Friday, March 1, 2013

Book Malaise - It's a Thing, and I Have It.

When I was a tween and a teen, back in the days before the internetz, I used to keep obsessive track of the books I read and their stats, including how many pages, the date I started, the date I finished, and even whether the book was from a library or a bookstore. I kept all of this info in one of those black and white composition notebooks.

Goodreads circa 1993.
The idea of not finishing a book was blasphemy. Once I started, I had to finish not only for my own sense of pride but because if I didn't finish, the "date finished" column in my little notebook would remain empty. I was OCD even then, and an unfilled column was simply unacceptable.

This about sums it up.
I don't remember why or when I stopped keeping a book log and I think those little notebooks went the way of the landfill a long time ago. But a couple of years ago, I discovered Goodreads and I went back to obsessively logging my reading activity. Somewhere in this time though, I realized that life was too short to read all the books I wanted to read. I don't think I'll die young. There are just that many books that interest me, and more hit bookstore and library shelves every day. If I wanted to keep up with what was new and interesting, I was going to have to set aside books that stole precious hours of my life despite my disinterest.

Setting a book aside is hard. Really hard. It feels like a personal failure, and I feel like I've been failing too much lately. I couldn't finish four out of the last five of my book club picks and I'm struggling with the idea of putting down the most recent one. I gave The Dresden Files another crack because my husband likes them so much, but I had to take another break from those. I stopped reading Pretties, the sequel to Uglies, by Scott Westerfield because I was reading everyone in the voice of Lumpy Space Princess.

This is the plot of Uglies.
I've given up on books for even less substantial reasons. I took one author's debut novel to the used book store because she used the word "patina" six times in 30 pages. I wanted to mail her a thesaurus. What I'm getting at is that I wonder about the state of books. When I was a lot younger, little things didn't bother me. I've tried to re-read certain books I loved 20 years ago and sometimes can't get through them. I know I'm older, my tastes have diversified, and I spent three years in a graduate level writing program, but I can't help but wonder if books are also sucking more.

Bookstores have a whole new section devoted to teen paranormal romance. NaNoWriMo is responsible for so much dreck. Just because a person has written 50k words in a row does not mean they have written a novel, let alone one worth publishing. I've gotten to the point where if I read that if a book started as a NaNo project, I won't touch it with a ten foot pole. And don't get me started on fan-fiction as publishable materiel... Author forwards and afterwards also piss me off. If you have to explain or justify your work, you're doing it wrong.

I hate everything.
I feel burned out. I feel like I can't trust publishers anymore to put out quality material. I feel betrayed by my own sense of what is good and what is bad. I feel compelled to analyze everything I read (which is good - to an extent) and can't remember the last time I simply just enjoyed a book without picking it apart. Part of my job is literature analysis. I also enjoy it. But I feel like I have crossed some line where everything that isn't awesome is awful.

So, I ask for your thoughts. Has genre fiction become so flooded that everything is crappy and derivative? Am I a hideous snob? Do you find it hard to set aside a book you've started? If so, why? If not, why not? What have you read lately that has either blown your mind or made you want to blow out your brains?


  1. You might think I'm full of shit with my opinion, because to be honest I often am.

    I think sometimes when people love books or movies or anything when they run across things that they don't like much or think has as much merit they take it personally because they have a great passion for the thing as in this case- books. Whats bad is that passion can actually spoil a love for the thing you care about. Me and Mar are totally different in this. If I don't like something, I just didn't like it, I think the small level of the quality sometimes hits her personally. Then again she always says I like just about everything and will watch or read anything and find something good about it.

    Speaking of the NaNoWriMo thing, Me and Mar the other day where saying we think its now the thing to do to say your books was a NaNo book so a lot of writers are doing that and the books probably never were. I think NaNo can cause issues of quality if writers think of it anything beyond a Zero Draft but I think worse is the publishing industry rushing out books before they are ready, wanting really big books, and forcing writers to continue series that should have been one book. Example on one of those things- My next book I'm taking two years to finish it and people are telling me now constantly that is too long, that seems weird to them.

    Sorry, for the long comment, a lot of sugar today.

  2. I call this 'writer's blight." You see flaws that the non-writer rarely notices. While I keep a list of everything I finish, I firmly believe "Life's too short to read bad books." Only 25%-33% of my reading these days is genre fiction.