mean, really, in a couple of years Bill Clinton's memoirs will be read as often as RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. Then there's diet books. Self-help books. Jumped-up magazine articles from the New Yorker. The novels of Judith Krantz. Anything regarded as snarky, edgy, on the cutting edge, hip.

Oh, these have their place, I suppose. But I prefer seriously experimental fiction, heartfelt Harlequin romances, [and] books where real scholars present the work of half a lifetime.
(The title of this blog is supposed to be linked to the original article, but one must apparently be a registered subscriber or something to peruse the entire thing. This snippet is quoted under "fair use.")

How interesting, though, that someone would find a "heartfelt Harlequin romance" of more value than a political memoir.

It's that "heartfelt" that's the secret, I think. Romances, of whatever hue, must be heartfelt or how can they claim the title of romance? We as authors have to reach down deep and offer up the beating of our own hearts so that we can touch the hearts of our readers.

What about you? What books do you "despise"? Or maybe not despise, exactly, but don't care much for? What are you overdosed on? I'm with Mr. Dirda on the diet books and the political ranks of both leanings. And I think I'm beginning to overdose on books with whiny, depressed characters. (Off to vette my books for whining...)


Allison Brennan said...

I read a lot of different types of books. I'm not "overdosed" on anything because I don't have as much time to read as I used to. The only element I get frustrated over is when characters do stupid things or something out of character. Drives me batty.

Oh, and then it's the too neat endings. Endings don't have to be neat. Life isn't. To have everything come together "perfectly" at the end rings forced and hollow to me.

Deborah Matthews said...

I've always been an avid reader of different genres. Like Allison I don't have as much reading time since I've started writing. But I find as I get older I prefer to laugh rather than cry. So, I don't read as many angst-heavy books.

Sue-Ellen Welfonder said...

Gail, I don't 'despise' any books and have always been amazed by the venom that can appear on certain review sites or in amazon commentaries when someone claims to have 'despised' a book. Since my own books seem to be either loved or hated, I am often a target on amazon by people that 'despise' my work - one reason I stopped peeking at amazon and other such places some years ago! For myself, if I cannot get into a book, I simply set it aside and forget about it. I view such books as books that simply do not interest me, never as a book I 'despised.' After all, for every book that one person claims to hate, there was an agent, an editor, a publishing team, and, yes, a core of faithful readers, and other reviewers who 'did' and 'do' love the 'despised' book. Fact is, tastes and interests are simply incredibly varied and that's a good thing. Something to please everyone!

Nancy Herkness said...

I have to admit that I dislike books which are poorly written. I remember starting one novel and getting about five pages in before I threw it in the trash. As far as I could tell, the author had written it and then consulted a thesaurus so she could replace every fifth word with a longer, more "sophisticated" one which she generally used incorrectly. It drove me insane. It didn't matter how great the characters were or how gripping the plot was, the writing was so annoyingly bad that it overshadowed all else.

That said, there is one book I can remember thinking, "Gosh, I wish I hadn't read this." That was Brett Easton Ellis' LESS THAN ZERO. Someone recommended it to me (needless to say I never listened to HIM again!) and by the end I wanted to wash my brain out with soap.

CJ Lyons said...

I agree that "heartfelt" is the operative term--no matter the genre. I've read some romances by famous, best selling authors (both men and women) and stopped after 30 pages because I could care less. There was no heart, just re-hashed characters and contrived conflicts designed to make me care.

One of my most despised contrivances, probably because of my background as a Peds ER doc, is that of children in jeopardy. Several well known authors routinely use this to tug at readers' heartstrings for no good reason that I can discern either from a reader's POV or a writer's. When I find that, I usually fling the book across the room and then refuse to read that author again, so I guess that's exercising my reader's power to veto.

I'm sure there are other contrivances that people are turned off by. Anyone else with examples of these "book flingers"?

Gail Dayton said...

You know, I do agree that "despise" is too strong a word, Sue-ellen. I used it because the interviewer in the Post article used it. There's obviously a huge audience for all those political rants. :)

Anonymous said...

I've never tossed a book, but I have put plenty of them aside--never to be picked up again. I hate it when this happens, but I really try to give the book a chance, at least 70-90 pages.

As to what I really don't like in books, I'd say shallow characters--or perhaps to be more accurate, selfish characters, story people who never seem to give a thought to anyone but themselves--and maybe shopping. Not that I'm above a little retail therapy of my own from time to time . . .

JoAnn Ross said...

I also dislike plot events that have been obviously injected into a story for gratuitious reasons, but I will quibble about children in jeopardy stories. The books I enjoy reading the most are ones where the author pulls out all the stops and really goes for emotion, and there's probably no more primal emotion than an adult -- especially a mother -- wanting to protect her child. (Which explains why I jumped into that riptide off Huntington Beach because I could reach my seven-year-old before the lifeguard.)

I also believe this is one of the hardest plot topics to pull off, so if it isn't handled with skill and grace, the book can come off looking like a clunker. Obviously we all have different hot buttons (my kid never read King again after he killed that kid in Cujo), which is one of the wonderful aspects about writing and reading. Likes and dislikes are hugely subjective, which is a good thing, because that means there's an audience somewhere out there for whatever we chose to write.

JoAnn, who reads pretty much everything, including political books :)

JoAnn Ross said...

Oh, I forgot to mention, I've never written a child in jeopardy book. At least I don't think I have. ( After ninety books, plots begin to blur in my mind. LOL)

I have had my hero and heroine rescue and adopt an abused child my doctor heroine treated in the ER. And I gave a seven-year-old a brain tumor once. But I also flew a renown pediatric neurosurgeon to Ireland from NYC to operate. And gave the little girl a guardian angel named Mary Margaret, so all in all, it was still a feel-good book. :D

CJ Lyons said...

JoAnn, Actually I DO write children in jeopardy--as a Peds ER doc, that's my world, unfortunately. The sequel to BLINK OF AN EYE, SLEIGHT OF HAND, is about Munchausen by Proxy and a child predator.

BUT I go to great lengths to never place a child in jeopardy simply as a plot technique to draw people in--and then abandon them or "fix" everything in a few pages so I can turn my focus (and the reader's) elsewhere. It's that kind of gratutitious use of kids, or anyone in jeopardy in fact, that turns me off immediately.

Again, I think it's because when this is used as a technique it's usually fairly transparent and there is no "heart" to it. But maybe I'm overly sensitive to this--everyone has their hot buttons, LOL.