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November 2, 2009

A tough time with popular fiction

Perhaps I’ve finally gotten clever, or the world’s gotten dumber, and I’m not sure which, but either way, I am having a tough time with popular fiction. Last Thursday, once again, I had to abandon a novel for being complete and utter crap. For being sloppy, poorly edited, not completely making sense, being implausible, and patronizing in that it was expecting me not to notice. At first, as I was struggling through, I put it down to the last three books I’d read before it having been difficult but also extraordinary, and maybe popular fiction in general just doesn’t bring the same return on investment. But no, actually. I’ve read some fine popular fiction this past while, that might not have demanded much of me as a reader but it didn’t ask me to kindly avert my eyes while it turned into a train wreck of a book either.

I feel that as a writer myself, who has written two significantly flawed (albeit not without their virtues but still, there is a good reason they’re unpublished…) novels, and many utterly awful short stories, maybe I’m just better attuned to a crappy book than the average reader. “Oh, I see what the writer did there,” I find myself thinking, and I wonder: why didn’t an editor pick up on this? Or do they still have editors? Perhaps they disappeared when the bottom fell out? And if so, could someone please get them to come back?

This post is far more grumpy than my usual fare, but I was annoyed. My reading time is hard-fought for these days. As I’ve noted already, I’m trading my daughter’s development of positive sleep habits for time to read, as I allow myself to be napped on, but her naps don’t come easy. And how will I answer when she grows up to ask me what I have to show for the shitty novels for which she sacrificed the ability to fall asleep anywhere but on her mother’s chest?

Or maybe I’m just crazy. Because I go searching the internet to validate my opinions, and I find that crappy novel of the day has received a glowing review in the New York Times (though never, I note, from Michiko Kakutani). And when I do blog searches, I find readers loving the stuff. There is usually a note, also, that says, “Would be great for book clubs.” Which, really, says nothing very good about book clubs.

I don’t think I’m crazy though. The UK papers tend to hate the books I do, and there is always a dissatisfied blogger for every enamoured one. Which goes to show, I suppose, that we all expect very different things from the books we read, but sometimes I do wish readers might expect a little more. And that editors would too, and publishers, and authors of themselves?

But, as Caroline Adderson once wrote (and I love this quote): “”Of course, the best antidote to the disappointment of the literary life is to read.” And I managed much consolation with a weekend spent with The Sweet Edge by Alison Pick and Tokyo Fiancee by Amelie Nothup, both of which I can earnestly recommend.

4 thoughts on “A tough time with popular fiction”

  1. BabelBabe says:

    so of course I want to know what novel it was : )

    I am with you – there are several acclaimed novelists writing today for whom I can't give 2 hoots. and several underrated ones who deserve to be MORE famous. It is NOT just you.

  2. meli-mello says:

    I just read a book that was crap but it was given to me to review and I had already decided it was going to be the last review book I do (not counting my NCL website). I guess I stayed away from a lot of popular fiction until I started doing reviews for Penguin and, seriously, I've never read so much crap in my life (save the 3 weeks I was trapped in Quebec, 14-years old, with an Aunt who only read Harlequin). I couldn't even bring myself to write the reviews.

    I too want to know what book you are talking about. 🙂

    RE: Harriet's sleep. As you have probably read on my blog Moira's sleep was hard won. I let her nap on me a lot in the early days. She would only go to sleep for the first 4 months with me wearing her and walking around the apartment. After that we would nap in bed but she would keep one eye open and not let me leave (and really, I needed the sleep anyway). She started napping on her own – and for more than 20 minutes at a time – around the 9/10 month mark. I don't know if it was because a)I started her on formula and she wasn't starving anymore (since my milk had run out and it took me a while to realize it), b)she was just ready to start napping because she was so much more active or c)I had persevered about getting her to nap by herself (read: sneaking out of the bed once she had fallen asleep). So, I have no real advice except to say we do what have to do and she will most likely nap without you eventually. I've talked to MANY Moms who say it took a good 10 months before their child (and for some reason it was always the first child) started napping.

  3. Kerry says:

    I won't tell, only because if so many other people are enjoying it, maybe I am wrong? Or clearly, very off-base.

  4. BabelBabe says:

    you could email us off blog. : )I am snarky, aren't i?

    I just had someone vehemently warn me off a book i had already read and not – enjoyed, exactly – but thought was quite engaging and thought provoking. am DYING to know why they hated it so…

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