The other night I stopped reading a book half-way through because it was too painful to think of enduring the last half. I’m happy that I know when to call an novel quits these days. It took many post-university years to quell the English major in me. What if the story got better, even redeemed itself? Shouldn’t I judge based on the whole package? Uh-uhn. Gone are the days I read for a living. I feel, I’m supposed to enjoy the books I read. And there are too many books I want to read in my short lifetime!
I got to thinking, why I wasn’t enjoying the book? Sure, it was clever. But–the clincher–it drew too much attention to its cleverness, which hampered my reading. The book was like a self-absorbed, vain person. And who wants to hang out with one of those?
I also recalled something one of my profs said: great writing makes for easy reading. Hmm…that may not be completely true, but I think the essence is. Two of my favourite authors (Faulkner and Woolf) aren’t necessarily “easy” to read. Their writing, however, is immersive and even if I have to slow down to catch an inference, I’m not pulled out of the story by the devices being used. They are subtle…woven in. I stay with the story and with my reading.
The book I cast aside was too proud of its devices. I paid more attention to the technique and, therefore, kept falling out of the story. It cited sources almost every line because the girl telling the story was the daughter of a professor. And the novel was structured according to a course syllabus. I liked both techniques at first, but eventually the sources starting coming up in almost every sentence and caused my head to hurt, especially because I didn’t understand their numerous nods to old movies. I felt like I should have bought the annotated version and that just felt simply wrong. This was no Ulysses.
I wonder if authors are trying too hard to distinguish themselves? Maybe it feels like their stories have been told so they have to try really hard to repackage them? Of course, it’s not that way for all new fiction. And I do have complete respect for anyone who’s dared to write a novel, let alone get it published. (Also why I’m not going to out the book here.) It’s just that lately the newly published novels I’ve picked up are too caught up in their devices.
So, for now, I’m reading an oldie that I had yet to discover. Relief.