Saturday, October 8, 2011

EPIPHANY #2

There must be something in the coffee – or the earthquakes have shaken up the neurons in my brain as well as the stonework of my house, but I have had an epiphany. Another one, following closely after the one about new literary personas. (I'm still trying on Lavinia's over-stated hats and TraCee's skimpy skirts and have yet to decide which way to go.)

Anyway, it has dawned on me that sometimes we writers might struggle down the wrong track, literarily speaking. That is, the wrong track for us. Those who have grown up with books acquire knowledge, taste and discernment. When we start writing, we probably aim towards the high end of the field, because that is the ultimate goal – to be a good writer. Even if we read all kinds of books and enjoy them for what they are, when we write, I suspect that we try to write at a level, or in a genre, that doesn't suit us. And that probably makes us tense and anxious.

I must have read thousands of books since I learned to read at age four or so. As well, I've been a book reviewer for forty years. That must be close to a thousand books which I have read and commented on as a professional. I know what I like – but that doesn't affect my published opinions of a given book, because there is a difference between "I like it" (or not) and "this is good" (or not). Yes, I know that my opinion of what's good or bad can differ from someone else's, but that's another matter.

What I like is mostly personal and subjective. When I read for myself, for pleasure, I enjoy books that range from literary to pot-boiler. I automatically adjust my taste buds to suit the genre, the style and the content. I ask only to be entertained, and that the authors don't infuriate me in some way, specially by lapses in the internal logic of the work.

I have preferences within genres. For example, with detective stories I would rather read Agatha Christie than Ngaio Marsh, not because she is a better writer (she isn't) but because she is a better plotter, and because Ngaio Marsh's style can seem fairly stuffy by comparison. For thrillers I would rather read Dan Brown and Lee Child, who write novels which fairly gallop along, before John le Carre, who can be heavy going but worthy in the long run.

So, as writers, the first thing we should probably do is to sort out what kind of book we would be comfortable and happy writing. And that may not be the kind of book that we admire from afar, and that attracts critical approval. It is more likely that it should be the kind of book that we want to curl up in an armchair with and find satisfying. To both read and to write.

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