Wednesday, April 6, 2011

So picky!

So I have a post I can not get right. I have tried and tried and tried to say what I mean to say, but it just refuses to cooperate, and so I have cast it away until we can come to some accord. In the meanwhile, you'll just have to bear with the following tangent:

I've been on a reading kick the last week or so (amazing what quitting Warcraft can do for your life!), and as a result I've spent a great deal of time in my local library, browsing through the fantasy section. Now, my local library is wonderful and amazing, but it is also a pain and a half to get to, so whenever I go I make sure to read at least the first chapter of any book I'm considering taking home because I refuse to make that annoying drive for anything less than a known quantity of awesome. But this enforced extreme care in my book selections has revealed a fault of my character I never recognized before, namely that I am truly, phenomenally picky about what I read.

Time was that I would give anything that sounded cool at least a general glance over. Not any more. Now, faced with a huge shelf of books, my selection process goes like this:

1) Scan shelf for stand out titles/covers.
2) Read the back to check out the plot, get VERY ANNOYED if the back is nothing but quotes. Quotes tell me nothing. I want PLOT! Scrounge around inside to see if the story catches my interest or has any of my pet peeves (and let me tell you, I didn't even know I had these pet peeves until I started doing this. But after careful evaluation, I've discovered I always put down books containing boy heroes, young, initially powerless females caught up in situations beyond their control, too many made up names, shy people, the list goes ON AND ON. It's horrifying.)
3) If the book still has my interest, I will then open to the first page of story and start to read. If the first sentence doesn't catch me, I'm done. If the first sentence does catch my interest, but nothing's happening (landscape description without cool landscape, etc.), I'll give it one paragraph. If nothing cool happens, I'm out. Even then, if the first character isn't interesting, I'm done.

Now, while I'm doing this, the writer part of my mind is quivering in horror. How can I be so cruel? Don't I know these are stories authors worked on and loved every bit as much as I did for my books? My reader self (since apparently I've got n people in my head at any given moment) just gives the writer a dirty look and points out that we've only got an hour a day to read, not to mention the awful drive over here, and do you want to spend those limited resources on something we won't like?

Spending this sort of quality time with my reader mind has taught me many things over the last few weeks, namely the enormous importance of opening lines. But, picky as the bitch is, you can't argue with results. Every book I've brought home so far I have loved, some past the extent of reason. There's something to be said for knowing what you like, and after nearly 20 years of literacy I ought to know what I'm after. But sometimes, as I skip over book after book after book, I start to get the creeping dread that I am cutting myself off from a world of reading by being so damn rigid in my book choosing process. The truth is, I'm probably missing a lot of really good books, but then everyone does. No one on earth has the time to read every good book, not even every good book in one genre. It simply can't be done. I know that, and still...

When I was young and had tons of time, I read everything. I'd read books I only sort of liked just to see how they'd end. I read widely and developed what I now think of as my taste for books. These days, though, time is short, and so I try to only read good books, books that will delight me. Fortunately there are several resources to help me along that end: reviewers, book bloggers, author reccs, all that sort of thing. I'm amazingly lucky, I have a library with a large SFF section, I live in the age of the kindle, where I can read the first two chapters of pretty much any recent book at the press of a button. But still I worry that, because of the sheer volume of books I have to choose from, that I am being forced to stick to what I know I'll enjoy rather than branching out. That said, I'd take a surfeit of choice over a lack any day. The key, I think, is to keep my mind open. I can decide I don't want to read something, but I have to at least look first. Sort of like tasting new foods. Eventually, even the pickiest eaters branch out if they keep trying new things.

One of the bits of advice I always see for writers is to read widely, but I think it is also important to read well. Read the books that move and inspire you, even if other people look down on them. The joy you take in reading is your own, and it is one of the richest experiences on the planet. Never let anyone spoil it for you, and if you have to be very picky to get there, then be picky. So long as you're still having fun, I don't think it matters at all, and there are certainly enough books to support even the pickiest of readers. You know, like me. :D


Unknown said...

If you like books with strong female characters, I'd highly recommend anything by Lois McMaster Bujold. Her Military SciFi books, the Vorkosigan series, are my favorite things in the whole world, but if you prefer fantasy she has some great books in that genre as well. The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls are excellent and have some remarkable and atypical heroines.

I was a little wary of her fantasy/romance crossover series The Sharing Knife because it does start out with a helpless-seeming heroine, but it ended up winning me over despite that. The setting is what I really fell in love with. It's more of an American fantasy setting than European, which made it feel remarkably fresh and unique.

Rachel Aaron said...

Awesome, I will have to check her out. Thanks for the rec!!!

Bone Machine said...

My pre-test usually involves going to and reading the worst review that is found to be the most helpful to the Amazon community.

You can find a 4-star or 5-star rating for almost anything; I really want to know what the most accurate complaints are.

My reasoning follows that if I can tolerate what most people have found to be annoying, then there is a good chance the reading won't be wasted. A good example would be for Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin: .

There were enough positive reviews to encourage me to give the book a chance. And, ultimately, I'd probably rate the book a 2.5-3... but I finished the book, and didn't feel "what a waste of time."

Unknown said...

You know, I just jumped into your book - though not a very picky reader myself, I do have a selection process. I really enjoy SFF whereas most of my firends do not - so word of mouth was not a big opption for me. I fell in love with Wise and Hickman (which I am sure you read). But that is what I like, the settings, the nonreality, the magic, EVERYTHING. Though I must admit, I have never heard of your stories and I was short on time at the book store (needed more books to read) so I picked yours, looked interesting enough. I just fell in love. I got the box set and went through all 3 in about a week. Now for someone who is a full time student with two full time jobs, this was a feat, even for me. That is just how absorbed I got into your story. I just wanted to thank you for you books (awaiting the next ones) and give an author that I enjoy (Wise and Hickman).

Melinda MacKnight said...

My first impression is that you're probably missing out on lots of great literature by having such rigid criteria. I'm also a fussy reader but I make it a point to pick up at least three or four books a year that I'd normally never have looked at and read them. For instance, classics have proven to be a great opportunity for expanding my knowledge of literature and prose.

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