Showing posts with label good books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label good books. Show all posts

Jul 22, 2021

Choosing Your Next Book

 

Happy Cute Kid Girl Choosing Two Book Stock Vector - Illustration of  doodle, cartoon: 167740868 

Whether you open a website or walk into a bookstore, there's nothing like the feeling of choosing what you're going to read next. Sadly, I've been disappointed more often than thrilled this year, and at lunch with a friend the other day, she said the same. "Maybe we read too much," she told me. "We've heard it all and seen it all as far as stories go." While that might be true, I can still get pulled into a book if it's done well, as I have been with my current read, WE BEGIN AT THE END by Chris Whitaker. It's not an easy book, but when I find myself thinking, even worrying, about the characters when I'm not reading, I know it's because of good writing. Of course, reading is as individual as writing. I can't tell you the book will affect you the same way. I can only give you my reaction.

Choosing a new book is both easy and hard in our time. There are tons of books and tons of places to find them. Still, I've noticed that the traditional publishing world is very much centered on safe choices these days, and they often don't appeal to me. One safe choice is the trending topic. When a book is a success, you can expect a couple dozen similar ones will follow. The covers will be similar in mood and style. The titles will suggest the bombshell best-seller. I got sick of books with "GIRL" in the title some time back. And the time/setting/focus will be the same. Right now it's WWII stories. After some excellent ones (and there still are some out there), we have a host of pale copies, like the one I'm currently reading, which tells me how the protagonist feels as if describing what she had for breakfast and boils down to French people=good, Nazis=bad. Quelle surprise!

The other safe choice for traditional publishers is authors who already have a name. While there are authors whose work I always buy, smart readers know some of them don't write their own stuff anymore. Look for the "with ___" on the cover, which means in most cases that some unknown author wrote it and the "big" author agreed to put his/her name on it, equaling a nice paycheck for everyone. Then there's "franchising," a way of benefiting from an author's name when he's too old to write or even after he's died. It all comes down to money, but for discerning readers, that results in disappointment.

I also note with sadness that editing has suffered--not so much in grammatical things but with allowing big-name writers to do whatever they like. Length is stressed over concise storytelling, and I sometimes find myself paging through to find the plot. I skipped about twenty pages of a legal thriller the other night, and when I jumped back in, the SAME WITNESS was still testifying. Big authors are allowed more leeway to stretch credulity as well. In a book by a well-known author, a fifty-year-old male murder victim was mistaken for a young woman because the killer covered the corpse with flowers. ("Oh, right, guv, we can't move all those flowers. We'll assume it's a young girl because she's done up like Ophelia in Hamlet.")

On the other side of traditional is independent publishing. (In case you're wondering, I started out with a traditional publisher and am now independent.) The problem here is uncertainty as to the quality of the work. Anyone--and I mean anyone--can publish on a dozen sites without investing a single penny, and that means there's a lot of bad work out there. Conscientious writers (like me!) hire editors and test their books with beta readers many times in the process, so they are fairly confident they've got a story worth reading. For a reader, however, it's hard to tell the difference when book shopping.

The other problem with independent authors' work is finding it. Type in a keyword like "mystery" and you'll get a list of the big names. But what if you've already read everything your favorites have written? There's no way to find an independent author with a similar style. We depend on social media to publicize our work, and the results are spotty at best. Often people say things like, "I really liked KIDNAP(.)org. Have you written any more books like that?"  or "I read all your historical mysteries. Do you ever publish anything else?"

"Um, yeah."

So how can you find authors new to you who write good stories? It's not impossible.

Read the recommendations of bloggers/influences who like the kinds of books you like. Here's one: https://radio-joyonpaper.com/?s=Peg+Herring

NOTE: The cover was different back then. Here's what it looks like now: 



Check out the samples on Amazon or other bookselling sites or read a few pages in your local bookstore (They don't mind). I can usually tell with that much if it's my kind of book or not.

Talk to people, online or in person, to find out what they like. I met a woman in a bookstore the other day who recommended a book to me (WWII era) and I bought it. I also often take booksellers' recommendations. They read a LOT of books, so they know if a particular story rises above the ordinary. I have found that young booksellers aren't as helpful as those closer to my age, though. Kids think J.K. Rowling was the first writer to ever explore the idea of a kid learning he wasn't just an ordinary guy--sheesh!

Apr 19, 2019

In Praise of Quiet Authors

I'm going to share something authors talk about among themselves but are wary of speaking openly about. While most authors are great at public events, there are some who shout the rest of us down, claiming what they offer is "the best book you'll ever read!" Examples: A guy who stationed his wife at the door so she could lead people to his table (past four other authors). The one who hollered at each new customer, "Come on over here and let me tell you about my book!" as they came into the room. The woman who practically moved into my space so she could tell my customers about her books. These people ignore differences in readers' expectations and the variety of tastes concerning plot, character, writing styles, etc. Their book fits all, and the other authors present are chopped liver.

The saddest part is that it sometimes works. Every other author in the room is offended, but readers are nice people, and once these loudmouths have them cornered, they often don't know how to get away without buying. I even knew a writer once who advised me to hand customers the book. "Make them take it into their hands," he said. "They won't want to hand it back, so you'll make the sale."

I never want to be that kind of author. I want you to look at my book, at the cover I chose so carefully, at the back copy I sweated over, at the first pages I wrote and rewrote a hundred times. In the end I trust you, the reader. You might buy a book because of pressure from a pushy writer, but you'll only buy one if it isn't as advertised. Still, in a world where half of everybody has written a book, readers often fall for a writer with the confidence (nerve) to say, "I guarantee you'll love this."

I'd like to praise those of us who write as well as we can and then present it to the world, often shyly and with great trepidation. We don't scream that it's the best book ever because we're aware that tastes differ. After all, there are people who hated Gone with the Wind, Great Expectations, and War and Peace, so you might not be thrilled with KIDNAP.org. I won't die from that. We quiet authors hope we'll gain an audience, but we understand that we don't get the whole audience. Instead of making grandiose claims, we let our work speak for itself.

I know there are personalities of each sort in every field. Some athletes brag that they're the greatest. Others just play the game. Some politicians tell you how much they've done for you. Others are too busy working for you to spend a lot of time talking about it.

It's that way with writers, and I can't say one kind is better than the other. But for me, the quiet author is easier to take. If one is screaming how great his book is, I'll walk right by, every single time.

Aug 29, 2016

Buchbrauchen

Okay, I made that word up, and I never studied German, so don't criticize!
There should be a word for wanting something good to read but not being sure what you want or able to find it.
Apparently what I want to read isn't very popular right now.
I've been sick of serial killers for years, but that's mainly what Amazon offers when you type in mystery.
I'm also sick of protagonists who aren't much better than the criminals they seek. I gave up on two books this week. In one the protag shared his client's cocaine with him and spent waaaaaay too much time describing the physical attributes of the sleazy, slimy women the client surrounded himself with. In the other, every cop was corrupt and every lawyer was shady to the point I was sick of all of them.
I've never been much for books where the mystery takes second place to something else, like growing kumquats or shopping.
I'm disappointed by books where the killer comes totally out of the blue in the last chapter. I should at least have the sense there were things I might have picked up on.
(I got a note from a reviewer last week who gave Dead for the Money a "solid" four stars because he enjoyed the book but figured out who the killer was before the end. My contention is that those of us who read mysteries a lot will often have an idea who the killer is because we're "experienced investigators." This is especially true for writers, who see where the author is trying to take the story because we do the same thing ourselves.)
So what is my buchbrauchen?
I want a good mystery. Don't care about anyone's sex life. Don't want to know how they make Christmas cookies. The protagonist can have faults, but I don't want those faults to be disgusting, depressing, or dwelt upon to the point they drive me nuts.
Such books are hard to find these days, since the public taste seems to run just the opposite. I try to write what my buchbrauchen demands, as James Fenimore Cooper did. Unhappy with what was available in his day, he wrote the kind of books he wanted to read. It might have ended up that he was the only one interested, since he went against the trend, but it didn't turn out that way.

Jan 18, 2016

Old People Who Read

Note: I was going to call this post "Old Readers," but I was afraid it might bring to mind the original Kindle. I'm looking at those of us who've read all our lives: Old Readers.

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

What Is a Good Book?

Which Are the Good Ones?
I've read a lot of books, but we probably won't agree on which were the best ones. Why? Because each book speaks to us as individuals: where we come from, what we value, and how we want our leisure activities to go.
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.
Keep reading.

At the Point Where I Can Tell You

 I sent my next book to the copy editor a few days ago, which for me is a major turning point. It's a commitment of sorts; the book that...