I never thought I would say this but: Reading has been boring me as of late. TheHusband half-jokingly suggested that if all those things I once held true to my heart are no longer of interest recently (reading, writing to name a few), perhaps I may be slightly depressed. With as much upheaval we’ve had this year (new house, job, car to name but a few things), he may have a valid point. But I also do not think it is that much of a stretch of imagination to think that contemporary authors are also at fault here as well – this is not to say that all books that are published are rubbish or that there is no creative story engine left for me to graze on, but it does speak much of what is being pushed to the masses these days as literature. So it’s hard to escape into a good novel when said novel would be more worthy of toilet paper rather then reading on the toilet.
Recently while cleaning up the backend of the site, I realised that the Book List: 2011 page had not been updated since July and it was now December. The idea of a list was formed when sometime late last December or early January, I ran across a blogger who was documenting, by year, all the books they’ve read. I thought this was a brilliant idea, as I always think anything that involves making lists a brilliant idea, so I started doing it as well. My idea, however, was to take it one step further: Instead of just documenting what I was reading in list format, I would also write reviews, post them on my site, GoodReads,LibraryThing, and Amazon.
It’s wholly acknowledged that while I always seem to have brilliant ideas, I am also incredibly lazy. I did, however, half-heartedly attempt to keep track of what I was reading even if I was not writing reviews. I put the page in edit mode and spent some time racking my brains to figure out what I had read since those summer months. The list was not terribly long.
What exactly did I do over the summer that curtailed my reading? I have no fucking idea, but I do recall that much of what I was reading seemed to be terribly uninspired, formulaic, or I kept putting it on hold for so long that it had to go back to the library.
Take for example, A Discovery of Witches. Reviews and the summary dictated the book would right up my alley and with the mystery element built in, even better! But each time I tried to read it, there was always some obstacle on why I could not finish it. I kept thinking it was me losing steam, or since I tend to read before bed, I was reading the same 12 pages all the time, or I was not reading fast enough and as the book was from the library, every time I wanted to renew it for another three weeks, I had to return it as someone else placed a hold on it.
In regards to the book itself, I found the opening chapters were forming a stink of pretentious fuck twattery and that made me nervous. The writing was stilted and it felt like Harkness borrowed the template of heros/heroines character development from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.
How? Well, while writing is is technically correct and there is some marks of brilliance in both books, the characters are outlines of human emotion and involvement, boxes for which to project ourselves on. In both series’, the main protagonists are too perfectly flawed – the heros more so than the heroines. It seemed that in order to give the males depth and character, to add texture their development as believable narrators, Harkness and Gabaldon give them enough of a bad boy backgrounds instead of letting the characters form themselves.
In the case of the heroines, the perfectly adorable, emotionally distant yet will succumb to the right man and yet also brilliant klutzy do-gooder whose shining career is now curtailed by the perfect cock – whom no one could ever love as much as the heroes, just reeks of Mary-Sueisms.
The other issue with ADoW is that it felt like the witch/vampire pairing, along with some of the other supernatural elements, were put in as an afterthought. It is no secret that Harkness knows the ins and outs of Oxford (herself a scholar of note), so she could divine the place with some realism, which is central to the storyline, but for everything else in detail of place/character/event, it felt very much that in order to cover up for her lack of knowledge of something, the creation of supernaturalism was the balm applied to her writing flaws. And that is one thing I’m getting tired of is using supernaturalism as a coverup but apparently this is what you do these days when you have a half-decent story and okay writing skills and you need to make the story contemporary and or sellable and or to use as filler.
If you’re going to write a novel, of any ilk, I firmly believe you must let the story itself unfold and not let the perfection of mechanics or tropey filler to dictate the direction or even, the life of the story. To force the story, so as seen in ADoW, kills the soul of the story. You can have mechanical perfect story but a wholly boring one that lacks of any interest to keep the reader engaged. I had a ton of friends who loved ADoW, but to me it was overhyped claptrap.
Much of what I’ve perused this year in books seem to fall under that same kind of ideology of mine: Book has interesting premise, respectably reviewed but yet when I got my hands on it, it falls short everywhere, so I gave up reading it after the first chapter or two. For ones that I did finish – please see quick review of ADoW above – could be replicated for The Postmistress and even my beloved Susan Isaac’s new yarn, As Husbands Go. 2011 was just a piss-poor of reading delights.
As the year progressed, it seems that I was having a harder and harder time getting into and digging novels of any kind, unless you count my brief obsession with cozy mysteries earlier in the year when I tore through those quickly. It should come as no surprise that after while, the series themselves tends to become (if it was not already) incredibly formulaic. The tales of Ms. Agatha Raisin were amusing upon first reading but how many times can she want to tint her hair, lay waste to her hunky next door neighbor or solve all the murders in the Cotswolds?
Despite my grumpiness as of late with literature as a whole, this has not stopped me from reading from cover to cover every week The New York Times Book Review, making a list of books to the various categories on my Amazon Wish List, following book bloggers and podcasters, or reading magazines dedicated to books and writing. I may not be reading books but I am reading what everyone else is saying about them. So it is not that I’ve thumbed concept, practice, or merits of reading or writing – but what IS causing the problem of my tut-tutting of what I am reading, I have no fucking idea.
Because my husband loves me and wants me to be happy, he bought me books as presents this holiday season. I also have loads (dozens) of books sitting on my to be read pile that I need to finish, not including the gazillion titles sitting on my iPad. I will continue to add titles to my Amazon Wish List, read the reviews from cover to cover, and listen with interest to the book podcasts. The goal, once again, to record all that I have read for the year and hopefully, just maybe, when I write the year end review of my reading habits, my claws will have been retracted and I will have finally escaped into a good novel.
*Quote attributed to Jane Austen, natch.