Sunday, March 04, 2007

Reading: It's not just for fun anymore!

This is an interesting couple of weeks for me in the world of books. I finished writing and editing one, and have literally put it on the shelf for a few weeks. I need a short break from it before I rewrite it, oh I dunno, about three more times. Plus I'm querying the one-before-this-book, and of course, always finding things to fix every time I print it up. I'm taking a bit of a break to soak up some reading.

Just for the sake of my sanity (Ha ha. Wha?) I need to step away from writing. I need to read some other people's words.

I usually have a book and two magazines going at once, and my reading is always a combination of pure joy and reseach. So in the name of research I decided to read some books that have fallen into my hands recently that I wouldn't have normally picked up.

It didn't work out so well.

I rarely leave a book half read. Until this last couple of weeks...

First try: Runaway Jury by John Grisham.

I got four chapters in before I decided to cut my losses and walk away from this one. Four chapters of jury selection. There was nothing really wrong with it, technically speaking. I don't remember seeing any terrible grammar mistakes, at least not with my loose grip on grammar. It just didn't get my attention.

Although I was slightly curious about Juror #58, aka Juror #2, a young man with a very bland past who apparently wants to be on the jury --wtf?-- it wasn't enough to keep me turning pages. I had a very hard time getting interested in a bunch of lawyers and corporate suits and all of their little games for picking a jury who will....

Geez I can't even finish the paragraph, I'm so bored.


Second try: Second Chance by Danielle Steel.

I'm trying to remember now if I've ever been able to finish reading one of her books.

I always chalked it up to not being able to relate to her. I mean, look at her.
She's fabulous. She even has her own perfume. I'm guessing it smells like money. And silk. And roses.

And look at me. I'm hickulous and ridiculous. If I had my own perfume it would be a heady comination of pine shavings, horse manure, and hay, with subtle undertones of laundry soap and a top note of Burt's Bees Milk and Honey Hand and Body lotion.

Seriously, I just didn't get it. It's written in a very even tone, with a lot of commas, a lot of lists of attributes, clothing styles, even when the subject changes, commas, as opposed to a semi-colon, but always there are more descriptions of how fabulous everybody is.

They are all fabulous, they are fashionable and wealthy. She is fabulous, the nice man she has a nagging attraction to is fabulous, as is her house man who borrows her Manolo Blahnik sandals, he is fabulous. Her house is fabulous, full of expensive treasures, always hosting the best parties that often last all night. Fabulous. Run on fabulous.

After five chapters I was choking on fabulosity and nothing had really happened, other than a photo shoot which was, of course, both disastrous and fabulous.


Black Creek Crossing by John Saul.

I actually managed to finish this one but I will admit that I sort of skimmed some of it. I never do that. I feel kind of ashamed of myself. But hey, I read it to the end.

I forced myself to stay with it for one main reason: It centres around a couple of teenagers. Because my most recent piece of work is about teenagers, I want to read more books like it. I'm not sure, now that mine is finished, if it's really for the age group that it's about.

This book is not aimed at the teenage reader.

The kids don't converse like real teens. They don't much act like real teens either.

There is way too much going on with the adults in the story. Young readers don't give a crap about grownups. If they want to read about grownups, they'll read something off the Bestseller rack instead of the Young Adult rack.

Also there's no sex. Other than a suggestion of it in early in the story but it has nothing to do with the plot and is (urgh, yuck, retch, omigawd gross) between two parents.

This book isn't aimed at a teenage audience, despite having teens as main characters. It was a good exercise for me to make this definition.

I found a few problems with this book. I thought the characters were very one-dimensional.
- alcoholic father who is always in a rotten mood, hates everybody, and cusses all the time.
- long suffering mother who believes that her drunken good for nuthin husband is her cross to bear, and is such a good catholic that she crosses herself every few minutes while praying to the saints.
- shy girl who never looks anybody in the eye. Ever.

It's hard to care about these exaggerated stereotypes.

It took ages and pages to get the whole story rolling. I wanted to quit reading many times. What hooked my interest was the ancient haunted house itself. Is it good if the house is the most interesting character?

I was also confused by the supernatural elements in the story. I've read enough fantasy to know that the magic has to have a structure of rules to be believable. I'm really not sure how the supernatural/ witchcraft/ haunted system all worked in this story.


Having cracked these comments about these three books...

They must be doing something right.

John Grisham doesn't have to make his living at lawyering anymore because he's sold a couple of books, which got made into a couple of movies.

Danielle Steel, other than being fabulous and having, like, seven or eight or nine children, has found the time to write-- are you ready for this--SIXTY TWO novels!!! Although by this year that number's likely gone up. I mean, with having raised all those people and still getting all those words out there...I must admire this woman for her work ethic alone.

And John Saul has written over thirty novels.

This tells me that whether I appreciate their work or not, they are writing books that sell. And this really just confuses me more than ever.


CindyDianne said...

I don't normally give up on books either, but I did give up on The Tipping Point last year. It was DULL!

Read some Tom Clancy. I don't know why. Just, I always find his stuff entertaining.

OH, and recently I read The Lightening Thief. It is a pre-teen genre book that was completely captivating.

I am currently doing my darndest to keep myself completely involved in books and completely uninvolved in my life. I hope I don't have to do this much longer.

Anissa said...

The "NEXT" cracked me up! You crack me up!

I think it's good to evaluate what makes you enjoy a book, and what makes you toss it aside. You can learn a lot about not only your personal tastes, but also how you want to write. What not to do.

Your points about the Saul book are excellent and should definitely help with your own YA. Now I've never read it (and I don't know if he intended it for a YA audience), but from what you said about it, it doesn't sounds like it works for that group. I think the fact that you see that is a great sign that you're in touch with your target audience. And that freakin rocks!

Go Heidi! Read, read, read. And then edit!

dilling said...

I usually have two or three books on the go at any given time...since I was a wee, little kid...Have never ever been able to finish more than one chapter of any of these three authors...I used to try to finish books I wasn't I just figure that's time I will never get back! Dammit.

Have you read "A Heartbreaking Story of Staggering Genius?"

Am reading 100 Years of Solitude now...It's alright.
I'll stick with it though it's not doing for me what it seems to have done for thousands.

dilling said...

no, "A Heartbreaking WORK of Staggering Genius."

Heidi the Hick said...

Cindy...I've heard that The Tipping Point is a hard read. Don't feel bad! I've never read any Tom Clancy but one of my neighbours has read a few of his.

I will have to put the Lightning Thief on my LIST!

cindy you know that books are a great escape.

Anissa, hee hee hee. Yes, part of reading is is how to write and part is what not to write. I'm sure the John Saul novel wasn't meant for a YA audience.

Read & it!!!

Dilling, once again you have nailed it- time I'll never get back. I'm working on only reading one book at a time. Discipline....and yes, A Heartbreaking Work is on my LIST!!!

dilling said...

it's so worth the time... Heartbreaking Work, that is... and also on your list? An American Childhood(or anything by Annie Dillard) is totally worth your time...
and? if I may?
"The Highest Tide" by Jim Lynch....

Heidi the Hick said...

Yes, those are two more books you've already recommended and I have to get off my butt and find them!! thanks!

Therese said...

Evaluative reading (or not reading, as the case may be!) is one of the most essential activities for any writer.

I try to read "up" when I need inspiration; I read bestsellers when I'm analyzing what sells--and the best reads, for me, are books that fit both categories.

I always recommend BEL CANTO and SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS as books that fit. Also LOLITA.

I'm reading Jodi Picoult's latest, NINETEEN MINUTES right now, and my reaction is sorta like you've described with your Grisham read.

Used to read Grisham all the time, but the courtroom no longer interests me much.

Used to read Steel too (as a youth) but cannot engage with her stuff in any way anymore--for reasons like you've described. And because of the phrase "...and they both knew it," which cropped up on almost every page, I swear!

Just read BLESSINGS by Anna Quindlen and loved it. It's a quiet story, but definitely readable, and beautifully told.

Had some trouble with THE MEMORY KEEPER'S DAUGHTER but did manage to finish it...

Time to get back to work on my own novel, which I hope will continue to interest me! :)

CindyDianne said...

Dilling - I agree with you on Annie Dillard. I loved Tinker Creek. It is beautifully written. There are a few passages that I save back and use when life is particularly difficult. Like now. **where is that section**