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Tag: reading

Reading Is Not “Normal”

So, I recently came across this AITA post from a mother who thinks her 22-year-old daughter is reading too much and that she should quit reading and concentrate on her studies and get a better job. Aside from the weirdness of such a parent posting on Reddit and complaining about her adult child who could make her own decisions already (if it’s a helicopter parent or tiger parent, why the heck would they waste their time on Reddit unless it’s someone trolling everyone for the clicks), it does make me wonder why so many parents out there have some stereotypical idea of a successful child who will study and have “acceptable” hobbies that always involve some form of socializing. 

Reading a lot for pleasure, strangely enough, is still considered deviant. Why is it considered normal to not read books? The average person hardly even reads one book a year, let alone several. For a lot of regular jobs, you don’t need to read any books if all you care about is the money. And, some would say that the obvious anti-intellectual streak in society is also a strong contributor to this disdain with books. To me, being stuck in one place with no food for the mind seems like a poor way to live. Books have so many advantages–it opens up the world, presents new ideas, stimulates creativity, and builds empathy as you read the words that come from someone else’s mind.

I think my parents definitely worried that I was reading too much when I was younger and that I needed to socialize more. Well, I guess I could have socialized more, but I didn’t like it. I’m an introvert through and through and even now, I’d prefer not to talk with anyone. Then again, even though my parents had said that I was reading too much, they didn’t really do anything to curb my reading, either. I always got to max out my library card and check out whatever I wanted–no limits.

The purpose of that digression is just to say that I’ve read a lot and I don’t think it has messed me up. (Unless you’re one of Those Parents who think kids are only successful if they are medical doctors, engineers, or lawyers–in that case I’m an utter failure.) Even though my current life is as far away from the house with the white picket fence, spouse, 2.5 kids, and a dog as it can get, I’m doing all right considering all the crazy in the world right now. And there are even people who call me normal. I’m not quite sure about that, though. Normality is relative.

Writing and Reading, Intention and Perception

I recently went to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC last weekend. It’s a haven for book nerds and book geeks, a veritable cornucopia of books and programming dedicated to the written word. The last time I went to the festival was over a decade ago when I was still a student. Back then, it was at UCLA and any sort of spontaneity was tempered by the fact that I was specifically going to the festival to get credit for a contemporary poetry class I was taking at the time.

But this time, I went myself and got to attend events I wanted to attend and not see writers who were required on a syllabus. This sort of freedom is the kind of thing that makes books fun for me. The freedom of choice. Maybe that boils down to my personality as well. I don’t particularly like being told what to do unless there’s a very good reason for it. I read what I want to read—I don’t follow book clubs. I might use book awards and word-of-mouth recommendations to help me choose what to read, but I wouldn’t dream of slavishly following them. On the other side, I also write what I want to write. To me, I only want to write about what I find interesting. Otherwise, it’s only going to bore the audience—which could just be me or anyone stumbling upon this blog post.

It’s this freedom of choice, however, that is the sticking point for some people who read and write. This very problem was brought up at one of the talks that I attended. What subject matter is appropriate for a writer to write about? Is the sky (and beyond) the limit or are we constrained by our own experiences? As readers, do we have a responsibility to read certain things and interpret the writing in certain ways?

The specific situation that generated these questions is that of writers recounting the African-American experience through fiction and poetry. Some argue that only African-Americans are allowed or qualified to write African-American characters. The main concern with this argument (as far as I understand it) is a mixture of the “write what you know” philosophy and the desire to take back the narrative from other writers (particularly white writers) who have appropriated their culture and identity and repackaged it in such a way that there is a high chance (and according to some, a 100% chance) of the African-American narrative getting skewed by a non-African-American lens—no matter how seemingly transparent. This, of course, can be generalized to any minority group that has been traditionally trampled by the majority, be it race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, religion, politics or any other social division.

On the other side, writers want the freedom to write whatever they want. As Joyce Carol Oates said in her talk, if we write only what we know, it’s actually “not very much.” One example that illustrates the importance of the freedom to write what you don’t know (or rather, what is beyond your personal experience) is genre writing. Of course authors haven’t traveled on spaceships or talked to elves. It’s probably very likely that a writer hasn’t murdered someone or summoned the bogeyman. Real life doesn’t have a happily ever after that ends with a marriage and the hero riding off into the sunset—instead, it’s complicated. But writing about science fiction and fantasy, mystery and horror, romance and adventure are not any less valid ways of telling a story. This isn’t just about the fantastic either. Writing whatever you want also means having the freedom to take your imagination anywhere—not only to another planet but also to another person’s experience.

Human beings, particularly ones who have grown out of toddlerhood, are probably the only animals on this planet with a truly sophisticated sense of the theory of mind. We can put ourselves in another’s shoes and imagine what it’s like to be them. The theory of mind is absolutely essential for us social animals. If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have a civilization. This is where I think the argument of writing whatever you can imagine rests. You can imagine the Other and empathize with the Other. You realize that the Other has similar fears and joys that you do. The Other is no longer Other but just as human as you and me.

It’s one thing to write about someone who isn’t you in a realistic and sympathetic way. Some, however, are leery about the times when portrayals of their own group go horribly wrong. The stereotypes and the prejudices. Bowdlerization and simplification. Outright falsification, sanitization, and erasure. One solution that some have proposed is that only people from a particular group should write about their own group. People in other groups shouldn’t even attempt to write about them. This particular proposal is unsatisfying and more importantly, extremely troubling to me. The natural outgrowth of this is to not only put writers but also readers in a ghetto. We already see this with some bookstores that shelve all the African-American writers in the African-American section or LGBT authors in the LGBT section regardless of whether these writers are penning stories about their own culture or something completely different. And by separating them out that way, isn’t this telling readers that they must belong to those groups in order to read them? This isn’t being inclusive at all.

So what can writers write about? Do writers have certain obligations they have in what they can write about? And what about readers? Do they have any obligations to the authors and to themselves for what they read? I still feel that writers should have the freedom to write whatever they wish to write. They aren’t constrained by imagination. But whatever they write, they should take responsibility for it because someone’s going to read their work and react to it. A writer is not free from the consequences of putting their words out for public consumption because they cannot control what other people do. A writer from a majority group is not entitled to automatic praise and good reviews when writing about a minority group. If what you wrote was wrong, then apologize and do better next time. If someone “misinterpreted” your words and got offended, then learn from it. I put “misinterpreted” in quotes because there are no wrong interpretations with literature. It all depends on the viewpoint of the reader and there are as many viewpoints as there are readers in the world.

As for readers, well, that can get complicated too. Readers read for all sorts of reasons, none of them any less valid than another. Readers also have the choice of what to read (with the exception of literature classes). Books are art, are commodities, are choices. What they aren’t is the equivalent of bran cereal that we have to eat every day to keep regular. It seems, on the surface, that readers have carte blanche in what they read and how they interpret what they read. There are many authors who have the view that once the book is published and out in the world, there’s really nothing they can do to respond to other people’s interpretation of their work. But that’s not entirely true. The book is the focal point of a discussion between the author and the reader. And while the writer should be cognizant that the reader can react in any sort of manner to their words, the reader should also realize that it’s an act of bad faith if they willfully misinterpret a writer’s words and ignore the context in which those words were written.

In the end, I would argue for freedom of writing and reading whatever you want. This doesn’t mean you also have freedom from the consequences of what you read or write because there is always another human being on the other side of those words. What’s important is that as a writers and readers, we should try to learn and understand the other point of view no matter how difficult or painful it may be. And by trying to expand where we go with words rather than insulating ourselves with our own experiences, we can take the first step in erasing those boundaries between Us and Them.

Writing, Reviewing, and Rambling about Women in Science

Yep, it’s the beginning of July and you all know what that means: Camp NaNoWriMo. I will be working on a novel project which I had already outlined in May. At the moment, I’m not particularly happy with the beginning. I want to keep the scene–it just needs to be rewritten. In any case, onwards. I’m still excited about the story, particularly with the puzzle-like nature of fitting the different time lines together. It’s been a while since a story idea has also engaged my more analytical side.

I’ve also been invited back to lead writing sprints over at NaNoWordSprints. I kicked it off with a handwritten tweet session which was partially inspired by the fact that I am currently conducting a week-long project on my personal Twitter account where I’m handwriting tweets for a week. Anyways, I don’t think I’ll be doing another handwritten tweet session for the sprints any time soon, especially since that kind of thing takes a while to set up. I will also be archiving all the prompts this month on this blog in case anyone has missed one of my sprint sessions.

And speaking of writing projects, I (possibly foolishly) made a bet to get a short story ready for submission in a month. Specifically for Fantasy & Science Fiction because they’re opening it up for electronic submissions. At the moment, though, I’m feeling pretty pessimistic. I’m still in that funk where I think all my ideas for short stories are crap. I don’t think my writing skills and craft and style are up to “professional” standards yet (where “professional” means “whatever the editors find awesome which could be anything”). It doesn’t mean that I won’t try, but I’ve had enough “close but no cigar” moments which have made me think that it’s pretty much a waste of time to hope for anything.

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I have a book review out over at Smart Bitches Trashy Books on the paranormal romance novel Diamond Dust by Vivian Arend. I’ve been a long time follower/lurker of SBTB. I really like the blog’s snarky style and its serious commentary on a much maligned genre (the podcasts are highly recommended), so I thought it would be very cool to volunteer to do a book review for them.

* * *

Today, I found out the real reason why I had a really unpleasant episode many years ago which had royally screwed my career path for a while. At the time, I had thought the failure was my fault, but now I know it was probably something I couldn’t have done anything about.

It doesn’t make me feel any better about it, though. It just makes me feel sad. All I’m going to say is that even though there are constant cries for more women scientists, there are women scientists out there who do not like other women scientists because they think they are the only exception.

I personally think it’s better to nurture relationships with other female scientists (all scientists, actually) and to mentor students (of any gender) who have an interest in science. To do otherwise and burn bridges, well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that it’s a bad idea.

MisCon 28: DAW Books Presentation

Panel title: DAW Books Presentation
Panel members: DAW Books, Sheila Gilbert, Betsy Wollheim
Panel description: What’s new for DAW books? Join Sheila Gilbert and Betsy Wollheim for a presentation on up-and-coming titles from DAW.

In this presentation, the DAW editors basically talked about all the books that they are publishing for 2014 and early 2015. Many of those books can be seen on this page. I didn’t really take down any notes on what the editors said for each of the books. Some of the discussion, I thought, were a bit spoilerish especially if you haven’t read the earlier books in the series. So I thought I’d point out some books that caught my eye and why.

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch is the latest book in the Rivers of London series. The premise for the series sounds awesome, but I’ve been a little leery about starting his books due to his behavior online towards readers who have criticized his work. Nonetheless, his books are on my gigantic to-be-read pile. I’ll get to it eventually.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. Post-apocalyptic fiction is generally not my thing, but this takes place in Africa. I’m intrigued about how the consequences of the end times will be depicted in a different culture through a lens of magic realism.

A Turn of Light by Julie E. Czerneda. I heard “biology” and “magic” come out of Sheila Gilbert’s mouth. And I’m sold. (Apparently the second book in the series is coming out later in the year.)

Peacemaker by C. J. Cherryh. I won this book at a different panel. So of course I’m going to read it. I’m only agonizing on whether to read this first or start the series from the beginning. Anyone have any opinions on whether this series can be read out of order?

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire. Apparently this book’s concept is based on the world of ghosts. DAW is putting out a lot of her books this year, but this one in particular seemed interesting.

Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier. This is a fantasy written by a mathematics professor. The premise sounded intriguing. This is the first in a trilogy.

The Future Falls by Tanya Huff. This is the third book in the Enchantment Emporium series. I really enjoyed the first book but haven’t gotten around to the second book yet so I’ll have to read that one first…

Reading on Electrons

It’s probably safe to say that my view on ebooks have changed throughout the years. Like with a lot of new technology, I have been a slow adopter. I didn’t get my first CD player until I was in college (everyone else already had one when they entered high school). My first mp3 player was in grad school. So was my first iPod, but I would have never gotten that had not a more trendy relative given it to me as a gift. I also got my first cell phone in grad school. I still don’t have a smartphone. But mostly because I don’t feel like I can justify the expense on a post-doc’s salary (and I almost never get calls anyway).

My first exposure to ebooks was through Project Gutenberg. This was probably around the time that I first started browsing the web seriously. My first impression was that this was awesome. I could read all these books from the comfort of my own home without going to the library or a bookstore. Perfect for a lazy bookworm. Quite a bit later, I discovered all the digitized books on archive.org. Subsequently, I got my mom hooked on that site because there are several Chinese universities that have put up their digitized texts. As a consequence, my mom could download one of those classic Chinese texts with a click of button rather than go through the hassle of ordering those books from halfway around the world.

Anyways, it took me a while before I started to convert entirely to ereading. I only started seriously doing this about a year ago. For me, reading on a screen never deterred me. I had gotten used to reading pdf files of research papers in grad school. (I am one of the few people who does not have huge stacks of papers at my lab desk because everything is on the computer.) The biggest obstacle was the price of ereaders. It would have to be low enough that I wouldn’t have to buy too many books to make it worthwhile.

At this point, I think ereaders have gotten cheap enough to make buying one a practical matter. Now, I can have a whole bunch of books on a device that could fit in a purse to read wherever I happen to be. This saves on space and would definitely ease the stress of moving (depending on how my job hunting goes, I could move in as early as two months from now–and I do not look forward to boxing up all the physical books that I already have). This does not mean I’m abandoning print altogether. I’m still buying print for reference books and favorite authors. But it does make me think a bit more before buying a physical book. Because I care more about the content of the book than its physical presence.

And one more thing: ebooks make organization a hell of a lot easier. Searching on the computer is easy. Searching through the stacks of physical texts that somehow get mixed up no matter how hard I try to keep them straight is another matter entirely.

The First Fantasy Novel

Out of my entire time in elementary, middle, and high school, I only had three (Ed. now that I think about it, probably seven or eight–but three of them come to mind immediately) male teachers. The first male teacher was one of my second grade teachers. He was tall with dark hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and piercing eyes. He played the piano and the tambourine. And he looked just like Stephen King. For some reason, he scared the hell out of me. He told my parents I was too quiet in class. Well, fear makes one not want to make any noise at all.

The high school geometry teacher, by contrast, was a really likable nerdy guy. Bald, mustached, in perpetual khakis and button down shirts. I thought his enthusiasm for the subject was infectious. And, of course, it helped that I managed to ace all his tests without much trouble (or any studying).

In hindsight, though, I think it was probably my fourth grade teacher who made the most impact on my life. He’s the one who introduced me to the fantasy genre and planted the seed that has now grown into my full blown writing hobby. The writing madness all began with an assignment where he encouraged the whole class to write their own story and create their own book. I, of course, went the whole hog with the assignment. I couldn’t write about kid life like everyone else in class. No. I had to craft some noir pulp about a jaded detective, a femme fatale, and over the top villains (flanked by henchmen). Do normal fourth graders do that kind of stuff? Probably not.

My introduction to traditional fantasy fiction was not just a recommended, “Hey, here’s a book I think you’ll like.” My fourth grade teacher was the grandfatherly type, with the white-gray hair, the spectacles, and the patience. I don’t recall him losing his temper with anyone (or perhaps the class I was in was particularly well behaved and it was one of the few times that I remember that everyone just got along). It was during the end of the second half of the year that he would have a storytelling hour.

Storytelling hour was nap time for some of the other students, but for me, it was magical. It was the first time I really experienced the transportive power of good fiction. The lights would be turned off, but the afternoon sunlight would still be streaming in from the windows on one side of the classroom, hitting dust motes and making the air strangely sparkle. My fourth grade teacher would be leaning back in his chair, behind his desk, his spectacles clinging to the end of his nose. He’d crack open a book and start reading. And suddenly, I wasn’t in a classroom any more. But in Narnia.

He managed to finish The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by the end of the year and by that time, I was hooked and had to read everything else in the series. I suppose it was obvious I was the only student who loved the books and not just using it as an excuse to zonk out because he ended up gifting me a copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Around that time, the BBC adaptations for The Chronicles of Narnia were fairly recent. I really enjoyed watching those even though my parents were puzzled as to why I would want to borrow the tapes from the library and my sister was still too young yet to appreciate it with me. My favorite books in the series were actually the later books, The Silver Chair and The Magician’s Nephew. The first three books still held nostalgia, because of the way they were introduced to me, but I think the others stuck out more because I was reading them out of my own initiative. The Silver Chair is notable because my favorite character of the series is in it–the cynical and pessimistic Puddleglum. The Magician’s Nephew, on the other hand, stood out because of its world building and its concept of the multiverse. Around the same time, I was getting into science fiction and physics so it really matched my then current interests.

Unfortunately, things fizzled for me after I read the first two or three chapters of The Last Battle. It was then that it finally clicked for me what C.S. Lewis was doing with the series and that I noticed the religious overtones of the stories. It was no longer just about fantastic adventures but the author’s philosophy. But still, even once I was finished with C.S. Lewis, I was hooked on the fantasy genre. I just moved on to other writers.

I wonder, though, how much of my fuzzy feelings of nostalgia for that particular series was influenced by the way that it had been introduced to me. At that time, before I understood the larger significance of the series and simply looked at them as adventures, would I have glommed onto a different series if my fourth grade teacher had chosen to read something else? Would I have had the same reaction if he had read Harry Potter or The Hunger Games? Or even Goosebumps or Sweet Valley High?

The answer is probably both yes and no. If I had not read so many older fantasy books about wizarding schools before, I’d probably be a big fan of Harry Potter instead of being rather neutral about it now. The same could be said of The Hunger Games or Goosebumps. My prior reading experiences shape how I view books I come across later. On the other hand, I don’t think I would have been interested in the Sweet Valley High books no matter how I got introduced to them. As a nerdy, minority outsider, I had no interest in reading about the social lives of privileged and popular blonde girls unless they were fighting dragons or getting abducted by aliens.

Addictive Reading

I’ve been recently pondering about what makes certain books “cracktastic”–books that people can’t help read once they start. Books that make some people, literally, into foaming-at-the-mouth fanatics. Is it because of the subject matter? The last time I was at a bookstore, I overheard some ladies raving about some “very steamy” novels. But are all cracktastic novels about sex? Despite the fact that the current zeitgeist is all about erotic novels, I don’t think so. Twilight and The Da Vinci Code are considered cracktastic by many readers, but they are in completely different genres. Are cracktastic books necessarily badly written? Well, no. During Charles Dickens’ lifetime, people were devouring his writing like hot cakes. Are popular books synonymous with cracktastic books? Not necessarily. The Great Gatsby is popular and much loved, but one would hardly call it cracktastic. And on the flip side, I’m sure there are obscure books that are cracktastic for a small subset of readers.

So, it doesn’t particularly matter what the book is about or how it’s written. Or even if anyone else is reading it. But the term “cracktastic” does have a negative connotation, implying that the reading material in question is bad yet addictive. Some people seem to use it as an excuse. That they can’t just help themselves reading it. That if they had the will power, they wouldn’t be reading it. Personally, I find it a bit sad that some people are too embarrassed to admit that they like reading about X or Y without qualifiers.

What does make for a cracktastic book then? I think a cracktastic book pushes a button (or a series of buttons) hard enough and long enough that it engages the lizard brain which swamps whatever objective thoughts we’ve had before. Call it emotion or instinct or gut feeling or curiosity. Whatever it is, it’s a hook that never lets go. Any writer who wishes to share their work probably hopes that their writing has some of this elusive quality. Some work hard to achieve it. Others stumble upon it accidentally. But most will never find it although that doesn’t mean that their books aren’t good. There are a number of authors I enjoy reading (and re-reading) but they just haven’t managed to push that particular button which tips me over the edge from favorite and loyal to absolute obsession.

(What I also want to make clear, though, is that you can never assume that what people read–and especially what sort of supposedly cracktastic stuff they read–defines who they are. Few would consider books heavy in life philosophy to be truly cracktastic. Unless it’s an Ayn Rand doorstopper. It could probably crack someone’s head open if wielded properly.)

“Cracktastic” is a really subjective term. What somebody else considers cracktastic, I may think is mediocre. And vice versa. From my observations, for most people, something becomes cracktastic because it pushes one single button really well. For me, several buttons usually must be pushed at one time or it’s going to be a no-go. It must be written in a style I enjoy, with an emotionally engaging storyline, non-stupid characters, impeccable world building, and exquisite tension which makes me keep turning pages even though it’s already two in the morning. Note that I said usually. Depending on my mood–or just where I am in life–different things push those buttons. For example, I am quite positive that the Harry Potter series would have been cracktastic for me if it had come out when I was younger and less widely read in the fantasy genre. But it came out later when I was already bored with all the stories about wizard schools.

Sure, it might make for a frustrating time if you can’t find anyone else who is as rabid about the same books as you are. But I think it’s a good thing that not everyone finds the same story cracktastic. Otherwise, publishers would only be looking for one thing and there would be only one kind of writer getting published. And while readers lament even now about the lack of diversity in the literary marketplace, it would be even worse if there was just one formula for making a hit book.

What’s Up?

I have a guest post on Random Genre Month about my writing adventures during January. The next writing project won’t be until April for Script Frenzy. No ideas yet, though.

Meanwhile, prepare for more sporadic, if any, blogging for the next month or two since I’m neck-deep in stuff. You know: preparations for my Ph.D. defense, university paperwork, paperwork for my next job, the general hassles of moving to another state.

And as for what I’m doing during whatever little free time I have: Making a dent in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. I think finishing it before the end of the year would be pretty awesome. Currently, I’m in the middle of volume II.

If You Really Need the Fiber Just Eat the Book Instead

Does reading stories need any justification?

I don’t think so.  Reading stories, reading only a certain type of story, or not reading at all is preference.  Novels aren’t food where you can say objectively one is good for your brain and the other isn’t (whether it’s well written or not is another matter).  It’s entertainment–something that isn’t required for survival but that does influence the quality of one’s life, if you let it.

I’m pondering this now because of a Salon article that tackles the idea of whether or not literature makes one a better person.  The article’s author concludes that it doesn’t:

Does reading great literature make you a better person? I’ve not seen much evidence for this common belief. Some of the best-read people I know are thoroughgoing jerks, and some of the kindest and noblest verge on the illiterate — which is admittedly an anecdotal argument, but then, when it comes to this topic, what isn’t?

I’m inclined to agree.  I’m also inclined to ask: why must fiction be read for moral improvement?  I’m sure some people do it for that reason.  But why must there be any reasons at all for reading anything?  As pointed out above, one doesn’t have to read anything at all in order to be a productive and respected part of society.

And speaking of moral improvement, a recent Wall Street Journal piece about the depravity of modern young adult fiction has YA writers spitting mad.  On one hand, I can see why parents can be despairing about how “appropriate” (however that is defined) contemporary fiction aimed at teenagers is.  But on the other hand, I also feel that writers should have the freedom to write whatever they wish, whether it’s about unicorns and rainbows or abuse and violence.

The onus of choosing what to read is not on the writer who merely writes the stories.  Nor is it on the marketer–a concientious reader doesn’t read something simply because someone tells them to.  The onus is on the reader.  No one is forcing anyone to read bad fiction in their spare time.  With today’s availability of information, no one is tricked into reading anything.  With thousands of books published each year and the ubiquity of online book retailers, if you can’t find anything good to read, you’re not trying hard enough.

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Personally, I have no interest in dark contemporary fiction for teens.  Even when I had been a teenager and read a few such books to try them out, I couldn’t stand the stuff.  I felt that most of the authors had absolutely no understanding about typical teenagers’ lives.  And perhaps such books would have been better served to be marketed as adult fiction that just happened to have teenaged protagonists.  But whatever the case, if other teenagers wanted to read them, I’m definitely not standing in their way.

And I guess that’s another point in the WSJ article that I have trouble with–the notion that teenagers need gatekeepers in order to filter their reading.  Adults, especially the sort of adults who think that only they know what’s good for everyone, always seem to underestimate how smart kids are.  Teens know the difference between fiction and reality and should have the freedom to read what they wish.  And if the parents have an objection to a particular book, they should at least have the courage to discuss with their kids–in a reasonable manner–why they find it objectionable instead of outright banning it in the heat of the moment.  Because you know they’re going to find a way to read it behind your back anyway.

A Bad Beginning

Last night, I started reading a book that is very popular and has had a movie made from it fairly recently.  The reason I decided to read the book was because people in lab have raved about it and I decided that the next time a conversation springs up about it, I wouldn’t be relegated to the sidelines in ignorance.  (In any other subject aside from microbiology or books, I’m okay with saying “I don’t know” or “I don’t have any experience about that”.)  The last time I tried a fiction book that other science people were raving about, I found it mediocre.  And as for this time?  Well, let’s just say I’m going to try to stick with non-fiction recommendations from now on.

Keep in mind that I’ve only read three chapters so far.  Normally, I toss a book if it doesn’t interest me after the first chapter, but I’m determined to finish this even if it mentally kills me.  As someone who has perused submission guidelines in a serious way, I know that writers–if their initial query gets through–submit the first three chapters of their work to the agent or editor.  If the first three chapters don’t pass muster, then there’s no chance that the agent or editor will want to see the rest of the manuscript.  With that in mind, I expect the first three chapters of every fiction book on market to have certain strengths that would make an agent or editor go “yes!” even if the subject matter for me, personally, does not appeal.

This book that I’ve started does not have the yes-factor.  Nothing happens in the first three chapters.  I have no sense of the setting–which is something I discussed in the previous post that I think is critical for a great story.  I can’t relate to the characters and the writing is, well, stylistically incompetent at best.  I had to put the book down after three chapters because the writing itself was giving me a headache.  I’m still giving it a benefit of a doubt, though.  There are plenty of books that start out slowly.  Maybe the characters and plot become more interesting later even if the writing itself is a trainwreck.

I’m not going to reveal what the book is just yet although you can probably guess what it is already.  This book has sold millions and I’m trying to figure out what it has that makes it sell–even to people who don’t normally read.  Maybe, if it’s not a literary factor, it’s due to marketing.  (If it’s just due to marketing, then the publishing industry should be able to sell any sort of dreck it churns out.  But this can’t be solely the case because sometimes bestsellers are well written with little marketing push.)  And once I’ve finished, I may have to write a review of it–mostly for myself to define where the boundaries of my tastes are.