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“That ending sucks!” my oldest daughter exclaimed, slamming the book shut.
She had just finished reading The Giver by Lois Lowry. It’s required for her next year, and my daughter wanted to get a head start. I told her it was okay to read ahead as long as she didn’t spoil anything for other students and she’d still read it again when it was time to do it at school. But now she’s mad at the book.
According to my daughter, The Giver starts slowly, builds up tension, and then has an unclear ending. Supposedly, the movie has a more defined ending (I cheated and looked it up), but the book was published 20 years ago, and the movie is new, so that means for two decades, students have probably been getting mad at the ending. Readers were expecting some kind of resolution and instead got something unclear and maybe open-ended. Unclear and open-ended is a bad combination. My daughter is fairly calm. If she got mad at the ending, she’s not the only one.
Even though I’m supposedly even-tempered, I can get angry at books too. It doesn’t happen very often. If I don’t enjoy a book, I’ll quit reading it before I get angry at it. I only get mad on certain occasions.
Go Set A Watchman– by Harper Lee
When Go Set A Watchman was announced, I was pretty sure it was a scam. The circumstances had scam written all over it. I didn’t get mad until the book became a best seller before it was even released. Philosophically, I’m opposed to books becoming best sellers before they’re released, but as long as pre-orders exist (and I’m not opposed to pre-orders), then there’s the possibility of unpublished books becoming best sellers.
Anyway, I believe that Go Set A Watchman was sold to the public as a sequel when it was really a rough draft that was never meant to be read by the public. Six months ago, I thought that was the case, but I don’t like forming opinions right away. Now that Go Set A Watchman has come out, enough people have read it for me to form an opinion.
It looks to me like Go Set A Watchman was a dishonest money grab, and even if disappointed readers return it and get their money back, not enough customers will do that to cut into the publisher’s profits. I don’t like it when bad behavior gets rewarded, and a bunch of people in the publishing industry made a lot of money by misrepresenting what Go Set A Watchman was.
Go Set A Watchman has a cool cover, though. I hope the artist got paid. It’s not the artist’s fault that the book was a scam.
Streets of Laredo– by Larry McMurtry
I’m a Lonesome Dove fan. True, I don’t like the western genre. I’ve only read a couple Louis L’Amour books, and I’ve only seen a couple John Wayne movies. Despite my bias, I think Lonesome Dove is great. But the sequel Streets of Laredo almost ruins it. Most of the time, I don’t let a great book’s sequel affect my opinion of the great book, but this MIGHT be the exception.
Even though lots of violent stuff happened in Lonesome Dove, there was a charm to the book. Streets of Laredo was supposed to be the sequel, so I was expecting a novel similar in tone, but it felt to me like it was just characters with similar names in a completely different western universe, violent without the witty narrative. Horrible things happened to characters I liked from Lonesome Dove, but it didn’t seem seem to have been written as carefully, so I felt like the author was being disrespectful.
If it had been a stand alone novel, I might not have gotten mad at it. I finished Streets of Laredo just to see what happened (I would have been better off not knowing), but I still got mad at it, and I haven’t read any more McMurtry books since.
Streets of Laredo isn’t a horrible book. If I hadn’t read Lonesome Dove first, I might not have even gotten mad at it.
The Awakening– by Kate Chopin
When I read this (required in a literature course), I thought the ending (SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!) was a cop-out. This was supposed to be an early feminist novel, and the protagonist drowns herself? What kind of feminist does that? When I expressed my thoughts in class, everybody thought I was joking and laughed, so I kept my mouth shut the rest of class, until I figured out why the rest of the class didn’t take me seriously.
Looking back, I made the right decision. I should have been outraged at the repression of women in 19th century southern culture, and instead I was incensed that the author copped out by having the main character kill herself. I guess my priorities were messed up. But still, at the time, it made me mad.
Zoo- by James Patterson
Actually, it’s anything by James Patterson. 10 books a year? 13 books a year? C’mon! Patterson should just turn himself into a publishing company. Nobody can write that many books, even with a bunch of co-authors.
Maybe James Patterson was cloned, and there are 10 James Pattersons, each writing one book a year. That, I could deal with. But anyway, I can’t read any James Patterson books because they make me mad (and I don’t like being mad over stuff like that)
Getting angry at a book isn’t necessarily bad; it shows you care enough to get mad. My daughter was interested enough in The Giver to care about the ending. I enjoyed Lonesome Dove so much that I cared that Streets of Laredo seemed to destroy everything it had built. I care about honesty and integrity so much that I’m angry at the financial success of Go Set A Watchman. And James Patterson? I admit, I’m just jealous.
BOOKS THAT SHOULD MAKE ME MAD BUT DON’T
50 Shades of Grey– A lot of people hate these books, but I’m ambivalent. I like the idea of an obscure writer getting rich from publishing a sex book.
A special thanks to blogger The Antipodean Reader for giving me the idea for “Books That Make Readers Angry” a few weeks ago! Thank you!
What do you think? What books have made you angry? Was Go Set A Watchman a scam or a sequel? What books do you think should make you mad but don’t?
New from Dysfunctional Literacy!
Even if you get angry at books sometimes, nobody can get mad at Nice Things.
The problem with giving away stuff for free is that it can’t last forever. At some point, you have to start charging for it. So now is the time that you can get Nice Things cheap (instead of free) on Amazon. Cheap isn’t as good as free, but cheap isn’t bad either.
Nice Things is now $2.99 instead of free. Maybe $2.99 isn’t “cheap,” but Amazon suggested that I charge more. I mean, nobody from Amazon called me and told me to charge more. Amazon has an algorithm that suggests prices to authors to maximize profits.
The algorithm sounds impersonal, but the alternative would be for Amazon to hire a bunch of people to read all the e-books that get submitted and then tell the authors how much to charge. That would be an inefficient way to suggest pricing to authors. Amazon is probably better off with its algorithm.
I have no problem with the concept of maximizing profits, but since I’m not established at all as an author, I wanted to take the less expensive route. I thought about charging even less than $2.99, but Nice Things has a sex scene in it. I’ve written only one sex scene in my life, and this is it. I might not ever write another one.
If Nice Things has the only adult scene I’ll ever write, then I should charge at least $2.99 for it. Cheap sex is okay, but I don’t want it to be too cheap. Stuff like that can ruin a writer’s reputation.
I had a lot of fun writing Nice Things, even the parts that weren’t the adult scene. I know there are a lot of books out there to read, but if you like Dysfunctional Literacy, you’ll probably like Nice Things too.
So here it is!
New from Dysfunctional Literacy!
If you absolutely must do something morally wrong, just pretend that you’re doing Nice Things.
When it comes to writing, I expect Stephen King to know what he’s talking about. He’s published more books than just about anyone (except maybe James Patterson), and almost everything he writes turns into a best-seller. He could rewrite the phone book, and it would be a best-seller. His collection of short stories Different Seasons is still one of my favorite books ever.
Stephen King has written a lot of advice about writing that I agree with. He doesn’t like adverbs ( “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”), and I can understand why, though I think the adverb gets criticized too much.
He also says that writers need to read a lot (“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”), which makes a lot of sense. But there’s one Stephen king statement about writing that is absolutely wrong.
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
I don’t know. I just finished writing something, and I was a lot more scared after I was finished with it than I was when I started. Beginning a project is fun, with lots of optimism and initial excitement, but finishing a writing project is scary.
So many bad things from a writer’s point of view can happen after you finish something. Your writing can be ignored. Commenters can tell you that you suck. The worst is when nobody reads your work, but commenters still tell you that you suck.
20 years ago when I was involved with several writers groups (this was before blogging was invented), the most nerve-wracking part of the week was when my writing was about to be critiqued. Feedback can be brutal. It’s scary. To me, it’s the scariest part of the process.
When I say the “scariest” part, I don’t mean that I’m frightened. I’m not “scared” when I publish something on Dysfunctional Literacy. I don’t quiver with fear in the middle of the night. I don’t scream at sudden noises. I just mean that I’m tense about it. I think that’s what Stephen King means about “scariest” too, and I don’t want to quibble with him about word choice, especially since he’s an accomplished writer.
Maybe Stephen King really does get scared just before he starts. Maybe he doesn’t care about feedback or sales anymore. After all, he’s accomplished more than any author could ever expect to. He could stop right now, never write another word, and he still would be considered one of the most prolific U.S. authors ever. Maybe that’s what Stephen King is scared of, that moment when he’s ready to start and then he can’t think of anything. For a writer like Stephen King, not being able to think of anything would be the worst thing to happen. That would be the scariest moment, the time when you’re not sure if you can think of anything to write.
But I don’t believe that applies to most writers. I think the scariest moment is feedback.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I have no business telling Stephen King that he’s wrong about anything, especially writing. Maybe I’m the only aspiring writer who thinks finishing is the scariest part. Maybe I’m way off on this and am too narrow-minded to see it.
Or maybe I’m right, and Stephen King is wrong. Stephen King writes about a lot of stuff. He writes his opinion about movies, other books, and even political issues like gun control. If Stephen King is wrong in his own field of expertise, what else is he wrong about?
When you’ve been proven wrong once, that’s it; you’re completely discredited in everything else for the rest of your life.
Just so you know, I was kidding in the previous sentence, but sometimes people can’t tell when I’m being sarcastic. My monotone voice carries over into my writing sometimes.
What do you think? What is the scariest moment in the writing process? Is it the moment just before you start? Or is it when you finish/publish? Or do you think another moment in writing is the scariest? When a person has been proven wrong once, is that person’s opinions about everything else discredited forever? Do other people sometimes think you’re being serious when you’re really being sarcastic?
New from Dysfunctional Literacy!
If you have to do something morally wrong, just pretend you’re doing Nice Things.
Everybody likes nice things. Nice things are better than mediocre things or bad things. The problem with nice things, though, is that they usually cost a lot of money. Sometimes you can get nice things on discount, but it’s not very often that you can get nice things for free.
Today is that day.
Right now Nice Things is free on Amazon. I can give it away for free only for a couple days, so if you don’t want to pay for it, you might want to get it soon.
I’ve been working on Nice Things for a while but haven’t been talking about it much. I thought that if I talked about it, that might keep me from working on it, so I figured it was better if I just wrote the darn thing and didn’t tell anybody until I actually clicked “publish.”
It has its flaws, and I’m aware of some of them. I’m sure there are some typos and missing words and things that don’t make sense, but hopefully my fool for an editor corrected most of the mistakes. If not, I’m going to feel kind of stupid.
I had a lot of fun writing Nice Things, but I’ve read it so many times I have no idea how good it is or how much it sucks. I’m also a little nervous because some of what I wrote could be taken the wrong way. That’s why it might be a good idea for you to get it free. But if you miss this chance, don’t worry. When it’s no longer free, you’ll still be able to get Nice Things for cheap on Amazon.
What about you? Have you ever spent so much time writing something that you no longer trusted your judgement? What is the worst mistake you’ve left in your writing?
It might be good. It might suck. Either way, for the next couple days, it’s free!
Reading in public can be dangerous. Somebody can sneak up behind you and conk you on the head while you’re distracted. You can get plowed into by walkers, runners, bicyclists, or even cars. If you’re reading a James Patterson novel in public, a crazy bald guy might start ranting in your face about how you’re feeding into a scam.
If that was you reading the James Patterson book in the airport over the weekend, I apologize for my bad behavior.
With new technology (well, to a guy my age, it’s relatively new), it’s easier than ever to read in public. We don’t have to lug books around anymore. We can carry our libraries on our phone. We might be reading texts or social media, but it’s still reading. We might even be tempted to write in public. But doing so can be risky, so if we’re determined to read (and write) in public, let’s make sure to follow these basic rules and do it safely.
1. Be stationary.
Sit or stand when you’re reading. This might sound like I’m lecturing, but it’s more than a safety issue. The world loves seeing pedestrians stumble in public, and if you trip over while reading, somebody else with a smart phone will capture it and put it on the internet for the world to mock you. Plus, the person who takes the video gets the hits and the glory. The reader/stumbler gets the mockery. If I’m ever involved with a viral video of a guy stumbling in public, I want to be the one taking/posting the video, not the guy falling down.
So whenever I read in public, I sit or I stand still.
2. Put your back up against a wall or obstacle.
When we’re reading, we don’t pay attention to our surroundings, and that’s when we readers can get conked on the head. I’ve been conked on the head before. It hurts. I don’t want to get conked on the head ever again. Even if getting conked didn’t hurt, it might still knock you out and all your stuff can get stolen, including the book/tablet you’re reading.
To be fair, I wasn’t reading when I got conked on the head, but reading in public with my back vulnerable greatly increases the likelihood of getting conked on the head.
3. Look up a lot.
No matter how caught up you are in your book (or whatever you’re reading), be aware of your surroundings. You might be in your own little utopia while you’re on reading, but in the meantime you are still surrounded by a very dangerous world filled with creeps who prey upon the oblivious. If these creeps know that you’re looking up frequently, they’re less likely to sneak up on you. True, the creep will probably just find another reader lost in oblivion, but you’re still making the creep work harder by looking up.
4. Keep an angry expression on your face.
I don’t like people talking to me while I’m reading, so if I look mad, people are less likely to approach me. Plus, I’m less likely to get conked on the head if the potential predator thinks I’m in a fighting mood. If you’re reading a humorous book, laugh really loudly so everybody around you thinks that you’re nuts. Maybe curse a little bit too, just for the heck of it. Predators like easy victims. They’ll pass over a guy or girl who looks angry/crazy when reading, and they’ll search for easier prey.
5. Don’t read in the car.
You should never read in the car, not even at red lights. Put that book or phone away while you’re driving. Your brain needs a moment to adjust when you go from reading mode to driving mode. It’s too easy to accelerate before your brain has had a chance to process what’s in front of you if you’ve been reading at a red light. When you’re in your car, you are moments away from an injury at any given second. Don’t be the cause of your own accident.
Before technology existed, I used to be self-conscious about reading books in public. I didn’t mind strangers seeing me read a book in public (like a restaurant or movie theater), but there was always a chance of running into somebody I knew. Getting caught reading a book in public was an admission of being anti-social. It was like admitting you didn’t have friends. It was like admitting nobody liked you. It was like admitting you hid from your personal problems behind the pages of a book (which is better than some other vices people use to hide from their problems).
Today, if I’m reading, nobody can tell I’m reading a book. From an outsider’s point of view, I could be checking messages or social media. I can appear to be a popular guy while I’m actually remaining my anti-social self. With phones and tablets, all social stigmas of reading in public have disappeared. But I still don’t want to get conked on the head.
It’s probably pretty arrogant to put together a BEST BOOK EVER list of any kind. For one thing, nobody has read every book ever published, so it’s impossible to know which one is the best. One of the books that an expert hasn’t read might be the best ever. Great Expectations is one example of a book that gets mentioned as BEST EVER, but a bunch of books that never got published could be better and nobody would know because nobody has read them. To be fair, any BEST BOOKS EVER list should say something like BEST BOOKS EVER THAT HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED AND READ BY A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF PEOPLE.
But I don’t think anybody will click on a website with a title like that.
The purpose of a BEST BOOKS EVER list is to promote polite discussions about books and literature. There shouldn’t be any insults or shouting matches between people who disagree over which books are BEST BOOKS EVER. Insults and shouting matches should be reserved for discussions about politics, sports, and religion.
Discussing BEST BOOKS EVER isn’t about being right or wrong. It’s about learning about books, and if we can learn about unfamiliar books without having to actually read them, that’s even better.
Since there are too many books out there to contemplate, it’s best to organize BEST BOOKS EVER contestants into genres and take it from there. That way, War of the Worlds doesn’t get compared to War and Peace. The problem with categorizing BEST BOOKS EVER by genre is that there are too many genres to do at one time. Therefore, I’ll start with a few basic categories, genres that I’m familiar with.
BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL EVER!!!
BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER!!!!
BEST LORD OF THE RINGS / HOBBIT RIP-OFF EVER!!
BEST YA NOVEL EVER!!
THE BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK EVER!!!!
BEST COMIC BOOK EVER!!
And the best way to end a BEST BOOK EVER list is to have a WORST EVER selection, just for the heck of it.
THE WORST BOOK IDEA EVER!!
When you write about BEST BOOKS EVER, something is going to get left out, including favorite novels and entire genres. I’m just one guy with a full-time job and a family, so I can’t read every book that I want to read. Therefore, I’m open to any suggestions about other genres that I’m not familiar with and books that I completely whiffed on.
Here are some genres I haven’t gotten to yet:
Best Romantic Novel Ever!!
Best Classic Novel Ever!!
Best Humorous novel Ever!!
Best Spy Novel Ever!!!
Best Short Story Ever!!
Stay tuned for BEST BOOKS EVER BY GENRE, PART TWO, coming out in… maybe three years, at the rate I’m going.
What genres are you an expert in? What selections do you disagree (or agree with)? Is there a book that you think truly can be a BEST BOOK EVER? Have you ever insulted anybody else while discussing a book? Have you ever insulted anybody else while discussing politics, sports, or religion? Would you click on a website with the title BEST EVER BOOKS THAT HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED AND READ BY A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF PEOPLE?
When it comes to reading classic literature, there are a lot of challenges. The writing style from novels published generations ago can confuse today’s readers. Some of the books have lots of references that today’s readers don’t understand. And a lot of those classic novels are just too long for our short attention spans. Any one of those challenges can deter people like me from trying a book. But when a novel is challenging on every level, I know I’m screwed.
The worst of all of these classic novels might be Ulysses by James Joyce. I don’t know if Ulysses really is the worst of all the tough classic novels because I haven’t read most of the tough classic novels. I’ve been told it’s not fair to judge a book that you haven’t read, but I disagree. You can judge most books within a few pages, if you can make it that far. I’ve read the first few pages of Ulysses, and I know I don’t want to read it anymore.
I’ve never heard anybody say that they actually liked Ulysses. Supposedly, Vladimir Nabokov said it was brilliant, but he wrote Lolita, so he’s a literary author and his opinion doesn’t count. Besides, I’ve never seen video of Nabokov saying Ulysses was brilliant, so I don’t necessarily believe that he said it.
On the other hand, I can find normal people who claim they enjoyed Moby Dick or War and Peace. I might not believe those people who say they liked Moby Dick or War and Peace or Great Expectations, but they say it. But nobody has ever said that they liked reading Ulysses. The best anybody will say is that they appreciate Ulysses.
Appreciating is different from enjoying. I don’t mind appreciating a brilliant painting or a brilliant sculpture because I can move on quickly to another piece of art that I actually like (but probably isn’t brilliant). I can’t just appreciate a novel like Ulysses because it takes a really long time to appreciate it, and I don’t have that kind of time to learn how to appreciate it. After all, I have a full-time job, and I’m married with kids. If somebody wants to confuse me with an obscure painting, I don’t mind looking at it, but I’m not going to read a 700 page novel just to appreciate it.
Even if I successfully completed Ulysses, I couldn’t brag about reading it. I mean, I could, but very few people would know enough about literature to be impressed. If I read something long and difficult, I want everybody in my social group to know about it. Everybody knows Moby Dick and War and Peace, and most people are even aware of Atlas Shrugged. If you read those novels (or claim to), everybody is impressed. But Ulysses? This might be the most difficult chore of them all, and nobody would care. If people aren’t impressed, then it’s probably not worth the time.
Ulysses even has a misleading title. I had high hopes for Ulysses when I was teenager, believing it was the Roman version of The Odyssey. I had read The Odyssey in junior high, and I was hoping for a more updated version, but I soon learned that updated versions are sometimes too updated. When I first tried reading it, I didn’t get far enough in Ulysses to “get” that it kind of was an updated version of The Odyssey. I just thought the author had written a really long book with an intentionally misleading title to fool readers into believing they were reading about Greek and Roman mythology.
A few months later, I bought Atlas Shrugged. After that, I stopped buying books about Greek/Roman mythology, unless they were written by Bullfinch. Bullfinch had flaws, but at least I knew what I was buying.
One good thing about Ulysses is that it was originally written in English, so I don’t have to slog through a translation. So many of the difficult classics were written in French or Russian, and a lot of the nuances of a novel can’t really be translated. People who read Les Miserables in French will get a lot more out of it than somebody who reads a translation, unless the person reading the French version can’t read French. Maybe Ulysses is better when it’s translated into another language.
Another good thing about Ulysses is that it isn’t as bad as Finnegans Wake. At least I can understand Ulysses when I read it slowly. I have to mouth the words and hold my finger underneath each word as I go, but I can understand it. Finnegans Wake, I have no chance. I think James Joyce liked to confuse readers on purpose. You know you have it made as an author when you can intentionally confuse your readers, and people will still buy your books and critics call you brilliant. If I try to confuse my readers, I’m told my writing is incoherent (and they’re probably right).
I’m told James Joyce wrote some good short stories. Maybe it’s better to read James Joyce short stories because, even if they’re confusing, they’ll be short.
It takes a lot to get me to change my mind. I’m pretty sure I’ll never read Ulysses, no matter what anybody says. Call me stubborn, call me closed-minded. But I still enjoy reading opinions that are different from mine. If you disagree with me, I won’t tell you to shut up or call you stupid or try to get you fired from your job. Every once in a while, I actually change my mind because somebody who disagrees with me persuades me. But I’m pretty sure I can’t be convinced to read Ulysses by James Joyce.
But enough about me. What do you think? Is there any good reason for a guy like me to read Ulysses? What other books would you refuse to read? What other novels have you given up on? Other than Finnegans Wake, are there any novels even more challenging than Ulysses? Have you ever been persuaded by somebody with whom you originally disagreed? Have you ever gotten somebody fired for disagreeing with you?
Besides a similarity in titles, there’s not a whole lot in common between A Time to Kill by John Grisham and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. First of all, both books have great titles. It’s tough to mess up a book title when you put the words “To Kill” in it. Adding the words “To Kill” will improve almost any book title. If Gone Girl had been Gone To Kill the Girl, the novel might have won a Pulitzer. If The Goldfinch had been To Kill The Goldfinch, it might have won a Pulitzer AND the Nobel Prize.
If you’ve got a book and you’re not sure what to title it, just throw in the words “To Kill,” and you’re set. The only catch is that you can only use that trick once. If Harper Lee had titled her sequel/prequel To Kill a Watchman, it would have set off a bunch of literary alarms.
Even without the words “to kill” in the title, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is a bestseller before it’s even come out. I don’t buy books before they come out, no matter how much I’m looking forward to them. I don’t like paying for something before I’ve had a chance to check out the quality of it. I don’t give contractors money before they do work. I don’t pay for a car until I’ve inspected and test driven it. I’m not going to buy a book until I’ve read a few pages of it myself. It’s not that I don’t trust Harper Lee; I don’t trust her estate.
John Grisham is almost the opposite of Harper Lee. Unlike Harper Lee, John Grisham writes a lot of books. The books don’t win (m)any awards, but they sell a lot of copies. I read several John Grisham books in the 1990s, but other than The Firm and A Time To Kill, I don’t remember anything about them, except there was one where a lawyer took on a corrupt corporation about something. And I think there was another one where the guy on Death Row was innocent, but that might have been a different author. There are a bunch of legal thrillers where the guy on Death Row is innocent.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I remember reading (and hating) a lot of books in junior high and high school. Students universally hated A Light in the Forest, A Separate Peace, The Odyssey, and even Brave New World. It’s not that they were bad books. It’s that as teenagers, we had to work to read them, and teenagers hate(d) it when reading is (was) work.
The one book that was universally thought of to be an exception (at my school anyway) was To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m not saying everybody liked To Kill a Mockingbird, but everybody at least respected To Kill a Mockingbird. And this was at a time when kids weren’t allowed to watch movies in school. We liked (and respected) it without having seen the movie. I’ve never heard anybody complain that To Kill a Mockingbird sucked, and in middle/high school I was surrounded by friends who were happy to declare that books sucked.
A Time to Kill by John Grisham
A Time To Kill hadn’t been written yet when I was in school, but I’ve still heard several people claim that it sucks.
According to literary legends early in the 1990s, A Time to Kill was John Grisham’s first novel, but no publishers would buy it. It was only after The Firm became a monster hit (kind of deservedly so… it was a pretty good book) that A Time to Kill was published and a bunch of critics and readers were fooled into thinking it had been a travesty that the publishing world had passed over such an inspired first time effort.
I think the truth (not the legend) was that A Time to Kill was published a couple years before The Firm, but so few copies were printed that it was like not being published at all.
Either way, the publishers had it right the first time. A Time to Kill was just okay, an easy-to-read novel with a bunch of one-dimensional characters and blatantly manipulative melodrama. It was a brilliant public relations campaign to convince the reading public otherwise.
HARPER LEE vs. JOHN GRISHAM
Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, and that was it, as far as we knew for 50+ years. Even though an adoring public wished for more, Harper Lee left us (she hasn’t “left” us, if you think that’s what I meant) hanging for a long time before publishing her sequel/prequel Go Set a Watchman. Maybe the sequel will be worth it
John Grisham followed up The Firm (a pretty good book) with a bunch of mediocre novels, but almost everything he writes turns into a best-seller.
To Kill a Mockingbird: An American classic.
A Time to Kill: Some of the lower tier cable companies still occasionally show it.
GREGORY PECK vs. MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY
A couple decades ago when Hollywood declared Mathew McConaughey as the next great leading man, A Time to Kill was one of his early starring roles, but hardly anybody remembers the lead character’s name. Gregory Peck was Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Everybody remembers Atticus Finch.
Gregory Peck: one of the greatest American actors of all time!
Mathew McConaughey: decent actor who looks great with his shirt off. I don’t remember if he took his shirt off in A Time to Kill.
Maybe, just maybe, Mathew McConaughey had better pecks than Gregory Peck. I don’t think I’ve seen Gregory Peck’s pecks, but they were probably s(peck)tacular.
If you have some time to kill, don’t read A Time to Kill; read To Kill a Mockingbird. If you don’t have time to read it, then watch the movie.
What do you think? What book would you like to add the words “To Kill” to? Have you bought a copy of Go Set a Watchman yet? Do you ever preorder books? Are you the one person who thinks To Kill a Mockingbird sucks? Do you think A Time to Kill is better than To Kill A Mockingbird?
A few years ago, I wrote about the exact same topic. Most of the words are the same, but I took a slightly different approach to the topic. I’m not proud of it.
It’s difficult to make the case that Jane Austen wrote bad sentences in her novels, especially in Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen was known for many qualities: her wit, her sarcasm, movie adaptations that put guys like me to sleep (but that’s not her fault). One thing that Jane Austen is NOT known for is writing bad sentences.
Since writing is so subjective, it’s tough to define what makes a bad sentence. The lazy approach would be to treat a bad sentence like pornography; you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it. Unlike a certain former United States Supreme Court judge whose name I can’t remember, I can define pornography (if certain body parts are involved and mix in with other body parts, it’s pornography).
The same applies to bad writing (having the standard, not the body parts). Once you have a set standard, it’s simple to determine if a classic sentence is bad or not. Here’s my standard for a bad sentence in classic literature:
If my writing instructors would have red-marked me for writing the same sentence, then it’s a bad sentence.
Using this standard, Jane Austen’ popular novel Pride and Prejudice is full of bad sentences.
DISCLAIMER: I am not saying Jane Austen wrote bad sentences. I have learned from experience not to criticize Jane Austen books. I am saying that my writing instructors would have considered Jane Austen sentences to be bad if I had written them. I like Jane Austen. She was a great author. Even so…
BAD SENTENCE #1-from Pride and Prejudice Volume I, Chapter Three, at the end of the fifth paragraph:
The gentlemen pronounced him (Mr. Darcy) to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding countenance, and being unworthy to be compared to his friend.
WHY IS THIS A BAD SENTENCE?
1. Massive Run-on- Six independent clauses with two dependent clauses. A decent writer could get at least three sentences out of that (my writing instructors would say).
2. “…his manners gave a disgust…” –What did Mr. Darcy do? Fart loudly? Chew with his mouth open? I want to know what Mr. Darcy did to offend everybody, especially if it involved farting loudly.
3. “…he was discovered to be proud…” How was his pride discovered? What did Mr. Darcy do to show he was proud? Did he boast? What did he boast about?
4. “…a most forbidding countenance…” Who felt this most forbidding countenance? What made his countenance forbidding?
In that single sentence, Jane Austen did a lot of telling and no showing. If I had written something like that, my writing instructors would have filled the page with red question marks. Therefore, it’s a bad sentence.
Sometimes a bad sentence needs context from another sentence (which also might be a bad sentence)
CONTEXT FOR BAD SENTENCE #2- from Pride and Prejudice Volume I, Chapter Twenty:
Mr. Collins was not left long to the silent contemplation of his successful love; for Mrs. Bennet, having dawdled about in the vestibule to watch for the end of the conference, no sooner saw Elizabeth open the door and with quick step pass her towards the staircase, than she entered the breakfast-room and congratulated both him and herself in warm terms on the happy prospect of their nearer connection.
Remember, that was merely the context.
BAD SENTENCE #2- from Pride and Prejudice Volume I, Chapter Twenty
Mr. Collins received and returned these felicitations with equal pleasure, and then proceeded to relate the particulars of their interview with the result of which he trusted he had every reason to be satisfied, since the refusal which his cousin had steadfastly given him would naturally flow from her bashful modesty and the genuine delicacy of her character.
WHY IS THIS A BAD SENTENCE?
1. Wordiness- “proceeded to relate” should just be “related”
2. Wordiness- “with the result of which” is clumsy. The sentence could end with “interview,” and the next sentence could start with “He had every reason to be satisfied…”
3. Wordiness- “since the refusal which his cousin had steadfastly given him” should be “since his cousin’s steadfast refusal.”
4. Wordiness- “Bashful modesty” should just be “modesty.”
5. Wordiness- “genuine delicacy” should just be “delicacy.”
In other words, my writing instructors would have accused Jane Austen of wordiness.
A sentence doesn’t have to be long to be a bad sentence. Below is proof that even a short Jane Austen sentence could be a bad sentence (according to my writing instructors)
Example #3- the third paragraph of Pride and Prejudice Volume II, Chapter Eight third paragraph:
Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see them; anything was a welcome relief to him at Rosings; and Mrs. Collins’s pretty friend had moreover caught his fancy very much.
WHY IS THIS A BAD SENTENCE?
1. The word “really” is used. “Really” is worse than “very,” and “very” is bad enough. Jane Austen used “really”? Really, Jane Austen? Really?
2. The adjective “pretty” is also lazy. Get a thesaurus (my writing instructors would have said).
3. The word “very” is used. Again, it’s lazy writing (my writing instructors would say). For decades, authors like Stephen King and Mark Twain have warned writers not to use the word “very.” True, Jane Austen was writing before Stephen King and Mark Twain were born, but she still should have known better. Or maybe Stephen King and Mark Twain are wrong about “very.”
In one sentence, Jane Austen uses “really, “pretty,” and “very.” My writing instructors would have been disappointed in me if I had done that. They might have even been really very disappointed.
What do you think? Are the above sentences bad sentences? What standard do you have for bad sentences? Should great authors use words like “really” and “very”? What other great classic author wrote bad sentences? Which is worse, using “very” or using “really”?
New from Dysfunctional Literacy!!
If you have to do something morally wrong, just pretend that you’re doing Nice Things.
It’s not easy being a book snob and a television binge-watcher. There’s not enough time to be both, and to make things worse, a bunch of books like House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and Game of Thrones have been turned into pretty good television shows.
Unless you have more than 24 hours in your day, it would be impossible to watch all of the television shows AND read all of the books AND watch the binge-worthy shows that AREN’T based on books.
Since there isn’t enough time to read and watch everything, we book-reading binge-watchers have to make some rules about what to read and what to watch. And if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making rules.
THE HOUSE OF CARDS RULE
House of Cards by Michael Dobbs
If the television series is based on a single book, then read the book. For example, House of Cards is based on a single book by Michael Dobbs. Since the book is less than 400 pages, we book snobs can easily read it, and then we can brag that we don’t need to watch the television series. When we go into book snob mode, we can point out that literature is superior to television. Yeah, we might be missing out on a great show, but we’re still better for having read the book. Plus, we don’t have to order Netflix just to binge-watch a show.
Be careful when you say that you’re superior to everybody else just because you’ve read the book. Sometimes people think we’re not kidding. I’ve lost friends that way. Of course, they’re the friends who don’t read books, but still…
THE GAME OF THRONES RULE
Game of Thrones by George RRRRR Martin
People who have read A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) are great examples of book snobs (That’s not an insult; I’m a book snob too). They like to point out which characters have died on the show but didn’t die in the books or which characters on the show are composite characters of which characters in the book. They like to be outraged when the show does something vastly different from the book.
Game of Thrones book snobs think they’re superior to the rest of us because they’ve read the books, and we haven’t. The rest of us believe we are superior to the Game of Thrones book snobs because we haven’t wasted our time reading thousands of pages of a convoluted story that might never get finished. I’m not sure who is superior to whom, so if you’re reading this and you’ve read the Games of Thrones books, you might be superior to me and I just wouldn’t know it. I want to feel superior, but if I ever read A Game of Thrones, I’ll read it when/if George RR Martin finishes writing the series.
THE HOUSE OF CARDS/GAME OF THRONES RULE- RECAP
1. If the television show is based on a long book series, watch the show.
2. If the television series is based on a single book, then read the book.
Follow these rules, and you’ll save a lot of time and still be knowledgeable about pop culture. You will even have more time to binge-watch worthy shows that aren’t based on books. Most importantly, you will be superior to those who haven’t read the books because reading books is always better than watching television.
Following The House of Cards/Game of Thrones Rule, here is a list of popular shows/books and what to do:
House of Cards- Read the book (of course).
Game of Thrones- Watch the show (of course).
Orange is The New Black– Read the book.
Bosch– Watch the show.
The Musketeers– Read the book The Three Musketeers.
Elementary (or any Sherlock Holmes series) – Read a Sherlock Holmes novel or a couple short stories.
Dexter– Watch the show.
Sex and the City– Read the book.
Friday Night Lights– Read the book.
Under the Dome– Read the book.
True Blood– Watch the show.
Boardwalk Empire– Read the book.
Of course, these rules aren’t perfect. Quality isn’t taken into consideration, and quality does matter. But quality is subjective, so I can’t make an objective rule for it. In other words, if you think the show sucks, don’t watch it. If you think the book sucks, don’t read it. If you really want to read the books AND watch the television shows, go ahead. But be warned; doing both will be very time-consuming.
What do you think? Which of the above books are worth reading? Which of the above shows are worth watching? What other books/shows could be included? Have you ever felt superior because you read a book before it got turned into a television series?