Mar 12, 2018
I'm not a big reader of science fiction, but I love it when it's well done. (Michael Crichton comes to mind.) Good sci-fi writers explore interesting social questions while constructing cool plots about things that haven't happened...yet.
My complaint with SF is that all too often the story ends with "and now we must kill the aliens before they kill us." The last few chapters are the all out battle for the survival of our species, with lots of things blowing up and gallons of green blood spilt.
That's not my thing. In the most recent example I read, the story began well, with questions about how time travel would actually work and what the resulting physical and mental problems might be, but it ended up with monsters pouring out of the portal and lots of shooting. We started with questions and ended with an arcade game.
SF isn't the only predictable genre, which is why genre fiction has a bad name with literary folks. Who hasn't started a romance novel and known from the first chapter what was going to happen and who was going to end up living happily ever after together? (Sometimes it's a tossup between two men, but if you go with the less socially acceptable one, you'll probably get it right.)
Mysteries are often predictable too, and after reading them all my life, I really enjoy finding one that escapes the rules a little. An interesting (but not mean) sleuth is great, a unique setting is nice, and if at all possible, a solution that's clever and even obvious...after I read it. Too often these days I know the "who" early on, and I tend to skip chapters to get to the end and find exactly the same thing that happened in the last five books I read: The protag is bloody but alive, the cop that doubted him/her becomes a friend/lover, etc. etc. etc.
Even "literary fiction" novels, those books that are supposed to "transcend genre," are often the same old same old, and lately they seem to come in streaks. I'm tired of books about bookstore owners who are delightfully fey, tired of titles with "Girl," and tired of lead characters with no redeeming qualities who wallow in their own misery for 400 pages and end up exactly where they began.
If you're nodding your head as you read this, I know what's wrong with you. You have read TOO MUCH. YOU NEED TO STOP READING BOOKS. (YOU NEED TO STOP WATCHING TV AND MOVIES TOO.) YOU NEED TO GET A HOBBY, LIKE COLLECTING SPOONS OR WEAVING YOGA MATS OUT OF OLD GROCERY BAGS.
Or you can keep doing what you're doing, looking for the one book in ten that occupies your mind and satisfies your heart. That's what I intend to do!
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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