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I've Become a Crotchety Old Reader

You know those old people who stand on their porch, shaking their fists, yelling, "You kids get off my lawn!" Yeah, well, I've become one of them. Only my beef is with words.

In my younger days, I could push through a badly written book. Hey, I paid for it, so I am going to finish it. And I would finish it with a bad taste in my mouth. Now however, I find that my tolerance is a lot lower.

I think there is a simple reason behind it too. Back then, before I became a writer, I didn't know any better. Purple prose? -ly words? Was? Telling not showing? I had no idea what the rules were, so I didn't know that anyone was breaking them. I simply enjoyed the story.

But now, I can't. I can't make myself overlook the same things I struggle with in my own writing. I try to put on my reader hat, but sometimes, I just can't switch modes and I miss out on a book everyone is raving about. I'm not sure what the answer is.

It's like being vegetarian and then one day you eat bacon: You can never go back. ;)

How do you turn off the writer in yourself so you can just sit back and enjoy a book?
Lee Bross

Lee lives her happily ever after on the coast of Maine where she has written Tangled Webs, her historical YA debut, and fantasy YA books Fates and Chaos under pen name Lanie Bross. She also writes contemporary books for New Adult under the name L.E. Bross, debuting with Right Where You Are.

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21 comments:

  1. I can't turn off the writer. And that's okay with me. I do so much reading day in and day out that I have to give myself permission to not finish a story I don't enjoy. My time is too valuable and there are too many books in my TBR pile. With very few exceptions*, I give a book a few chapters. If I'm not connecting by then, it isn't the right book for me. And that's okay.

    *exceptions are when a book comes HIGHLY recommended by people whose opinions I respect. In each of those cases, I'm glad I read the whole novel.

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  2. Sometimes it just might not be the book for you. I've come across the fact that I don't want to waste my time on something I might not enjoy. I might get 50-100 pages in and that's it, I move on. I've had a few books from authors I love, and this new one doesn't do a take that I care for that much. That's okay. Sometimes to help with the buying factor, I decided to read the first few chapters if they are online or there are sample chapters. That has saved me a few headaches.

    To turn off the writer, sometimes I read something that I know that won't disappoint me as a buffer book.

    (And the bacon to vegetarian thing--- not true for me. Had bacon by accident one day, and not tasty at all for my taste buds.) :P

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  3. If you're just not enjoying the book--even if there aren't any problems with the writing--I don't think there's anything wrong with putting it down and moving on. Life's too short. But if you feel as if you ought to finish the book, perhaps you could consider what you know about publishing. For the most part, the book in your hand went through an agent and an editor at the publishing house. These people don't usually take on any old book project. So there must be something redeemable about it; something that made the agent say "I've got to rep that" and the publisher say "I've got to buy that!" So perhaps see if you can find what is was that the agent/publisher loved?

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  5. So true. However, I can forgive weak writing for a fun premise or engaging characters. For example, a bestselling series about a plucky bounty hunter. Those are fun books, although I've stopped the series lately, and not necessarily "good" writing. But I'm more apt to put down a book that isn't working for me these days because my To Read list is a mile long.

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  6. It's tough to read without editing. Probably because we work so hard at learning to do it with our own writing it becomes second nature.

    Here's the thing, we always have to be mindful of how subjective much of that editing is. Yes, there are the hard and fast rules. But there are also tons of things that are only applicable on the individual level. Word choices and arrangement being primary among those.

    Example: I just got back two separate critics for a WIP. On at least four different occasions what one reader enjoyed the other did not. There were two instances where a bit of humor elicited a 'lol' from one reader and a 'I don't know what that means' from the other. One thought that providing the definition of a 'game warden' was redundant because everyone would know what that was, while the other suggested the same thing for my defining a 'swamp cooler'. Neither mentioned the other instance, so I can assume it didn't irk them.

    I think they are both right, by the way, but that doesn't necessarily make me wrong. If it's that kind of stuff we're hanging over in our pleasure reads, we probably need to learn to shut it out or we won't be very well read. (I firmly believe we shouldn't read only the things we easily relate to or find flawless. We learn the most when we go outside of the familiar and challenge our conventions.)

    That being said, I've certainly struggled to get beyond the writing nuances (being kind) of certain books. *cough* Twilight *cough* :)

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  7. If I don't enjoy a book, I put it down, especially since my TBR pile is so huge. I can't help it -- I want to read something I like!

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  8. I couldn't help it even if I tried :-) I read like a writer and, to be honest, I really like it much better this way. True, I cringe when I find grammatical or punctuation errors in a book. I've put books down before because of that, even if the premise and character development were stellar.

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  9. I can't take off my writer hat, either. A book has to be really, really, really good for me to enjoy it, or to even finish it.

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  10. I'm yet to figure out how to completely turn off that writer's mindset. There's very few moments where I can get completely into the story, but it's something to strive for, one step at a time.

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  11. Yep, becoming a writers has forever changed what or how I read, same thing with TV, movies and even advertisements.

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  12. I have trouble turning off my internal writer/critic either. But when I'm reading a book and find myself nitpicking, I'll explicitly tell myself, "Stop being a critic already!" I'll try to appreciate what the writers are doing "right" rather than "wrong." That said, there are very few books I absolutely love. The bar is set very, very high!

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  13. Great question! :) I used to be able to appreciate the whole novel, these days, I have become fascinated by sentences.

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  14. I did a post on my blog about this last week! The gist of it was the I'm also crotchey and plan to do nothing about it. Very mature.

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  15. Yeah, I can't really turn it off now.
    .
    The Road and Moby-Dick are right at the top of my list, and it's hard to come down from those. But sometimes for fun I really go the opposite direction, like with Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule (Most stupidist book I've ever read). In fact, it kind of gets fun to read something like Goodkind's mess, with a red pen, and marking everywhere like a Zorro on PCP.
    .
    I like to imagine someone walking into a used bookstore some day, picking up Wizard's First Rule, and finding all my snarky and extremely detailed criticisms inside of it.
    .
    Thing is, while I lose some of the ability to just enjoy a bad book, thinking it's good, I've also gained the ability to enjoy a bad book knowing how bad it is.
    .
    But these are some comments I've gotten about my rigor with sub-par books:
    .
    "Why slam a book this much, please stop reading, talking about this book or all 3, and of course the movie. Peace, out. Move onto another book to slam (preferably 50 Shades of Grey!!!!!)."
    .
    "Typical. Someone who doesn't write particularly well has plenty of criticism for someone who does. Perhaps you could complete your English degree and come back when you are able to avoid awkward phrases such as "from the get-go" and use words properly (I believe you meant "flair" rather than "flare", for example)."
    .
    "I'm pretty sure you are not the target audience for this book if you are scribbling critiques in the margins and compiling notes on its failings, as if you are going to write a term paper. OK, so you are not impressed. But do you ever turn off your critic and read for pure fun?"

    http://englishmajorversustheworld.blogspot.com/

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  16. Recently, a lot of my usual ideas about a "badly written book" have been turned upside down. For example, there are big chunks of The Tiger's Wife--a lovely and critically-lauded book--which rely on "was," and a lengthy class discussion convinced me that it's intentional and effective for the author's purpose. If that wasn't enough, a professor recently said, "It's not about show don't tell; it's about knowing when to show and when to tell." Then I read a book with the purplest of purple prose, only to feel I got a lot out of it. Writer identity crisis! :)

    Since my concrete-ish rules of "good" and "bad" writing have been disoriented, I find I'm approaching reading differently. If I'm not engaged a few chapters in, I'm trying to ask "why" and "why not" so I get something out of the experience. For example, why did the author choose to do this? Why doesn't that work for me? How is the form serving the content or failing to? That way, if I can't turn off the inner-writer to be entertained, at least I can force her to help me learn :) Of course, if you're not getting anything out of a book, putting it down is fair play!

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  17. yes, like a vegetarian who one day eats bacon. sometimes a bad book makes me want to throw up.

    ha. that's mean. what i find useful, like the commenter above is that i try to make myself understand what it is about the book i don't like: is it that it's badly written, or do i just not love it because of the characters, or themes?

    but i nearly always have to read it through to the end, so i can be fair in not liking it.

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  18. I so agree with this. Also, do you find that it's harder to re-read books? I used to re-read my old favourite again. And again. And again. But not any more :(

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  19. I can't turn off my inner writer and while I've found that it makes it impossible for me to enjoy a "badly written" book, it also makes me enjoy good books even more.

    I used to be the same way. It didn't matter if I didn't like a book or how long it ended up taking me to read it, I couldn't NOT finish a book. Now that I'm a writer, it's still rare for me to leave books unfinished but it happens. Recently, I fell in love with the premise of a book and just had to buy it. But when I went to read it...I just couldn't finish it. Before I became a writer, I probably would've enjoyed it.

    I've also found it harder to re-read books, but only certain ones. I've been re-reading all my old favorites and I found that many of the ones I loved before I became a writer, I still love just as much. Tamora Pierce's books, for instance, I read a hundred times as a kid and I intend to read them a hundred more times as an adult and a writer.

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  20. I'm the same way. My ability to edit has totally killed my ability to fun read. If I'm really enjoying the book I can overlook little things but if I'm not, my eye just keeps catching stuff. And keeps catching stuff. And keeps catching stuff. Until I'm pulling my hair out. Take CITY OF BONES by Cassandra Clare. If this were ten years ago and I read that I probably would have loved it. Now? All I wanted to do was take a red pen to it. It's really, REALLY, hard to read something that violates all the rules of writing you've learned, like you said. Makes me cry a little.

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  21. I can't, really. Recently I've picked up a lot of old favorites and found that they have what now would be considered unpublishable weaknesses-- "forsoothly" language, cardboard characters, lopsided plots, heavy handed didacticism. These aren't obscure books, either-- I won't name names, but they are by authors any fantasy fan would recognize. The only way I can really enjoy these books now is to skim through and just read my favorite parts.

    As for other "flawed" books I haven't read yet... I don't read them. There are enough books on my to-read shelves that I can be extremely selective and still have plenty to keep me busy.

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Item Reviewed: I've Become a Crotchety Old Reader Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Lee Bross