How my reading has changed….

One unintended and unforeseen consequence of my writing has been the effect it has had on my reading. Not just on what type of reading matter I choose to indulge in but also the style in which it’s written. Clear as mud. I know, but let me explain.

Some of you may know that I am a book reviewer as well as a writer. I get to do write-ups on all sorts of material and not just genre books. I recently reviewed Little Gods by Anna Richardson which, while it could be classed as a contemporary fantasy, is also about as far from genre fiction as it’s possible to get. The difference in use and style of language between that book and your typical genre tale constitutes quite a chasm – Richards’ language is often poetic and quite acrobatic at times, whereas horror, for instance, tends to be more direct and dispenses with any unnecessary verbiage.

Now, not long ago, I revelled in the poetry of language, ie, the way some authors seemed to reinvent English and make it their very own. Since taking up writing, however, my perception of such literary pyrotechnics has shifted considerably. While I still appreciate good and appropriately inventive use of language, I am increasingly finding that such an exercise can get in the way of the story. In fact, it often appears that, in some cases at least, it’s been deliberately written that way to cover up the fact that, at bottom, there is very little in the way of a story in the first place. It often feels like (and I may be doing some authors an injustice here) the writer in question is suffering from a paucity of imagination and, to distract us, showers us with dazzling examples of how wittily he/she can subvert language for his/her own use or how wide and wonderful his/her vocabulary is.

The book I am currently reading for review, Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan, almost put me completely off within the first few pages, simply with the way it’s been written. Now, I’ll admit that so far I have only read those first few pages, so I can’t pass judgement on any other aspect of the book, but I am sincerely hoping that there is indeed a story lurking within the heart of the narrative. And, if there is, that the language is subservient to the story, that it helps drive it forward rather than disguising the emptiness of its central premise. Too often I find myself disappointed at the end of a book, impressed at the author’s obvious command of english but let down by a feeling that there was nothing but hot air in there.

And I dont think it’s through a lack of literary empathy that I feel that way about some books. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent man, so I suspect that some books are indeed all style and no content. I’ve often wondered whether it’s just a difference of approach – maybe that IS the point of these books, a way of getting us to appreciate the flexibility of language when not encumbered with plot and storyline. However, I think that stories are a primal necessity for humanity – we all need stories to help us connect with the world around us. It’s what helped shape ancestral tribal communities sitting around fires before ‘proper’ settled societies started to come together.

This is why my reading is heavily weighted toward genre fiction – because they fulfil that need for story. I do read other types of fiction (and non-fiction, too), but if I want a rollicking good read, packed with action and adventure, then I’ll go for genre fiction every time. But, even a grandiosely over-written literary book can serve a purpose – it can show you, at the very least, how NOT to write a book.

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