Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What’s happened to me?

Some people spend money on electronics, fast food, clothes, or shoes, but I spend my money on books. I love to have my own books, to flip through the pages, mark phrases I love, and then put a bookplate on the front for my top favorites. Before meeting my husband, I used to spend my Fridays browsing around Borders, looking at book covers, reading synopses along with the first few pages. Three hours later, I’d leave with a handful of books in my arms.

Nowadays, I buy my books through Amazon. I read the synopsis, a few 5, 3 and 1-star reviews, and decide whether or not to put it on my wish list. My wish list helps me keep track of what books I plan on buying in the future. But recently, I’ve been feeling angry by what’s being published, and a bit cheated. The past few years has left me disappointed in many of the books I’ve bought. Of course, this is only how I feel. The masses seem to love the books I wanted to throw across the room.

So what’s happened to me? Ever since I’ve started writing, learning the craft, reading, reading, and more reading to learn the craft, I see that the quality of books is diminishing. I don’t understand what’s being considered great writing by big publishing companies. Which made me ask myself, “Is it really the writing or the story the publishers are selling?” I’m a firm believer that a great story trumps great writing, although I don’t think this was the case years ago.

Sure, there are people out there who get aggravated with misspellings, poor grammar, and lack of character and plot development… but not enough. It’s the story they’re after. And maybe I was the same way before I started writing. In all honesty, I can’t remember if I felt connected to a character, or noticed the plot was too predictable or pooped out in the middle. I either liked the book or I didn’t. However, after years of reading, my taste in writing style and voice did change. 

So recently, my husband told me that I’ve been unhappy with recent publications, and that maybe I should return to a book I read years ago. He thought it would help me figure out if my writing has tainted my reading enjoyment, or if I see a difference in the quality of some popular books. The reason I say popular books is, to some extent, the popularity of the book is what made me buy it.

I took his advice, and picked up one of my favorite modern books that I read in 2005, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. You know what? From the first sentence, “I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time”, my mouth watered from the beauty of the words, the emotional attachment to the characters and the richness of the plot. Phrases I underlined like:

“Her voice was pure crystal … so fragile I feared that her words would break if I interrupted them.”

“But what destiny does not do is home visits. You have to go for it.”

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect all authors to write this way but these are words that help you picture a character, to understand them, and help you get a feel for the setting. Reading is all about the adventure. To be taken into a different life or world. The book I just finished had zero underlined phrases. It is void of showing. The author tells the entire story. The author tells how the character feels. There is no character or plot development. This can also be applied to the several other books I’ve recently read.

At this point, I can’t help but feel there is a difference in quality regarding some popular books. It’s so different to take an emotional flight and soar with the words as opposed to sauntering and yawning while the author tells the reader how the character feels, or tells the reader about the setting. It’s like the author doesn’t trust the reader enough to create the characters in their own mind, or visualize the setting.  

I’m not telling you I’m a great writer, but what I can tell you is that I work hard to make sure my books are good. That I’m proud of the characters, the plot, and most of all, my writing. This post probably sounds like a complaint from a disgruntled writer. It’s more like a complaint from a disgruntled reader. I miss books that make me feel like I know the characters and that I’m there with them. Books that make me wish I could write like that. I think it’s time I take a break from traditionally published books, and start reading the many self-published / indie books I have on my Kindle for PC.

What do you think as a reader? Has writing tainted your reading enjoyment? Do you think books have remained the same or have you noticed a shift in quality?

Writing and Publishing,
A Disappointed Bea


  1. It's interesting that you say this about the traditionally published books. In all of the battles I have read recently, the supporters of trade pub claim that this is what you find with the indies.

    My view of course, follows yours. When you look at much of what is popular or trumped up as great works I have to wonder who allowed that. Should what we view as a good story come from the same minds that give us reality television?

    1. Jon, I don't think Denise is referring to just how the quality of traditionally published books has diminished. Overall, a lot of stories out there show lack of depth and craft in favor of a breezy story.

    2. I agree with you both. Jon, in regards to traditional published books being trumped up as great works, and for the lack of depth. Jeri, you said it well.

  2. I could go on for days and days and days on this topic. Most genre books need to be written at a sixth thru eighth grade reading level to be marketable to the mass public. This goes for traditional or self-published books. I've always read for craft, even before I knew what that meant. I get frustrated with stories that are all surface. In some ways, I'm an unabashed literary snob and proud of it. I find simply written books tedious. Yet, deep stories don't have to be all about fancy prose. It's hard to draw the line between what separates the great from the merely very good. Like many things in life, literature and movies continue to be dumbed-down. For instance, the latest Star Trek movie was mostly an action flick and it lost some of its character appeal because of the focus on chase scenes through space.

    1. I think in a way, I've become a literary snob too. When I read something simple that lacks depth, I want to scream, especially if it's right up there as a top shelf book for the majority. I just don't understand it.

      And I totally agree about literature and movies being dumbed-down. Thanks for your input.

  3. I am so pleased to read this expresses my sentiments about latest books SO WELL!!

    I have been wondering where have the good writers gone? Many times after finishing a book I ask myself: why is this crap called a "Bestseller"?? And the language they use no longer inspires you! The quality of books has definitely deteriorated.

    1. Hello Balroop, So nice of you to stop by. Isn't it amazing that when you voice your concern and disappointment about books these days, you learn that you're not alone in your feelings.

      You are exactly right. The language doesn't inspire. It bores.

  4. I couldn't agree with you more, and I'm not even just saying that as an Indie author. This is putting aside anything we've ever written. Don't even factor that into the equation. A lot of mainstream books are dumbed down for the masses, so the writing quality drastically suffers.

    The five best books that I've read lately have all either been through very small publishers or truly Indie. Nowadays it seems to find the best books you have to explore the outlets where there's no creative control and authors can say whatever they want. Because you're just not as likely to find that at a huge publishing house, where they're not looking for the next great American novel, they're just looking for Hunger Games 2.0...

  5. Hey! How's Germany working out for you? I read somewhere that your computer went kaka-waka. Jeesh.

    Anyway, I have a big sign above my computer that says:


    By the way, your website looks reaaaly kwel. Is that picture of the books in your house? Cause that's reaaaly, reaaaly kwel.

    Cheers to you all!

    1. Hello, Jim!

      Germany is good. We've had a great winter, so I can't complain. Yes, my computer pooped out, but then it came back to life, except it's slow. I'm looking into getting another one, but we have to make sure we can change the operating system to English.

      I'm so glad to hear that you believe in SHOW, too. Obviously, some authors and publishers think the argument regarding show vs.tell is insignificant.

      Ha! I wish that picture of the books was in my house. We only have a little bookcase for our special books. That's all our flat allows for now.

      Take care and I'll see you around. Thanks for visiting.