Friday, August 14, 2015

The books I've stopped reading by Sheila Claydon

Although I love to read I'm becoming more and more picky with age. I no longer read books where too many words get in the way of the story. Ditto books where the author shares every detail of every bit of research ever done. Recently I read a book that listed all the tools a thatcher uses together with a 'how to' guide, while another one described an autopsy in such detail over several pages that it read like a medical text book. Although I'm never going to thatch a roof or become a pathologist it doesn't mean I'm not interested. What I don't want to do, however, is waste time reading pages of badly disseminated research that add nothing to the story.

I didn't need to know about shearing hooks, legatts, crooks and pins and nor did the police sergeant in the story, who was told apropos of absolutely nothing. The detail, which took up 3 pages, was not only entirely irrelevant, it came out of nowhere. At first I thought the conversation held a hidden clue  but no, the victim was shot, not sliced open with a shearing hook.

I have another bugbear. If, after a paragraph or two, I find myself editing some of the author's convoluted and wordy sentences in my head, I know the book is not for me.

Facts are fine, so is descriptive prose if it adds to the story, but I'm of the Stephen King persuasion. Write the book. Put everything in it and then take out half when you first edit it, and more again the second time around.

Then there's the plot. A good plot keeps me guessing almost to the final page while a bad plot bores me to death. This happened last week and halfway through the book I did something I've never done before, I turned to the end. It was a crime novel by a well known author who has had work translated into a very successful TV series, so my expectation was high. The only downside as far as I could see was that it comprised 650 close typed pages, a bit long for a 'Whodunnit'. Sadly the author let me down. I worked out the entire plot as well the outcomes of quite a few of the side stories within the first half dozen chapters. When I also found myself continually re-writing some of the sentences in my head I gave up, turned to the end, confirmed what I already knew, and then chose another, very much more enjoyable and well written book about the young Australian war brides who were transported to Britain at the end of WW2.

That TV series thing gets to me too. Although I've read some good ones I've also read a number of poorly written books by different authors that have been turned into very successful TV series.  Is the success of the TV version down to a very talented script writer and director or have I missed something? I'd love to know how producers choose their stories. Do they actually prefer a book they can tinker with,  look for characters who need to become more rounded, a plot that needs tightening up? I wish I knew.

My attitude is a personal one of course. Some readers enjoy lengthy prose and I have one friend who can't abide modern literature and just re-reads all the old classics. There's certainly a place for those in our literary lexicon but fashions change, and some of the old stories I once enjoyed now seem wordy and contrived, although others have stood the test of time to an admiral degree, so yes, I'm picky about the classics too.

Am I like this because I'm becoming more selective as I grow older, or is it because I'm a writer? It's probably a bit of both, but what I do know is that life is far to short to waste time reading a book I'm not enjoying. What about you?

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