Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Reading List Review: When do you put down a book?

We have a rule for all the chapter-book readers in our house. You must give a book a 10-20 percent chance and then if you still aren't "into it" you may put it down and choose another. So, if a book is 100 pages, a minimum of 10-20 pages must be read before dismissing the book. This of course means that a 900+ page book must be given a fighting chance by reading 90-100 pages.

This is what I did with Edith Pargeter's The Heaven Tree Trilogy. I gave it a good shot. I read more than 100 pages and not one single page caught me. It was dry, convoluted and too "deep" for me. Much too much detail and didn't grab this reader at all. This was a book recommended by Glady Hunt in her Honey for a Woman's Heart. So that's one book down.

Next, I picked up Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Again, a very large paperback. Again, I read the requisite 10-20 percent. Again, I had to put it down. Follett's book is full of overly graphic detail of urders and dismemberment. Follett, whose spy books my dad used to read but were so full of graphic details that he wouldn't let us read them, had a good idea. Let's write a book about the building of the cathedrals. But this one just didn't "catch" me either.

So now I'm reading Joanne Ohanneson's Scarlet Music, a fictionalized account of Hildegard of Bingen. It's a good read -- caught me almost right away -- and, so far, has avoided some of the feminist propoganda that usually surfaces in discussions of Hildegard and her intensity and independence. So far so good!

Lest you think I'm wimping out by not finishing every book I pick up, please let me explain.

I teach writing to students. I teach them how to write all different types of writing -- research papers, memoirs, personal essays, short stories. One of the first things I demand from my students is to catch the reader immediately and weave in the descriptive bits. Yes, they're necessary for the reader to picture the story -- but descriptive bits are an aid to the story not the story itself. I think often writers get caught up in the poetry of their descriptions that they forget ot move the story along. NONE of the classics has this problem. I don't allow my students to have this problem. Why should I expose myself (or my family) to writers that have this problem?

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