I recently finished reading a book that I found so poorly constructed and lazily written I was kind of astonished it had been published by a reputable house. It read to me like a poorly edited first draft by a talented writer. Vast stretches consisted of dialogue only. There was no sense of place. The only way you could tell where you were was because names of streets and other landmarks were dropped in. Oh, and the cover copy announced where it was set, which, truly, was my biggest clue.
I’ll be honest it kind of made me angry. I know lots of writers who work their arses off getting it right and here’s this writer just phoning it and getting away with it.
But then I talked to a librarian friend of mine, who liked (though didn’t love) the book and whose students enjoyed it. She also mentioned that it had some very enthusiastic reviews, which I immediately looked up. They left me bewildered and a bit cranky. If someone can phone in a crappy first draft and suck in the readers and reviewers why bust a gut to write the best books we can? Why do we bother doing research? Why aren’t we phoning them in too?
Now, of course, my reaction assumes that there’s a shared understanding of what makes a good book and good writing, which clearly there’s not. Each reader is bringing something different to the page and thus reading something different. But I feel like even when I hate a book I can at least see what other people are seeing it. I think I get why some people love Moby Dick even though it bores me into a coma. I don’t think it’s badly written. It’s just the last book in the world I want to read.
Not this time. This book was shoddy. There was no there there.
But maybe that’s exactly what it has going for it? The less there is on the page, the more a reader can bring to it, and the more they can make the book their own? And that what I think of as “good writing” just gets in the way of that kind of reading experience.
Who knows? Certainly not me. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the appeal of this particular book or the many books just like it. But it doesn’t really matter because it clearly wasn’t written for me. And heaps of wonderful books that were written for me are getting plenty of love too.
And, yes, I will keep writing the best books I can. There’ll continue to be readers out there who think they’re rubbish. Because those black squiggles on white paper? We can interpret them any old way we choose.