I read a lot. I probably spend almost as much time reading as I do writing.
I rank things by stars on Goodreads, but in reality, I think of books in only a few ways.
First, there are books that sucked me in and made me feel or think, and with which I had no major issues. There are books that sucked me in, but had at least one thing that bothered me. I still enjoyed them.
There are books that I enjoy, but they don’t necessarily blow me away. They aren’t bad, but they aren’t great either. This is probably the majority of books, I would imagine. They’re either great ideas not handled as well as they could have been, or generic ideas done well enough or differently enough to be interesting.
There are books that aren’t great, but offered at least one redeeming value – they made me laugh or had a very compelling moment or idea that made me think.
Then there’s the bad stuff. Poorly or blandly written, uninspired or insipid garbage, perhaps entirely offensive or containing such a glaring error that it invalidates anything else going on (i.e., a plot hole so blatant it renders the entire story unnecessary, or an idea so contradictory to logic and understanding that it offends me to my core, like most everything on Fox News.)
Here’s what I read and where I placed it while writing Captain Hanna.
The Great Stuff:
Carrie, Stephen King
Gate Of Ivrel, C.J. Cherryh
Fully Engaged, Thomas Sterner
The Desire Map, Danielle Laporte
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith
The Tao Of The Dude, Oliver Benjamin
Dragonquest, Anne McCaffrey
‘Salem’s Lot, Stephen King
The Good Stuff:
Five Weeks In A Balloon, Jules Verne
Just A Geek, Wil Wheaton
Gregor And The Prophecy Of Bane, Suzanne Collins
Mockingbird, Chuck Wendig
Pawn Of Prophecy, David Eddings
The Elfstones Of Shannara, Terry Brooks
The Adventures Of Captain Hatteras, Jules Verne
The Decent Stuff:
The $100 Startup, Chris Guillebeau
The Poor Stuff:
Awaken The Giant Within, Tony Robbins
Through The Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll
Living Dead In Dallas, Charlaine Harris
The Awful Shit:
Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Anderson
Assholes Finish First, Tucker Max
There was very little middle ground in the reading list this time around. I read some classics, and reminded myself why Stephen King is such a master. Gate Of Ivrel was revelatory in how well it creates a whole world and feel, and unique characters of depth.
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter renewed my faith in Seth Grahame-Smith after the debacle of boring that was Pride And Prejudice And Zombies. Oliver Benjamin’s The Tao Of The Dude really re-pointed me in the direction of Taoism, which is really becoming a topic of great import to me.
Dragonquest was terrific, with such grand themes and wonderful political posturing. The law of unintended consequences was in full effect there.
Jules Verne is always good, though I knocked Five Weeks down a peg due to the racist depiction of native Africans (in the 1860s). Pawn Of Prophecy was a favourite when I was a kid, and it holds up.
Tucker Max’s second book was just a rehash of the same type of thing as his first, but with a full descent in the second half into the kind of person everyone thinks he is. Not funny, only mean-spirited.
The fairy tales was a thing I did as research for a future project, and really reminded me of how awful these are. The occasional pretty phrase, but often completely lacking in depth or characterizations, but with this self-righteous overarching Christian morality that’s just galling. The worst.
Very little non-fiction this time around, just a couple of self-help and one autobiography, a surprisingly sweet entry from Wil Wheaton. Tony Robbins is still the kind of self-promotion guru who is more interested in you thinking he’s amazing than actually being amazing.
Danielle Laporte’s Desire Map works on a wonderful premise – that it’s not about hitting targets or living a particular lifestyle, but about feeling a way that you want to feel. You don’t want to sell a million units; you want to feel happy and purposeful. You don’t want to own a mansion; you want to feel at peace in your space. You don’t want to drive a fancy car; you want to feel like you’re growing, like you’re in control of yourself.
It’s more important to focus on being as blissful as you can be, whatever form that takes, rather than having a million bucks or a hot spouse or notoriety everywhere.
I feel that. I’m on Wattpad, but let’s face it, my type of literature is not Wattpad’s bread and butter. Most people on there are trying to be the next big YA author or romance novelist, riffing on formulas and trying to be Suzanne Collins or Danielle Steel. There’s a large community dedicated to the LGBTQ+ on there, and that I applaud; there’s not enough representative literature in the world.
My stuff is more just writing something I feel impacts me and has depth and meaning, things you can read more than once to explore and find all our little differences. Some idea takes over my mind and dominates it for a few months, forcing me to explore an idea or characters in whatever form it chooses to take. I don’t care about genre. I don’t care about formula. I don’t care about being the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or (blech) Stephenie Meyer.
Though I wouldn’t say no to their sales, of course.
But I’d rather write something meaningful than generic. I know it won’t be for everyone. I know it might very well be shit, violating the rules of literature as it stands today. None of it is marketable under standard practice; I’m unlikely to be published by anyone interested in anything typical (or worse, snobby literary).
If that means I’m never read, I guess I’ll have to live with that. It won’t stop me from trying, however.