Thursday, June 24, 2010


I have a life-long love of books. From the point I am able to remember anything about my life, books have been there. While I didn't read Nancy Drew or the Bobbsey Twins, I was entranced by a different series. I loved the Jungle Doctor books.

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.


Jayne said...

I've read books where I got to the end and thought, "Why did I keep reading this?" One in particular I can remember was She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Ugh. It had its funny moments, but for the most part, I hated it, but like you, I'd made the investment, Oprah was gushing about it, and so I read it. Life is simply too short to read books that don't make you feel you've spent time well. :c)

Anvilcloud said...

I have recently set aside two mysteries. There seems to be a whole bunch that are just published in paperback to try to cash in on a popular genre. I think they're the Harlequin of mystery fiction.

NCmountainwoman said...

I felt much the same way about "The Reliable Wife" but I think I may have enjoyed it more than you did. Not such good writing but very interesting plot. I just read "The Postmistress" another NPR recommendation and it was WONDERFUL. I loved every page. I also loved "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand." It was almost like watching a British comedy and I loved it from beginning to end. It was a nice break from "Little Bee," a book that was very good but also quite troubling. I'll check out the others you mention.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

This kind of novel would never catch my attention. A nice read, which I read recently, on line was The Dog of Flanders. It is often thought of as a children's story but there is much more to it than that. I includes references to many elements and values which are Belgian. It is a kind of moral tale. It is still much loved in that country. Interestingly, it is loved by the Japanese in much the same way they love Canada's "Anne of Green Gables".

Mauigirl said...

I understand what you mean when a book is plot driven. I confess I feel that way about anything written by John Grisham. I just never can get into the characters somehow.