Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Spoiled, and lazy

I haven't posted anything for awhile. To be quite candid, this time of year is a bit of a downer for me. I love summer, love the simplicity of it, love the long days. School starts, and I suddenly find myself drowning in a deep pool of melancholia. The kid's getting older. I'm getting older. The world is in sorry shape, the economy continues to founder in spite of what MSM tells you, and I'm pretty much expecting that in my lifetime, my homeland will be overtaken by hostile forces.

So. You'll see why I've been biting my tongue. Nobody wants to read that sort of thing. I'm the kind of person who sends others scurrying away from the water cooler when I approach.

I'm still in that low place some days, but I had an enjoyable moment recently when I was re-reading an old classic from high school. George Orwell's 1984 is just as appalling and brilliant as it was when I was 16. I was inspired to read it again, along with some other old titles, because I've run into some pretty common, unimpressive books lately. Some have been freebies on my Kindle, so I guess I should have expected substandard sentence structures and flat characters. But still... Somebody, somewhere, published these books. They can't all have been self-published. One of them was so flagrantly incoherent and non-cohesive that I was tempted to look up the author—and was smacked in the face by review after review (by readers, for what those are worth) that sang the praises of this particular woman and her various self-centered, narcissistic memoirs.

Really? I mean, she wasn't absolutely terrible, but she skipped around, she didn't develop anything fully, the order of events was difficult to follow and often left matters unresolved... It wasn't good writing.

I started dissecting other recent books that had disappointed me... and then I gave up because I'd figured out the problem: I'm a former English major. I have taught some of the most amazing authors, after having been immersed in them, and likely because of that I began years ago to expect greatness from the written word. That's not to say I loved all of them, but constant exposure to true talent caused me to raise my standards across the board, regardless of writing style, point of view, or syntax. I'm not a fan of Tolkien, but I can appreciate his flair for description. I never liked Poe, but he could create a macabre setting better than almost anyone. Steinbeck's characters have stayed strong in my mind for decades. Welty painted a warm, slightly uncomfortable picture of the South.

My point is that the classics have become classic for good reason—at least most of them. Those guys and gals could write. They were masters of the language, and they understood that every aspect of writing matters. It isn't enough to be emotive; fantastic word choices won't save a poor plot. Characters I find to be unbelievable will become characters I don't care about enough to finish reading the book.

So you see why I've been spoiled. Poor literature is beneath me. Life is too short. And the lazy part of the post title? I've reached middle age now, and I've grown more choosey about how I spend my time. I've always been a believer in reading a book I love many times instead of trying to read as many different books as possible. These days, I feel even more strongly about that. My favorites? I've revisited them over and over. Some of those more recent releases? There are some great ones, but a whole lot of them are pretty shallow and temporary, and I'm decided that I don't have the energy to bother finishing them once I've determined that they're lacking. Which, according to my way of thinking, doesn't make me truly lazy—just discerning and decisive.

I suppose if I'm going to be spoiled, then this is a more desirable form of it than most.


Athelas63 said...

Try Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, it's very good. So is her Seabiscuit. I really liked David McCollough's The Greater Journey, about Americans going to Paris right after the turn of the Century. Monuments Men was pretty good, very heavy on history. Storywise I liked The Tender Bar and The Book Thief. Middlesex was fascinating but weird. I know what you mean, tho. So many books nowadays are just drivel. Badly written, badly plotted. Awful characters. Try slogging your way through Les Miserable. Or Atlas Shrugged. I've read both of them twice; it takes forever, but they are very good.

Mel said...

Thanks for suggestions. Read seabiscuit and loved it--Hillenbrand is excellent. Rand is a bit heavy but worth it, although I dont think I could handle her right after Orwell... What is the Book thief about? Oh, and in YA mode, liked the city of ember and sequels...

Cari Skuse said...

I don't know if you like Mystery, but I enjoyed the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. The newest just came out. I think there are 10 books so far.
Have you joined Goodreads yet? That's how I find more books to read by going through the related books others have read.

Mel said...

Thanks, Cari--I'm not into mysteries like I used to be, but if I hear great things about some I'd be willing to try again. I do need to get on Goodreads--you're not the first to speak well of it. Hope all is well!

Chris H. said...

I have felt this way many times. Like I've already read all the good books there are to read and I won't love anything else as much (silly, as I have not read many classics). But yes, do read Unbroken. It's phenomenal. I also loved, loved The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

Mel said...

Okay, Unbroken will be the title I will seek out next. And I do like most of Kingsolver's stuff... Depends on whether or not I like the characters. I will keep an eye open for poisonwood. Thanks!