Jan 18, 2016
My husband started reading in his fifties. My father started even later than that. That isn't me. I can't remember when I didn't have my nose in a book.
Reading is wonderful, but a lifetime of reading leads to a problem: What to read next. When I was a kid, my choices were limited to what books our school library had, though I eventually moved on to reading my mom's mystery novels (MacDonald, Carr, Christie, etc.), and gothics (Stewart, duMaurier, and the like). As a young adult I read historical pot-boilers from Frank Yerby (lots of rape threat) to Rosemary Rodgers (lots of actual rape). I also read a lot of biographies back then, mostly movie stars like David Niven and John Wayne.
Now I'm pretty old, and I've read a lot of stuff. When people gush about the newest prize-winning or best-selling book, I take a look, but often I find it's very similar to something I've already read. Yes, Harry Potter is cool, but have you read The Once and Future King? Unreliable narrators like the one in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time are all the rage, but have you heard of We Have Always Lived in the Castle?
Past reading experience can spoil the "surprise" of many current books, because we've been there before and recognize the territory. And the "ground-breaking" characters aren't so surprising. Yeah the kids in Paper Towns and The Gold Finch feel lost and disconnected from society, but have you read "Paul's Case" by Willa Cather or anything at all by Thomas Hardy?
So what do I read these days? Mostly mysteries, because although they're "genre fiction" and therefore predictable (according to the experts), they present a puzzle to be solved. The characters can be every bit as interesting as those in "literary fiction," and Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, and Sara Paretsky can rope me in as well as any writer can.
I recently finished a "literary" novel and had a familiar response: So? I read hundreds of pages of stuff that was interesting historically, but the story added up to nothing in the end. There was a war. It was tough. Some lived, some died.
If it had been a mystery, they'd have caught the person responsible for all that grief, put him or her in jail, and seen that justice was done. As an old reader almost immune to surprises, that's what I look for these days.
May 4, 2015
|Which Are the Good Ones?|
Reading requires commitment: time for sure, concentration (some books more than others), and a degree of background preparation. The ability to read is the most basic level, but requirements build after that. For example, a person isn't likely to enjoy a book about modern immunology if she doesn't understand the vocabulary used or a book about WWII if she doesn't know or care who Winston Churchill was.
Reading serves different purposes. Many people read to escape from hum-drum, daily stuff. They want to escape reality, and they don't mind how wild the plots get as long as they're entertaining. Others demand that their fiction be realistic, with characters who could be real and plot-lines that might actually happen. People who read to become enlightened usually choose non-fiction and often have little patience for books that are offered just for fun.
Lots of readers. Lots of reasons to read.
As a former English teacher, I have to tell you I'm not thrilled with a lot of what sells these days. Bad writing, bad plots, and lack of creativity seem like glaring faults to me. Much of what's billed as non-fiction is actually fiction, with the authors either so biased or so deluded that I have no interest in what they claim is truth.
But not to the people who are reading those books and thinking they're really good.
So what constitutes a good book?
A good book is one that captures and holds your interest, whatever that interest might be. If it's panned by people like me but you enjoy it, read it. If nothing on the Best Sellers list does it for you but you have favorite authors you can't wait to get back to, that's okay. Keep reading what you like.
Apr 6, 2015
I'm tired of "must-read" books that depress the heck out of me.
Families that are breaking apart.
Teenagers who are going through hell.
People in crisis who don't deal with it well.
I know books have to have such characters to create tension, but in many recent bestsellers these are the protagonists; the people I'm supposed to keep reading on for.
Last night I started one of the current must-reads. It's really well-written, and the hook
was excellent. I read on, chapter after chapter. Things got worse for the main character, and as a result, he got worse, acting out, making his family suffer, cutting ties with those who might have helped him get through it. As page after page of humiliation and despair crawled by, I began to feel that I was wallowing in misery, the main character's and that of everyone around him.
Now, I worked with teenagers for decades, and I'm aware that this can happen. I've seen the sad kids who brag about how much they drank last weekend or pretend they don't care that the whole school is gossiping about the disgusting or shocking or self-destructive things they've done.
But reading about such people isn't fun for me. About a third of the way through the book, I realized I was sad, really sad. The kid was ruining his life, and many around him were doing the same. Now it's a tribute to the author's skill that a book can create this mood, but I asked myself: What's enjoyable about this? I closed the book, and I don't think I'll be opening it again.
I'm a mystery fan, and of course mystery is about evil in one form or another. But it seems the modern, literary-fiction-type mystery novel has turned its focus from solving a crime to watching the people involved self-destruct. Gone Girl. The Girl on the Train. The Gold Finch. My Sunshine Away. The list goes on.
The tortured soul isn't new in literature: Crime and Punishment, Jude the Obscure, and Lord of the Flies are examples of great works in which the protagonists spiral downward to destruction. But there's also Great Expectations, The Power of One, Huckleberry Finn, and even Wicked, in which the protags struggle against bitterness instead of wallowing in it for most of the book.
Me? Maybe I've got no class, but I'll take books with a happier slant. I want a protagonist with a little nobility, not one who succumbs to his darkness.
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