Poorly written books make plowing through my reading pile much easier, and more difficult.
I'm no literary masochist. If a book doesn't grab me by the second chapter,
I fling it. Sometimes I don't even give them that much of a chance.
I made it through four books this week. Far more went flying into the oubliette
that is the underside of my bed. But because I also write, I went back the four I finished and tried to figure out what made them readable. Two were from genres I don't usually read. Three of these books weren't of great writing. Decent, yes, but not great. The forth was an example of nearly flawless craft, but that wasn't what kept me reading.
A great opening line helps. Love In The Time of Cholera has the best
opening line of any novel I've read (Sorry, Mr. Dickens). A little bit
of mystery is good too. (Although I hate it when I finish a literary
novel and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what happened, if
anything.) But what set these books apart from the rest of the pile was
the characters. Within a page, these writers created people with depth
and dimension, people I could see, people I could hear. But the most
amazing part was how few words they had to use before my imagination
took over and filled in the spaces - sort of the way Zen inspired art
uses blank space more than brush strokes, and yet conveys so much
It's a kind of alchemy. They take words any writer could use and transmute them into a unique vision. The best examples of this skill aren't found in literary fiction though. Popular fiction is popular for a reason - because those writers have figured out how to grab readers and put them under the spell of a story. They are Adept class magicians with words. I think I'm going to study their techniques for a bit. It isn't all work though. I'll get to read some thoroughly entertaining stuff, and isn't that the definition of a good book?