Sunday, November 01, 2009

A tough time with popular fiction

Perhaps I've finally gotten clever, or the world's gotten dumber, and I'm not sure which, but either way, I am having a tough time with popular fiction. Last Thursday, once again, I had to abandon a novel for being complete and utter crap. For being sloppy, poorly edited, not completely making sense, being implausible, and patronizing in that it was expecting me not to notice. At first, as I was struggling through, I put it down to the last three books I'd read before it having been difficult but also extraordinary, and maybe popular fiction in general just doesn't bring the same return on investment. But no, actually. I've read some fine popular fiction this past while, that might not have demanded much of me as a reader but it didn't ask me to kindly avert my eyes while it turned into a train wreck of a book either.

I feel that as a writer myself, who has written two significantly flawed (albeit not without their virtues but still, there is a good reason they're unpublished...) novels, and many utterly awful short stories, maybe I'm just better attuned to a crappy book than the average reader. "Oh, I see what the writer did there," I find myself thinking, and I wonder: why didn't an editor pick up on this? Or do they still have editors? Perhaps they disappeared when the bottom fell out? And if so, could someone please get them to come back?

This post is far more grumpy than my usual fare, but I was annoyed. My reading time is hard-fought for these days. As I've noted already, I'm trading my daughter's development of positive sleep habits for time to read, as I allow myself to be napped on, but her naps don't come easy. And how will I answer when she grows up to ask me what I have to show for the shitty novels for which she sacrificed the ability to fall asleep anywhere but on her mother's chest?

Or maybe I'm just crazy. Because I go searching the internet to validate my opinions, and I find that crappy novel of the day has received a glowing review in the New York Times (though never, I note, from Michiko Kakutani). And when I do blog searches, I find readers loving the stuff. There is usually a note, also, that says, "Would be great for book clubs." Which, really, says nothing very good about book clubs.

I don't think I'm crazy though. The UK papers tend to hate the books I do, and there is always a dissatisfied blogger for every enamoured one. Which goes to show, I suppose, that we all expect very different things from the books we read, but sometimes I do wish readers might expect a little more. And that editors would too, and publishers, and authors of themselves?

But, as Caroline Adderson once wrote (and I love this quote): ""Of course, the best antidote to the disappointment of the literary life is to read." And I managed much consolation with a weekend spent with The Sweet Edge by Alison Pick and Tokyo Fiancee by Amelie Nothup, both of which I can earnestly recommend.