So, on Twitter the other day, a few of us were having a conversation. And by “us” I mean Brandy from Random Musings and Sage Blackwood. Sage commented that she also has trouble reading while she is working on a project of her own, but this is not for the same reason that I have trouble with that.
For me, the problem is that reading is absorbing. First it takes up time that I need for writing (if I start a book and enjoy it, I *will* finish it, ignoring other minor things like deadlines), and then also at some point in the writing process, if it’s going well, I will get absorbed in *my* world and I do not want to interfere with that. If things are going *very* well, I don’t even WANT to read anybody else’s work.
Also, I used to find other people’s writing styles invasive, which was both an advantage and a disadvantage. I mean, it’s fine as long as you want to absorb their writing style for your current project; otherwise not so much. If I ever settle down and seriously attempt to write another fairy tale (like THE CITY IN THE LAKE, I don’t mean a retelling, I mean the fairy-tale tone) then I will once again read through all of Patricia McKillip’s books beforehand. But basically this is less of a Thing for me than it used to be. CJ Cherryh’s style used to be terribly invasive for me; now, not so much. She gets into my speaking style a bit, though. I find myself saying things like, “One is certain that this pie crust would have been far superior had you made it,” to my mother. (Really.)
But Sage says she is simply enjoying books less now that she is a writer — as she tries to edit Annoying Stuff out of her own work, she notices it more in other people’s work. It makes it hard for her to read any fiction unless it is by authors who, quote, “… are far better than I could ever be.”
Well, that’s dreadful. Not that there is going to be a shortage of Extremely Good Writers, although given that, what, 800,000 novels are published every year, finding them among modern writers will of course present exactly the same discoverability problem that everyone faces. But it’s still dreadful.
I am much more aware of Annoying Stuff than I used to be, but this is still not a big problem for me and I don’t think it ever will be. And I think this is because I stop reading fiction for a month or two at a time, once or twice or even three times a year. This is hard and I don’t like it, but on the other hand, I think this could be what keeps reading exciting and enjoyable for me, even when I can see Annoying Stuff in a book. This relates to what I discovered last year, that I can enjoy a book even if it has clunky prose as long as the dialogue is good.
I am positive I have heard of a phenomenon in which critics stop liking most fiction. I can’t find a link describing this phenomenon, but I’m sure that’s a Thing. Of course this makes sense.
If you read A LOT of genre fiction (say), then you are going to start thinking that everything is derivative of something better. You will say, “Another werewolf book,” and roll your eyes.
You will encounter Really Great Books and then whatever you read next isn’t going to measure up.
Whatever stylistic things or plot components or particular tropes especially annoy you, you will encounter six books in a row that have that issue and after that you won’t be able to bear it, no matter whether the book is otherwise great.
To some degree, we probably all experience this. I think this is probably one reason we all fall in love SO HARD with whatever books we love when we’re in high school. For me this was The Riddlemaster of Hed and The Blue Sword and Lens of the World and, I don’t know, various others that no doubt I will think of as soon as I close this post. We aren’t tired of anything yet, so a great book hits us right where we live, even if it is quote derivative unquote or otherwise imperfect.
Then we read ten million more books and eventually start going, “This one isn’t doing it right” and from then on we’re pickier. Not everyone. I have met someone, an adult, who shows no signs of being able to tell Terry Brooks from Tolkien. No perception of quality at all, as far as I can tell. But surely that is rare. Certainly that can’t be the case for any decent writer. Or critic.
This is separate from the snobbishness of those critics who can’t bring themselves to like anything popular. You know the type. But I don’t mean that, particularly.
I like this post from Book Riot, in which Greg Zimmerman poses the question Does liking vastly more books than you didn’t like make you a less discerning reader?
And answers it: The simple answer is certainly not.
I don’t agree that every book, no matter how terrible, has bits to like in it. (Sword of Shanarra?) But I do agree that a lot (a LOT) of flawed books are decidedly enjoyable.
Actually, to answer Zimmerman’s question: Liking vastly more books than you don’t like just means that you are pretty good at selecting books that you are probably going to like and pretty good at not picking up books that you are probably going to dislike. That is why (thank you, Internets) you find people whose tastes are similar enough to yours that you can trust their recommendations.
Of the 200 or so books on my TBR piles, I expect to like about, what? 175 at least. (If I ever get around to reading them, of course.) And the exceptions will probably mostly be books I picked up on a whim at library sales or whatever.
How about you all? Do you mostly find that you like the books that you start?
Different question: Do you finish the books you don’t like? And if so, why? Because that one baffles me.