Books, Books, Everywhere and Not a Page to Enjoy?
I went to the local library today to find a novel to read. No big deal, right? Actually, it can be at least a medium deal for me.
For starters I read kind of slow, so the time investment hangs over any novel I pick up. Which is why I tend to give a book 50 pages to get my attention, or it’s on to the next choice, if I have one. So I’m a bit picky. (I already bailed on The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln this year for this reason.)
Yet I’m haphazard when it comes to choosing novels to read. That’s not to say I ‘m random. Far from it, in fact. But unlike most people, who search by genre, by author, or even by best seller status, I tend to select novels based on how much the story summary appealed to me, with little to no regard of who or what it is connected to. That doesn’t sound so odd at first, but consider how more difficult it can be to discover my next good read during a visit to the library when:
-I don’t make an effort to stay within a genre for a while.
-I rarely seek out a book based on who wrote it. I’ve only done this twice, I believe.
-I’m just as likely to be interested in a book published 20 years ago as I am the current flavor of the month. In fact, I am somewhat more likely to choose the older book.
-I don’t read reviews of books before I pick them up. I save that for after I’m done with them.
-I tend to be turned off by the most popular concepts/formulas of the time.
When I do hear about a book I’d like to try, either by chance or as the result of my researching a genre, you wouldn’t believe how often it isn’t available in my county library system, nor worth the price to purchase. Throw in some bad luck, (I end up enjoying maybe half the books I ultimately choose to read) and it’s clear why library browsing is not the most efficient means for me to find my next read.
“Well, what sort of books do you like to read? Maybe I can recommend something.” Such is what I heard a few times a year from various people. And while the notion is appreciated, I have no go-to description of the type of novel I like to read. To me, reading a novel is such a compartmentalized experience, at present it’s not practical for me to say something like, “I enjoy plot-driven historical mysteries with single person narratives.” (That’s just an example, I have no preference for that type of book per se.) This, I realize, must sound insane to readers and writers alike, but it’s true; I have not short answer to the question.
I’ve gone over the books I’ve enjoyed in the past, and tried to find common denominators. A few broad ones have appeared. I certainly prefer strong characters with a weak plot as opposed to vice-versa. I like modest character counts, especially with POV characters. Truth be told, I’m pretty sure I prefer only one POV, even though I’ve written a novel that has more than one. In time gone by I did read more suspense, Everyday Man trapped in weird conspiracy or historic discovery type of novels, ala Steve Berry. But I’ve turned a bit away from those in recent times. There are a few more common elements to novels I like, but you get the idea; my perimeters are pretty broad, and I don’t mention a specific genre for most of those.
I have no order to the books I try!
I know that for the sake of finding more potential novels I would enjoy, I need to invest the time to think about what it is that speaks to me most, so I can rely on something other than an interesting title and a cover flap blurb. It may in fact be my only hope. This skimming through the library thing doesn’t cut it for a number of reasons. Especially now that I’m noticing patterns in popular fiction, (from which literature is not exempt.) I confess that any story well told can be a joy to read, regardless of what it’s about. I can’t know until I try, right? But I have limited time on the earth to read, and something has to thin the herd from the start. The following trends in fiction will almost always turn me away instantly:
– Any novel that can be described as a “coming of age” story. Nothing about that formula, as I have experienced it, appeals to me. Sometimes it even annoys me. It could be because I never experienced “coming of age” myself. I can’t relate to it. When people ask me about my teenage years, I tend to say they lasted until I was about 20. (I didn’t say it was clever.)
-“Siblings-that-don’t-get-along-until…” literature. Lots of that, and I put down a book as soon as the flap indicates that’s what’s going on. I have relationship of varying degrees with each of my five siblings, and I feel sufficiently exposed to the gamut without reading a book about it. And since I have but one brother, decades older than me, I cannot relate to the popular siblings-torn-apart-by-falling-for-the-same-woman deal.
-Series. I am reluctant to start these money-makers, whether they be a sequential set, such as the Hunger Games, or just a recurring character in separate, different adventures. I have read more than one Robert Langdon novel, but I think I am done with those. I read the Harry Potter series, and I have never been sure why. Even that took me years. But on the whole, unless it’s immaculate story telling, I don’t see myself going through another series of more than three books, if that. Again, I read slow, and spending a whole novel with characters is a big enough investment. Spending five novels with them doesn’t appeal to me. At least it hasn’t yet.
-Fantasy. Huge umbrella, I know. Bare with me. I dip my toe in fantasy waters every few years or so, but have not committed in a while. I have been burned way too many times on it. I want to enjoy fantasy, but no matter how new or old, well known or obscure my choices in the genre have been, I end up disliking what I read at best, and quitting in the middle at worst. Perhaps my luck applies only to so called “high-fantasy.” I would think it would be easy to find something with wizards and magic and swords to enjoy, but it hasn’t been. All the ones I pick up seemed infested with in-genre winks and jokes I do not get, gratuitous violence followed by same, and just in general make me feel like I was cordially invited to someone else’s eight hour Table RPG party, and then promptly ignored once the game started, left to the chips in the kitchen and making conversation with the host’s younger sister and her friends. I need serious guidance on high-fantasy to try it again. Ironically, one of the main inspirations for my own novel was an obscure fantasy novel I read years ago, one of the few I ever enjoyed. But it was low-fantasy. I think. (Therein is part of the problem.)
-Sci-Fi. Another big umbrella. My luck here has been a bit better, but I don’t get to enjoy it as much as I want to. The science, especially these days, seems to take over at the expense of character or even story. This may make me a bad fit for sci-fi, but I don’t care exactly how the hyperdrive works in theory; it doesn’t exist and unless it is part of the plot, I don’t need to know.
-Children dying. Maybe it makes me less of an adult, I don’t know. But if the premise of a book is a child dying, (and there are quite a few) I will not read it. That’s just that. On a similar note, books about people dying long, slow deaths are out most of the time as well.
-More than ten important POV characters. You don’t usually know this until you’re into a book. If I know ahead of time though, I’m likely to skip it. It’s more difficult to relate to that many people, and I want to relate, even if I don’t admire, characters in a book.
-Non-linear. It can be done well, and this isn’t s deal breaker yet, but it’s getting there. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I do like to go from point A to point B when I read. The Night Circus contributed a great deal to my disdain for multiple timelines and such.
-Purple prose. Those are weasel words, I know. “Purple” is different things to different people. But on the whole, if a book is known chiefly for its “meticulous descriptions” I am probably not going to read it.
-Over 500 pages. Even at 500, it better be intriguing. I’ve read a handful of books more than 500 pages, and in most cases I felt there was no reason for it to be that long. I’d read a book over 500 pages if the first 100 would fantastic, or the premise called to me on a personal level.
-Experimental. Another umbrella, and there may indeed be experimental novels that I would love. But after attempting, You Were Wrong, There but for the and Travels in the Scriptorium, I doubt it. If this makes me an immature reader, so be it. But I won’t be trying anything else by the authors of those books for a very long time, if ever.
-Current best sellers. I don’t like running into the hype. I wait for it to die down a few years before I pick up most of the “everybody’s talking about” books. Even then I don’t always. I read The Kite Runner while the whole world was doing so, as well as The Secret of Lost Things and in neither case was it worth it.
And so on. There are, I’m sure, other basic aspects of a novel that turn me off or make me cringe as soon as I read the blurb, but these seem to be the most likely to push me away. For whatever reason, most books I browse at the library seem to fall into one or more of these categories.
I picked up two books today, one literature and one whose genre I’m unsure of. In case I hate the one, I have the other without going back to the library to start the whole process all over again in a day.
Based on what I’ve said here, if you have any suggestions, feel free to let me know.