Friday, July 22, 2011

What I (Couldn't) Finish Reading: General Commentary

The past couple of weeks I’ve gone through a group of books that I simply cannot finish reading.

When I was teenager (and into my 20s) I had a policy that I would finish every book I started. Back in those days I reveled in the star-eyed fantasy of being a great novelist, and I felt it was my duty to give each and every author my complete attention. No matter how unreadable a novel was, I meant to finish it. And yes, I suffered through many a Grishom novel because of this.

True Story: One Kingsolver novel (The Bean Trees I believe) was so mindnumbingly annoying, I used to chase my roommate around reading aloud, while she ran from room to room screaming.

Well, somewhere in my past I tossed that read-to-the-bitter-end obligation overboard. Now I read what interests me or move on with my life.

The digital marketplace makes this so much easier now. I can download the first 100 pages (more or less) and get the feel of a novel. That’s great, because I pass judgment before spending the cash. But it’s also horrible, as I feel trapped in a short-attention-spanned existence. It’s like I’m insisting: “Satisfy me quickly, or deleted you shall be.”

Then I realized that it’s not the plot or characters that turn me off a novel. In fact, I’ve recently finished 2 novels that are filled with hateable characters and brutal plots. So I can deal with a large variety of styles. What stops me in my tracks is boring, plain, unimaginative writing. Page after page of predictability makes me hesitant and, ultimately, reluctant to continue. Eventually, I give up.

It’s not “bad” writing, I’m talking about, but writing which takes no chances. Writing that has discarded any wit or mystery. I want a challenge when I read. I want snappy dialogue that surprises me. I want descriptions that flow and inspire.

Lately, novels with that panache  have been a bit sparse. The most recent novels I’ve started but couldn’t finish are The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Murakami, The Good and the Ghastly by … er … somebody (sorry) [surprise update here], and Everything is Illuminated by Foer (look here for post on why).

It makes me feel a bit guilty. These are accomplished writers, but they bore the hell outta me. The narrative seems so formulaic. The characters seem so transparent. And trite. Oh, how I hate trite.

All I want is something interesting. They are out there. In fact, I’ve read a couple of them already: Blood Meridian (posted here) and The Sparrow. Not perfect, but that’s okay. They were entertaining and provocative and different. And then there is Game of Thrones which is really really good. Not exactly intellectual. But that’s okay. What this series is is dense. Brutal. Surprising. Everything I just mentioned I want in my novels.

I suppose this reflects on my goals as a writer. I know that my style is not quite mainstream. My pieces tend to be short and disjointed (BoTS is a prime example of that) or tunnel-visioned and off kilter (E2, anybody?). At least, that’s my goal. I want to write something that will challenge my reader. I leave stuff out. I skip time periods. I mix things up.

I see writing as a puzzle, not a presentation.

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