I admit it, I’m a book snob. I wish there was a better way to describe it but there’s not. This isn’t a minor thing either, but a major note on who I am, both in how I read and how I write. Plus, I read slow, so my time is precious.
As I explained in my review of The Unincorporated Man, I got to a point where I simply gave up on the book. It’s not the first time this sort of thing happened. It almost happened with The Wise Man’s Fear and it has happened with books by obscure writers, well known writers (hello, Tad Williams), and masters of the craft (Issac Asimov). None of these cases are all encompassing, especially since I’ve finished other stories from some of the authors whose books I’ve given up on.
The first question to ask is Why do I give up on a book? It could be for a number of reasons. Sometimes, the act of reading a book can lose all its joy and become nothing more than a chore. That’s what happened when I read The Unincorporated Man, just as it nearly happened with The Wise Man’s Fear. I’ve also stopped reading books because I’ve grown bored with them. This is what happened when I read Nemesis by Issac Asimov; I just got bored, it’s that simple. If a book is poorly written, like The Unincorporated Man or one of Brian Lumley’s New Necroscope novels, I’ll drop the volume and leave it behind.
I will also warn writers from having characters I don’t care about take over a story. In Otherland, Tad Williams manages to create an interesting setting, noting the ways people interact with their computers. It’s not too far off from what we have today. While we do have many things titled by William Gibson’s works (I’ve gotten bored of one of his books too), Williams managed to describe the notion of MMO gaming years before World of Warcraft existed. Williams focuses very little on the character who plays games, who I thought was quite interesting, and instead favors the tutor and her African student. That duo bored me, offering no real conflict in the story but instead giving only pieces of worldbuilding and little else. I got about 350 pages into that one before calling it quits.
Next question, What keeps me reading a book? That’s a much broader question, but I will answer it in brief. I keep reading books because I like the characters, because the plot intrigues me, because the writing itself is quite strong, or because I feel unconsciously drawn to a story. When I read Nekropolis by Maureen F. McHugh, I was drawn to the tale, finding something poetic in its telling and in its imagery. Maybe I just like the characters involved with a story. Justin Cord, The Unincorporated Man himself, was a magnificent character, one that kept me intrigued enough where I read for 300 pages.
So, all that leads to a final question: How does this impact my reading habits? I read only when I want to read something. If I’m in the mood for a mystery, I don’t read science fiction. I try to keep things varied–I’m reading Brandon Sanderson right now, so I probably won’t read fantasy until I’ve read something else.
But, Len, didn’t you say it affected your writing? Yes, I did. I’ll put this is direct terms, if only to illustrate how my mind works.
I won’t put up with any crap. The Felurian chapters I despised took me days to fight with; a have a pair of speed-reading friends who only had to put up with Felurian for about twenty minutes.
I won’t put up with dumb characters. While !Xabbu should be interesting, he and Reine irritated the hell out of me. Why write about someone uninteresting doing uninteresting things when stuff can blow up and the story can pick up a bit.
I want things to sound the best they can. If I can make people care about Commander they way they care about Harry Dresden, I’ve done my job. If I can capture the imagination with Tesseract just as Frank Herbert captured imaginations with Dune, I’ve done my job. If I can pull at the emotions by having a cross dresser be dragged away by Genetic Security agents, then I have done my job.
I read the kind of books that interest me so I can write interesting books. My hope is that you will find them engaging, that you will enjoy reading about the characters, that you will be caught up in the plot, or at least enchanted in such a way my prose might fuel your dreams. I might just be out to write a good story, but I’m going to do all those other things too. That is the job of every writer if they are serious about being a storyteller and in selling books. There’s no way around it, there’s no other choice aside from making the best tale possible.