I suspect that when I first began reading books, it did not occur to me that there are good books and there are bad books. On that subject, I grew up a long time ago. I majored in English literature in college, and began to learn what makes something a "good book," and what makes something a "bad book." Of course, that determination has nothing to do with the subject matter of the book. It has to do with the literary skill of how the author crafts the work--novel or short story.
In this context, I am really talking about works of fiction. Of course, non-fiction books can be good or bad. But I am mostly thinking about fiction.
So, why all this "good book" "bad book" rumination? Well, I just finished reading a really "bad book." Usually, I quit reading a book that I determine is not worth my time. However, this time, I had bought the novel A Reliable Wife for my Kindle.
I guess because I had bought the book, I felt duty-bound to finish it. What makes it a bad book is that it is entirely plot-driven. Nothing arises out of a compelling portrayal of characters. The dialogue is stilted--there is no authentic voice for any of the characters.
The plot is so full of twists and turns, absurd reversals and unexpected surprise that it really made no sense.
So, why did I buy the book? Well, it was on last year's NPR list of summer reads. I was curious as to how the book had been received, so I went looking for reviews at the time it was published. Imagine my surprise at what sounds like a glowing review from the Washington Post:
This is a bodice ripper of a hundred thousand pearly buttons, ripped off one at
a time with agonizing restraint. It works only because Goolrick never cracks a
smile, never lets on that he thinks all this overwrought sexual frustration is
anything but the most serious incantation of longing and despair ever uttered in
the dead of night. . .
I'm reluctant to quote much more for fear of making the book sound silly -- "Love that lived beyond passion was ephemeral. It was the gauze bandage that wrapped the wounds of your heart" -- but once you've fallen into the miasma of "A Reliable Wife," it's intoxicating.
Well, that sounds enticing, doesn't it? But I began reading between the lines. A phrase such as "reluctant to quote much more for fear of making the book sound silly" said it all.
It is a silly book. And now I am done reading it.
So, what's next on my reading list?
I recently received a most thoughtful gift. We recently had a chance to meet up with one of the friends that we made
on our trip to France. This young woman is an author in her own right. It happens she is part of a writing group, and the books pictured to the right are written by other members in her writing group. She most thoughtfully had the books autographed, addressed to me.
I have begun reading Red Glass--in the space of the first several pages, it has already proved to be a "good book." It should be a most enjoyable read--a real cure for the "bad book" I subjected myself to.