Monday, March 12, 2007

Bad Books

Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum/Keiser.
Illustration from Everyday Life Through the Ages, regarding the spread of double-entry bookkeeping.

I find it very hard to imagine a writer who does not read.

Does not read continually.

We may develop a kind of mental double entry system whereby we enjoy the story and analyze it at the same time.

It's standard to advise writers to read Good Books to improve both our craft and our minds.

Bad books can be just as efficacious.

We all know that critiquing snippits of someone's work assists us in seeing faults in our own. Unfortunately, such selections come with the unconscious expectation that if it's unpublished there must be a lot wrong with it, so we tend to zero in on our pet anathema or a standard flaw ( passive voice, adverbial tags, whatever) and dismiss the rest. We may even develop a smug mind-set, because we don't do that - anymore.

A Bad Book is quite a different piece of work. Mechanics may be good enough to be published but bad enough to be visible. Defining what makes such a book bad takes more work. So does figuring how it made the cut and what the writer did right.

So, after you have repaired the wall and stopped muttering how did this piece of shit get published, take another look.

Everything is grist.

Besides, it can be encouraging.
Grin: If you want breakfast in bed - sleep in the kitchen.


December Quinn said...

I agree. I often find books that are just boring, or just...don't draw me in, and I try to figure out why.

Jaye Wells said...

I think this is often what agents and editors mean when they say they just didn't fall in love. Except, in the cases of books that get published, the writer kept trying until they found someone who fell at least in lust.

Bernita said...

Useful exercise to separate taste from technique, December.

I suppose agents/editors possess intuition/instinct, Jaye, honed by experience.

S. W. Vaughn said...

A pox on IE and new Booger. :-) Bernita, I hope this is your latest post. I seem to be having trouble determining what's what, here.

I like bad books. They give me hope. Love the funny, and I am so sleeping in the kitchen tonight. Perhaps someone will trip over me, and take pity, and fix me a bowl of cereal. :-)

Bernita said...

Glad to see you, S.W., so glad you have re-surfaced!

spyscribbler said...

Good grin! I don't read as much as I want to. I finally finished Paranoia, but I was so upset when I didn't know who one of the characters was because it'd been a week and a half since I'd read about him.


And you're right about learning. Sometimes one can learn more from a bad book than one can from a good book.

writtenwyrdd said...

For me it often can depend on my mood. If I am not in the mood for that particular book, bleh. But I can pick it up again at a later time and love it.

And I think I enjoy a book more when I am reading it, now that I have the dual mind going where I am looking at the mechanics as well as the story. I don't blast through the book in four hours, I savor it more.

My biggest problem is that some delicious turns of phrase are so tempting to use in my own work. LKH mentions the sounds of wet silk tearing, for example, and that has stuck with me. There are many more turns of phrase like that which I keep tryign to use...

Bernita said...

Some books are so good, Natasha, it seems irreverent to dissect them.

I know, Written, on the other hand, you might find that this is not the first time those phrases have been used.
And I agree, the writer's eye can make reading more enjoyable, not less.

raine said...

As much as I do love reading--and it's one of my greatest pleasures--I sometimes find I CAN'T. If, for example, I'm in the middle of a particularly intense chapter or struggling with my own writing--can't do it.
I'm too worried about latching onto something of that author's, or unconsciously picking up a phrase or two, which doesn't normally seem to affect me.

Bernita said...

Someone recently - can't remember who - mentioned the danger of adopting the other writer's "voice," Raine, or losing the sure sense of one's own.
Makes sense to me, seeing how writers are particularly sensitive to nuances and rhythms of language.

Erik Ivan James said...

I try very hard not to dissect a book that I am reading for my own pleasure. If I read a passage that I exceptionally enjoy, I will pause and pay attention to how he/she might have phrased or structured that particular passage...for my own writing benefit. If I come across one that "bites" me, I will try to find the that I might avoid biting a future reader of mine. Otherwise, I just try to read and enjoy the damn book.

Bernita said...

There are very few books I haven't enjoyed for one reason or many, Erik.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

LOL...I sprained my tongue trying to pronounce that author name.

"Grin: If you want breakfast in bed - sleep in the kitchen."

LOL...sounds like somebody's ass is in a jam *snort*

Bernita said...

Hee, Bonnie!
Why do I keep getting "error on page" messages on your blog today?

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I or's a conspiracy to drive me over the edge!

Bernita said...

Ah well, I got a double Bonnie Fix today.
Seems fine, now.