Sunday, June 22, 2008

Reading life

I was going to entertain you with a whine about writing. However, I changed my mind. Last week, I ventured out into the big world and attended a reader’s circle. After all readers are the end user for a writer's work. Aside from any practical considerations, reading is one of my favorite things.

In this case, the phrase, reader’s circle refers to a small band of women, who get together once a month to discuss the books they’ve read recently. I’m familiar with the concept. But, this was my first chance to participate.

I’m so glad I went. This club has no reading assignments, which may be part of what makes it so lively. Titles discussed with humor, wit, and charm included:

Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment
The Celestine Prophecies
Nerds Like It Hot
Circle of Gold
The Lizards Bite
The Other Boleyn Girl
The Number One Ladies Detective Agency
The Whole Truth
Theodore Roosevelt: A Life

There were others. Alas, I was too enthralled to take notes. Next month I want to be prepared to participate. To do so I need to keep track of what I read--not a big problem. I also need to be able to discuss the titles read--a much bigger deal.

Whether or not I like a particular book is perfectly clear--to me. However, I seldom bother with analyzing why. Let alone explaining it to someone else.

I’m reading and enjoying Sweet Surrender. But, when I attempt to analyze why I like this title or even this author, I fall back on very vague language. The author’s voice appeals to me. The fantasy entertains me. The characters are authentic and familiar. The story world is believable and yet far enough from my daily life to enchant. All true, but in all fairness to my fellow readers not enough content for anyone to make an informed decision about whether or not to shell out money for their own copy.

Here’s my reading for entertainment bottom-line requirements. The story must be well written and professionally edited. By this, I mean a minimum of mechanical errors, no glaring mistakes of fact, a coherent plot, believable motivation for characters actions, natural dialogue, and no ‘miracle’ solutions to conflicts. Beyond those minimal standards, I’m instantly plunged into the mushy area of personal taste.

For example, I love regency period romance. Georgette Heyer rates a whole shelf of keepers in my personal library. Carla Kelly’s romances always thrill me. As do Loretta Chase’s and a long list of other notable authors. On the other end of the spectrum, Lisa Kleypas, who writes best selling and Rita award winning regencies, fails to capture my fancy. Perhaps, I picked the wrong titles to try and she improved. Since I’ve tried her twice with the same dismal results, it is highly unlikely I’ll give her work a third try. There was nothing wrong with her writing or the editing, indeed she meets all the minimal requirements. Yet, her story choices yank me out of the special world of fiction and make my willing suspension of disbelief impossible.

Recently, I read a negative review of Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady. The story absolutely riveted me. As it did the vast majority of readers and reviewers. Difficult as it is for me to believe, there was at least one intelligent reader who wasn’t seduced by her prose.

The trouble, for the one negative reviewer I ran across, was the same thing that turned me off Ms. Kleypas’s books-- story choices made the willing suspension of disbelief impossible for that critic. In this instance, I don’t agree with the reader’s opinion. However, I recognize it is a matter of individual perception.

So here is my new challenge, write a brief review that summarizes the core story-- without spoilers and either endorse with specific reasons why or explain why the book in question failed to please this reader. Then repeat for each title read until the next meeting. Yikes! What was I thinking?


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