I am a huge fan of audiobooks. My spare reading time is limited, and I adore being able to listen to books while wandering around doing the grocery shopping or riding around in the car. It’s not like I miss much on the radio, as I’m usually only in my car during peak traffic hours when they play nothing but ads. Frequently my job involves very visual tasks that allow me to listen to a book for entertainment in the background. I have discovered, however, that I have to listen to a story I know, otherwise I’m apt to miss something. As such, I’ve been rolling on through a number of favorites. In an effort to get away from my Nora-centric reading, I’ve been going back to other books that were old favorites. And I’ve been surprised to find myself unimpressed. I shan’t name names, but books that I remember LOVING the first time I can’t seem to get into, not just because I already know what happens or because the narrator annoys me (having a narrator of an audiobook ruin the story for me is an entirely separate issue for another post), but because this time around I’m noticing all sorts of errors or things that the author could have done better. More often than not, I’m deleting the book and going on to something else.
It’s not just audiobooks. It seems like half of the regular books I pick up leave me uninspired to keep reading them–and that’s not just old favorites. It’s new stuff too. I recently read an excerpt from one author’s forthcoming novel on her blog. The summary and subject matter would have sold me on the book in the store, as the concept was an interesting one–but the blurb I read from it was an immediate turn off. Everywhere you turn in the writing world you read or hear about how difficult it is to get published. Yet there is a plethora of mediocre reads that really leave me feeling, “Well s/he got published. I know I can do better than that!” If it’s so hard to get published, where are all these so-so books coming from? Apparently I’m not the only one. May K talks about a similar issue over on Romancing the Blog today.
Some of my reading ennui relates to the fact that as I have grown as a writer, learned more about the craft and discovered better ways to do things, I am outgrowing some of these authors and books that I loved so much before. I also seem to be becoming more choosy and critical of the works I do pick up. There aren’t too many authors I read anymore who manage to suck me into the story such that I don’t notice stylistic stuff. More often than not I find myself too often pulled out of a story based on “I would have put that together differently” or “didn’t anyone copy edit this thing?” I think this is a familiar experience to a lot of authors. We are so immersed in our craft and improving how we do our own stuff that we, by default, analyze everything we read. And I think this ruins the simplistic pleasure of reading many times. It’s hard to take our professional side out of the equation when we’re reading anymore. And I wonder if that makes authors the toughest critics of books out there.
There are good and bad aspects to this sort of attitude. On the one hand, I am probably missing out on a lot of good reads because I do, I confess, often stick to tried and true standby authors who always deliver for me rather than striking out into new territory. I may pick up a new author on recommendation or because the back cover blurb sounded interesting. But if the writing doesn’t catch me in the first chapter or two, these days I don’ t have the free time to devote to slogging through just because and hoping it gets better. On the other hand, this level of high criticism makes me hold my work to higher standards. I expect a great deal of myself and of the manuscripts I work so hard to polish before sending out. And I hope that this stringent standard will preclude someone else from someday writing a post similar to this one after reading one of my books.