After watching The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo the other night, (Reviewed Here), I got to thinking just what does reading a book teach us?
Now obviously, we learn from books. Growing up, we use books to teach us facts, knowledge, to help us become a more rounded person. Reading creates an imagination, entertains us and helps us relieve boredom.
But that is not what I am talking about.
I am talking about as a human, also as a writer, what do I learn from books?
As an exercise I decided to look back through some of the books I have read in the last six months, to see what, if anything, I had learned.
Story is EVERYTHING
I read a number of books which, while perhaps not written fantastically, the story was enough to carry me through the books.
The Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson is one example. They are translated, which can sometimes stifle a book. His obsession with coffee and sandwiches, his need to give out the exact specifications of a MacBook, or to tell us in detail everything Salander bought at the shop can be a sign that editing did not cut deep enough. But the story, the depth of characters and simply the fact that Salander is as cool as ice hooked me early on and carried me through the book and loving it.
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming is another. Its a short book, where not a huge amount happens, but as an introduction to James Bond, you get to see an insight into his life, which is not represented in the movies.
The above books show me, that if I want my books to be a success, I have to ensure I treat the reader to the story they deserve, or at least a story which they will want to know what happens in the end.
Obviously I cannot be sloppy, needing to edit and polish until I think it is perfect. But if the story doesn’t work, then the book wont either.
Books Can Be Inspirational
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley) was a WOW book. Autobiographies have a tendency to portray the subject in a positive light and even with this taken into account, you still come out thinking “He was a good man”
The account of his “wilderness” years, before finding Islam, his rise through the Nation of Islam, then his expulsion, assassination attempts and the enduring fear for his life changed me, in a good way.
You Are a Writer (so start ACTING Like One) by Jeff Goins is another ( My Review). I am not a fan of “How To” books, as I feel they try to enforce their view, which might not be your view, leading to more confusion. This book is more of a “mind-set” book. It tells you why you should write (not how to write) and how to go about building your “brand” (not what that brand should be)
Inspiration comes from many places, some are a simple idea for a story, others are life changers, but either one can be meaningful. A subtle change, can spiral into a big change, which takes your life(or story) along a totally different path than you originally thought.
Don’t Judge a Book By It’s Price
Spitting Devil by Brian Freeman is a perfect example. I downloaded this onto my Kindle for free. It is a short story about a serial killer. The story is gripping, pulling you along with a shiver running down your spine, until you get to the end and ultimately creeped out.
If I am honest, as it was free, I did not expect too much from it. But it was really good. I have read actual traditional published books within the last 6 months that were nowhere near as good.
Traditional Vs. Self Published
Legacy by James Steel is a traditionally published book and quite frankly is not very good. Some of his descriptions are horrendous (Clouds looking like a witches skirt!). He seems to have a fascination with the dictionary, as I do not remember having to look up so many words, in any other book (ululated). I only got to the end because the premise of the story was slightly interesting, but it was pretty awful. It has a decent blurb, which is why I picked it up at the library, but after that it goes downhill.
Bobby’s Boy by Mark Wilson is a self published book, which not only made me laugh out loud, but also cry like a baby. It is written in a relaxed style, which suits me and I found myself wanting to get to the end to find out what happened. (My Review can be found here. And his blog here.)
Just because a book has a publisher seal of approval does not mean that it is any good. And, in reverse, just because someone published it themselves, does not mean that it is bad!
And keep it simple. There is no need for an obscure word unless you are trying to make yourself look clever. But frankly, if most readers don’t understand it, there really is no point.
SO I guess I learnt quite a lot. What have you learnt?