There is a quote that has stuck with me since seeing Secret Window starring Johnny Depp (which was probably the weekend that it came out, because at the time I was going through a serious Depp Phase);
This is just bad writing. No more bad writing.
An odd quote to take away from a film about a struggling writer who has another writer threatening him, eh? Or perhaps not. I tend to self identify as a writer, and I think that I am in the sense that I spend a lot of my free time doing so, whether it be exchanging ideas or paragraphs with friends, scribbling something on a scrap of paper in my purse, or starring at the blinking cursor in a Word document willing the words to come (the latter is more frequent than I would care to admit). But, the above quote is one that I’ve always liked, and one that I mutter to myself when faced with my own bad writing.
I’ve lately taken to muttering it when reading the bad writing of others’ too. Lamentably, this seems to be happening more often in the past year than it has in recent memory.
Each year, I partake in Goodreads‘ Reading Challenge. It’s quite simple, really – you set a goal number of books to read, and try to reach that goal. While I intend to include comics in this as well (but only trades, not single issues), I still try to ensure that 95% of what I read is in book form. Of the 20 books and and comics that I have read this year, 16 have been some form of book (novel, biography, memoir, historical account, etc). Of those 16, I have given a rating of less than 3 stars (what I consider to be a book worth my time) to six books.
For the record, it’s not as if I am picking up books that I don’t feel that I would be interested in. There’s no books on underwater basket weaving, or anything of that sort. No, for the most part these books have been about things that I have a general interest or passion in. In fact, five of those six have had some sort of historical aspect, and anyone who knows me well enough to call me a friend knows that I love me some histories. The six lucky recipients of these 3 stars are less ratings are:
- The Fallen by Stephen Finnucan
- The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
- Alex Cross’s Trial by James Patterson & Richard DiLallo
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
- House of Meetings by Martin Amis
- One Night Stands and Lost Weekends by Lawrence Block
(clicking on any of the links will take you to my review of the book if I have written one)
I will address The Perks of Being a Wallflower right off the bat – I was not this book’s target audience. I do feel that if I had read it in high school that I would’ve gotten more out of it, and I recognize that. Obviously, reading this and being close to thirty years old wasn’t going to garner the intended reactions. I probably would have enjoyed it had I read it ten years ago, but I didn’t, and I reviewed it based on how I felt about it now, and not how I think I would’ve felt about it then.
And as for Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, it was just simply not something I enjoyed reading about. It had all the makings for a great book – women in the 1950’s, trying to make it in New York City. However, it turned out to be more a social commentary of the time (which it was also written during), and how women were pressured, and felt that they had to marry someone. I can appreciate it in that regard, but it didn’t make reading it any more enjoyable.
However, as for the other four they all suffered from, in some aspect, bad writing.
Everything is subjective to the individual, but I sometimes find it upsetting when I read a book and it isn’t good. As my review for Finnucan’s The Fallen mentions, the story itself had all the makings of being something great, but it was the writing that was the major reason for me not enjoying the book. And I feel that is true of these books that I have given less than stellar ratings too. The writing is lacking in something – whether it be style, appropriateness, flow, etc.
Before you scoff and call me pretentious, one of my favourite books so far this year was The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I admittedly found the writing a little pedestrian considering the topic and setting, but at the same time it flowed nicely, roped you in and held on, made you delve as deeply as you could into the story. Even while lacking a little bit in appropriateness, everything else worked, therefore making the book enjoyable.
You can’t just put some words on a page in a structural sentence format and hope that the reader likes it – you have to do something with it and make it your own. Anyone can type a sentence, doing that does not make you a writer. You need to speak to your reader, weave them a tale, evoke images of the place that you want to transport them to. Simply putting some words on a page will not do that, and reeks of telling, and not showing. Don’t tell me your story, show me it.
What I am getting at, in a long, round about sort of way, is that I’m very disappointed with some of what I’ve read so far this year. The great books have been great, but the bad books have been really bad. While I have not personally enjoyed the books that I have classified as “bad,” I know that there are some who have – probably many! I’m not upset or angry that people have enjoyed these books, again it’s a matter of opinion (unless we’re talking about Alex Cross’s Trial, which was downright racist and I’m not sure how it got published in the first place). It’s just disheartening to get excited to sit down and read something, only to end up dreading picking up that book. I’m one of the people who has to finish reading something, even if it’s bad, as I hate leaving a book unfinished.
What if it gets good? It usually doesn’t. But what if it does this one time? It won’t.
All the same, I need to finish it. People ask me why I just don’t put the book down, and sometimes I do. But I will come back to it, I will finish it. I owe it to the book, not the writer.
( photo )