Too Short

Is life too short to read bad books? This question comes at a good time for me because I’ve been reading a lot of book blogs recently and doing a lot of thinking about reading in general and the question is something worth answering.

First off, I realize this is a question aimed at book bloggers whose main goal is to blog reviews on books that they liked or didn’t like, and to state in that review why. But, I’m going to have to be serious this week and ask why? Why has reading and reviewing been reduced just to whether you liked it or not? Whether it is “good” or “bad”? How many stars you are willing to give it? And, hey, I’m guilty of that last one too. And, what does “good”, or “bad” for that matter, even mean?

I realize that there are people out there who say you are “reading against the clock” you only have so many years, months, weeks, days of being a reader and then that’s it. What you read is precious in the time allotted to you on this earth. You choosing to read one book means potentially that you are not reading another. What about that lost enjoyment, that lost escape, that lost validation of yourself, that lost spark of inter-connectedness you could have had from one book, that you didn’t get from the other? Well, what about it?

When reading books that I like, and writing the reviews later, I find that it all goes really, really fast. I tear through a book I like and finish it almost too soon. I rarely savor as I have no self control when it comes to a book I like. Then when I write the review later I find myself at a loss for words. I end up just writing about the few things I didn’t like and don’t really discuss what I did because I find it overwhelming. Does anyone else feel like that? The characterization was vivid and true to life, the dialog snappy and witty, the scenes were moving, the descriptions breath taking, and for some reason I find it hard to take a moment and say that. Just what made all of those things work so well, why were all of these things as amazing as they were and how did this author do something that was so “good”? For that matter, why did this book click with me so amazingly, and what does that say about me and where I am right now? Would I have liked it as well five years ago? What about five years from now? A “good” book agrees with me and flows with me and what I love in life at that moment in time, revealing that can be a little personal. Maybe that’s why I break it down to a simple 1-5 star rating, and only go into what I didn’t like and not what I did or, more importantly, why I didn’t pick apart why it worked so well and what made it good for me.

“Bad” books on the other hand, whew. My longest reviews are about books that I hated. I go on and on about what didn’t work and why it didn’t work. What could have been done differently. I point out flaws in characterization and dialog, pick apart the scenes and descriptions, lay out the plot arc, the themes, the undertones, everything for the world to see and my vitriol flows long as I explain just why I didn’t like this book. It’s a cathartic release, I’ll admit. It’s also a learning experience and whether or not I like it I almost always grow, in my reading, in my beliefs, in my self. By seeing so clearly laid out what doesn’t work for me as a person I can say what I am not and thereby discover what I am. And, nothing gets that flowing more than a particularly “bad” book, and the resulting review.

Stephen King, in his book On Writing, once said that in order to really learn as a writer and as a reader what does and doesn’t work, you need to read the classics to see what does, and you need to read the trash to see what doesn’t. And, I totally agree with that. I learned a lot about what I was looking for in good writing from reading a lot of very bad writing, in the form of fanfiction, harlequin and even some so called respectable pieces of modern work. I even keep one book, the worst book I have ever read, Naked Came The Manatee, for the sole purpose of looking at it and saying, well, if crap like that can be published, anything can. I also think that reading a “bad” book can at times be as enlightening as reading a “good” one, within limits.

Those limits were met for me when I picked up Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife. I love Jane Austen. I love reading sequels written about her works. This book frightened me though. Within the first few chapters it was made clear that a rapist was stalking Elizabeth Darcy and, when he raped and murdered a woman “on camera” before setting off to follow her, I had to put the book down. I could not bring myself to finish it. I might go back one day when I am stronger, but until then I am “reading against the clock” and have plenty of other books to read – both “good” and “bad” – learn from, and grow with.

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