Sunday, March 30, 2008

Reading Other Novels as a Novelist

I used to get lost in books. In the backseat on long car trips , or on Sunday afternoons, lengthwise on the couch inside a sunny deck porch, I could exist in other worlds for hours at a time. It was magic.

Those days seem to have long passed for me. I start reading novels all the time, but rarely finish any of them. My pace is painfully slow, often ten pages per hour, and sometimes less. In part, my biochemistry may have changed. I took a battery of tests for attention deficit disorder some time ago, one of which required connecting an numbered sequence of alternating pink and yellow dots on a sheet of paper. I bombed, which suggested I had particular difficulty with visual attention.

Also, for the past four years I've been neck-deep in the writing process, which I suspect to be a factor as well. Indeed, I've noticed that my progress with non-fiction books, though similarly slow, is also more consistent. I've labored a thousand hours to craft a story that's both compelling and well-written, so yeah, I get frustrated when the literary novels I start quickly become too slow, mundane, overly intellectual, rife with long, complicated sentences. Genre novels, if the plots manage to be wholly original, annoy me with their bland language, their ultra-noble and -modest heroes, their over villainous villains. Can't we have both?

I know the problem exists mostly within me, that rich treasures in fiction abound and I have much to learn from all of them. To all the Pulitzer winners who I've cursed, who I've ground through fifty pages and then thrown to my bedroom floor, I pledge to you with utter sincerity: "It's not you. It's me."

Still, for now, I find myself stumbling, halting, slogging, as I question every decision an author makes. How poorly read I am, though not for lack of effort, may be my biggest embarrassment as an aspiring novelist. I hope this difficulty is only a phase, and that it passes soon. Regardless, this makes the novels I can still lose myself in all the more special. Here are my top three.


Merc said...

Yeah, I'm a slow-ish reader too (though I'm solidly entrenched in the genre side of things ;)), I have a short attention span, so I can sympathize. I hope it's just a phase for you.

Then again, I don't usually see a problem with starting books and not finishing them if they don't grab you in some way. Life is short. :P

I'm in a spurt where I'm forcing myself to finish what I start (as I'm doing market research on urban fantasy) whether the book is good or not. Just wish I could do this faster... my TBR pile isn't getting any shorter.

Hey, I like your blog so far, by the way. :) *goes to read more*


Amanda said...

Just because I don't like it doesn't make it bad and, conversely, just because I like it doesn't make it good.

I have been equally butterfly minded lately but have found focus on my strawberries now the weather has FINALLY dried out a little. I think I was destracted by whatever it was I wasn't doing because I was so depressed by the weather! Lists help me but I don't s'pose that covers it for writting - and I do believe blogs are the procrastinators best friend!! ;)

Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

I get what you're saying. I too crave the feeling of being lost in a book. I love that feeling, especially when it comes on the treadmill and before I realize it 100 pages have flown by and my four miles are finished. :)
Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
Chapter One is now online!

J. Rosemary Moss said...

I agree with Merc: if you give a book a few chapters, and it doesn't grab you by then, don't force yourself to finish it. Yeah, you may be missing out, but save those books that might be great eventually for retirement.

Most of the books I love--the ones I read over and over--grabbed me in Chapter One and often from the first line. I'll own that some books start promisingly and then slide into utter tedium, but an author who knows how to catch your attention from the start is worth some stick-to-it-ness.

Although I think reading books is best--that's how we learn to tighten up our grammar and improve our word choice--listening to books is an option too. Buy some books-on-CD and listen to them in the car or while you're washing dishes at home. Then you can have the pleasure of stopping the CD periodically to yell at it or perhaps even flinging it frisbee-style across the room ;)