Reading Terrible Books Isn’t a Waste of Time

A writer I really admire said the greatest piece of advice she can give to aspiring writers is to read good literature.  And she isn’t the only person I’ve heard/read this piece of advice from.  It makes sense: read good literature, learn what works.  Read enough good literature and you’ll see patterns, rules, and formulas emerge.  When you are first getting started, this is incredibly helpful.

I’ve been a lover of classic literature since my youth.  I read Little Women at age 10.  Next came Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol.  High school introduced me to Pride and Prejudice and my instantaneous love of all things Austen.  During college and for several years after, I rarely bought a book unless it was considered a “classic.” (Harry Potter being the obvious exception!)  All that changed with those damn Twilight books.

For the record, I read all four books in about a week.  Also for the record, I saw immediately the lack of quality in the writing of Twilight, which enhanced my perception of the brilliance of the writing in my beloved classics.  To this day, I will tell anyone who asks that, yes, I’ve read Twilight.  I will also tell them that I’m not a “fan” of Twilight, but I have to admire Stephanie Myers a little anyways.

The quality of the writing in Twilight is very poor, in my opinion.  It’s all adjectives and repetition and teenage angst.  However, the plotting- the actual story and the world created- is pretty damn good.  I read all four books because even though I was annoyed by the poor writing quality, I was caught up in the story.  I wanted to know what happened.  It also made me want to write.

Before I read the Twilight books, the only thing I could have compared my own writing to was Austen, Dickens, Eliott, Hardy, etc.  How could I compete with such masters of storytelling?  I would always find myself lacking.  I never even gave writing a thought, and I think that’s why.

But after reading Twilight, I felt confident that I could write something, if not better, than at least AS good.  And if Stephanie Myers could write a 4 book series, the least I could do would be to write one book.  So I did.

I’m so glad I read the series.  It gave me a week’s work of guilty pleasure and a lifetime of satisfaction in knowing that I managed to write a book.  My book probably isn’t ever going to be published and while I like it, I can’t testify with any certainty to it’s quality.  But that’s not even the point, is it?  Knowing that I accomplished something so huge as simply putting the words down on paper and making sense out of them is enough.

I recently started reading another book, which I also find to be lacking in the quality-writing department.  Friends kept mentioning the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy to me (and later the Fifty Shades of Grey movie), insisting that I read it.  Like Twilight, I resisted for as long as I could, but eventually my curiosity got the better of me.  Unlike Twilight, I was prepared for less-than-stellar writing.  I’d read a few reviews and looked up the backstory behind the book (it started out as Twilight Fan Fiction then was self-published. There’s that damn Twilight again).  I knew what to expect.

My expectations were met- which isn’t often said for books.  The book isn’t bad (so maybe the title of this post should be “Reading Just Okay Books Isn’t a Waste of Time”), it’s just not good.  The writing quality is okay, there aren’t any major grammatical errors and it’s easy to read, but it feels forced a lot of the time.  The author likes adjectives and repetition, just like Mrs. Myers, and, in my opinion, she likes to sound smart (some of you may question my use of the word “sound” here, maybe you’d like “appear” better?).  But in attempting to sound smart, she comes off as the opposite, and frankly it makes me think that she’s trying too hard.  Writing should flow, it should feel natural and easy, but as I’m reading it, I can’t help but wonder if she had a dictionary, thesaurus, and medical journal open in front of her at all times so she could find the perfect, intelligent-sounding words for every occasion.  I’m only half-way through the book and she’s already used the term “medulla oblongata” TWICE.  Really?  Is that necessary?  I don’t think so (unless you are the Waterboy).  Also, her characters “giggle” way too much for 20-somethings.

I worry now that I may be coming off as trying to sound smart, too, so I’ll get to my point.  I’m appreciating this book because of it’s writing.  I know, that’s confusing, isn’t it?  What I mean is, I appreciate seeing all of the things I don’t like because it makes me realize changes I need to make to my own book.  I know I still have a long way to go before Twenty-Five is publishable (even self-publishable).  I find myself noting similarities between Fifty Shades and Twenty-Five and realizing that I have a lot of editing to do to produce the quality of writing I want representing me.

So I will persevere.  I will finish the book.  I may even read the whole series.  I probably won’t call myself a fan, but I’ll probably like it in the end.  Not in the same way I like P&P or Bleak House, but in the same way I like Twilight: as a satisfying-in-the-moment guilty pleasure whose movie(s) will probably be much, much better than the actual book(s).  And I’ll continue to allow myself to get talked into reading these trendy books, because just like great literature teaches me how to be great, terrible books teach me how not to be.


My Favorite Posts

There’s less than a week til the one-year anniversary of this blog!  I can hardly believe that I’ve been writing and sharing with the blogosphere for a year.  I’m so glad I let a friend convince me to start it.  It has been a friend when I had no one to talk to, an outlet to vent, and the best place in the world to share my writing.  I sincerely hope that those of you who are kind enough to follow me have enjoyed my nonsensical ramblings and bitching and exultations.

For those of you who may not have been around since the beginning of this blog, I wanted to catch you up a little bit/ share my favorite posts from this past year.  I hope you enjoy!

The Road That Let to Know

Originally Posted October 15, 2009

It’s amazing how seemingly insignificant moments in life can become catalysts for major change.  At least that’s what I’ve been told.  And it must be true because I’ve witnessed the phenomenon time and time again.

I tend to be the type of person who thinks I always know what path I’m walking when, in reality, I could stumble upon a fork in the road, trip over a tree root, or walk right into a dead end at any moment.

Read more here…

My Top 10 Favorite Books

Originally Posted November 9, 2009

This was a HARD list for me to make.  I love to read.  I’ve always loved to read and my taste in books is broad.  I only had one requirement for a book to make my top ten list: I had to have read it more than once.  To me, that’s an automatic way to determine if a book is good.  Do I want to read it a second time?  A third time?  Otherwise, I just went with my gut.

1.) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  I know, no big surprise here if you’ve read other blog entries and the Randomness page.  I’ve read this book more times than I can count.  I cry every time Darcy says, “You are too generous to trifle with me…”  I have “I love Mr. Darcy” as the screen saver on my phone.  Yes.  I really do.  I’m such a dork, but I don’t care.  Elizabeth Bennett is witty, independent, and kind.  She stays true to the women of the time period she lived in, but she also breaks new ground.  Jane Austen is a genius.  This is ABSOLUTELY the best book ever written.  If you disagree we cannot be friends.

Read more here…

Bookshelf Browsing- Why Judging a Book By Its Cover is Totally Fine By Me

Originally Posted January 6, 2010

I read somewhere that writers aspiring to be published should

(A) Read as many books in the genre they are writing in as possible


(B) Support other beginning (or non-famous) authors by buying their books.

Well, if you’ve been reading my blog regularly you’ll know my financial situation as of late hasn’t really allowed me to purchase many books (or any at all), so I’m dreadfully out of touch with what is out there in book world right now.

Read more here…

What I Learned This Week

Originally Posted March 11, 2010

I’m often told that my writing is very honest- that I’m not afraid of putting myself out there on the page.  And I definitely find this is true.  In fact, I’m more honest in my writing than in actual conversation.  Not because I am untruthful in real conversation, but because I often just can’t find the right way to express myself.  Somehow, in writing, I always can.

I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon a lot lately.  Namely due to this guy I went out on a couple of dates with.  Let me emphasize A COUPLE OF DATES.  I’ll be more precise.  TWO dates.  You’ll see why the number is important in a minute.

Read more here…

The Query I Wish I Could Send Out

Originally Posted May 3, 2010

Dear SuperAgent,

I wrote my first novel, Twenty-Five, a year ago, on the verge of my own twenty-fifth birthday to deal with the trauma of that milestone.  It is the first time I’ve attempted to write fiction other than a contest in the fourth grade (which I won) where I wrote a short story entitled The Summer Aliens Invaded My Brother’s Brain.  I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses.  Twenty-Five is a love story, pure and simple.  The characters are not so utterly unique that reading about them makes one wonder if I was on acid when imagining their personalities.  The plot is not so action packed and full of twists and turns that readers will sit looking at the wall, scratching their heads, for ten minutes after reading because they have no idea what the hell just happened.  Instead, I’ve created characters who are a lot like you and me, your best friend, your next door neighbor, and the boy who grew up down the street from you who you always had a secret crush on.  What happens to them is what happens to us all- the firsts of a new relationship.  The first meeting, the first date, the first kiss, the first fight, the big breakup, etc.

Read more here…

And some milestone updates for you:  this is my 99th (eek!) post and there are only 4 days until the anniversary!!!!
A little thing that makes me happy: decorating for Halloween!

The Books I’ve Read This Year, Part 1

My original intention was to keep a list of all the books I read this year and post it sometime the last week of December, but for some reason, I started writing why I’d read what I read or if I enjoyed it or not, etc. and the draft starting getting really long.  I thought to myself- no one is going to want to read this mindless list by the end of the year- it will probably double in size and be impossible to get through!  So, to save my readers the hassle of a really long, boring, mind-numbing post, I’ve decided I’d go ahead and post January through June.  I read 17 books, which considering all the shit I’ve been going through with changing jobs and weddings and basically hating myself and my life, is a lot.

The Smart One and the Pretty One: Read for the first time. Finished 1/10/10.  I’ve discovered a wonderful new author with this book.  See my post about Judging a Book By Its Cover for how I found this book and see my review of the book here.

Persuasion: Read for the twentieth or so time.  Finished sometime in February.  Tied for my second favorite Austen classic with Emma.  I am totally Anne Eliot in many ways.  I’m more like her than Elizabeth Bennet, which is probably why Pride and Prejudice is my first favorite!

The Jane Austen Book Club: Read for the second time.  Finished 3/4/10.  I actually like the movie version better than the book version.  Weird.  I think the movie version does a better job of incorporating the discussion of Austen’s books than the book does.  However, they made some stupid plot changes in the movie that would have been better left alone- isn’t that always the case?

Knitting Under the Influence: Read for the first time.  Began and Finished 3/5/10.  I loved this book!  Sometimes the characters will come into my head for no reason at all and I want to re-read it, but I’m trying really hard to read new books!  For more of my thoughts, see my review of the book here.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Read for the fifth time.  Finished 3/26/10.  Obviously the reading new books thing didn’t quite work out for me.  I blame ABC Family.  They showed a couple of marathon weekends with scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and it really made me want to read the whole series again.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Read for the fifth time.  Finished 3/28/10.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Read for the fifth time.  Finished 3/30/10.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Read for the fifth time.  Finished 4/2/10.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Read for the fifth time.  Finished 4/4/10.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Read for the fourth time.  Finished 4/5/10.  I have to make a comment here.  This book is so freaking good.  I think it has just replaced Goblet of Fire as my favorite in the series.  I cried through like the last 10 chapters.  It packs such an emotional punch.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Read for the third time.  Finished 4/8/10.  This is one of the best series ever written.  If you don’t agree, well, I just don’t know what to say to you.  Except that you are insane.

Alphabet Weekends: Read for the first time.  Finished 4/13/10.  I was disappointed.  This should have been a good book, it had all the elements for a book I would like.  British characters.  Romance.  Complicated relationships.  Interesting and fun activities.  But.  It failed me.  See how, here.

Dear John: Read for the first time.  Finished 4/15/10.  More telling than showing, but I still blubbered like a little baby.  Now must see the movie.  I love Amanda Seyfried, and Channing Tatum is hot.

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister:  Read for the first time.  Finished 5/2/10.  Has restored my faith in Gregory Maguire, a little.  I LOVED Wicked when I read it a couple of years ago.  So I bought the sequel, Son of a Witch, and another of Maguire’s, Mirror MirrorSon and Mirror were huge disappointments.  They just weren’t captivating like Wicked was.  I didn’t enjoy the style of the writing or the storylines, and Mirror ending up going absolutely nowhere.  But Confessions was much better.  It wasn’t as intriguing and page-turning as Wicked, but it was much closer and I felt satisfied after reading it.

By the Time You Read This: Read for the first time.  Finished 6/2/10.  I bought this book at Target right before my trip to Disney because I realized that I hadn’t brought any books with me for the plane ride.  It was pretty good.  The beginning was a little annoying because the author would show what was happening and then say what was happening.  Very redundant.  But that dwindled out after a few chapters, so I wonder if it was stylistically on purpose to show the growth and maturation of the character (who began the book at age 12 and ended at age 30).

206 Bones: Read for the first time.  Finished 6/23/10.  I love Kathy Reichs and all of the Temperance Brennan novels.  Here’s what I like most about them: the author doesn’t try and get fancy with flowery prose and descriptions that take you an hour to read and understand.  She just tells the story.  She gives background where necessary and gives just enough description so you can envision the scene, but SHE TELLS THE STORY!  Love it.

And a little thing that makes me happy: Laughing aloud to a funny moment in a book and not caring if people think I’m crazy for laughing to myself.

God, I love to read…

I really really really love how a good book makes you forget you are reading and makes you say, “Oh, I’ll do it in the morning,” when you realize you were supposed to pack over an hour ago, and even though you KNOW you are not a morning person.

I am really not a morning person.  And I really was supposed to pack my bag for Saturday and Sunday in Fayetteville, including one visit to church, which means ironed clothes, not just something I pull out of the laundry basket (the clean one, that is), and one night out with a friend of my friends which means clothes that look like I put some thought into them, not just something I pull out of the laundry basket (yes, still the clean one).  But instead of ironing and packing tonight, I read.  I read a book I could not put down.

And truly, I forgot I was reading.  I was just immersed in the life of the characters: watching them, easedropping on their conversations, praying for that kiss right along with them.  God, I LOVE a good book!  And this was just a DAMN good book.

Funnily enough, it was a book I never would have read if I hadn’t started writing.  It was the second book of Claire LaZebnik’s (both the second she published and the second I read, though I read her last one first and still have read the first one): Knitting Under the Influence.  I honestly have not been so mesmerized by a book since Pride and Prejudice or Harry Potter.  And yes, I feel no shame in putting Pride and Prejudice and Harry Potter in the same league.  Both excellent, wonderful, beautifully written stories.   But back to Mrs. LaZebnik.  I only found her because I was looking to support other authors, as you may remember from my post about Judging a Book by It’s Cover.  And today, I was sitting in Barnes and Noble, typing away the handwritten pages I had collected over the past week for TDE and I needed to use the restroom.  On the way back to my table, I happen to walk through the aisle where I found The Smart One and The Pretty One back in January.  And lo and behold, right there beside it, Knitting.  It wasn’t there last time.  I liked Smart/Pretty, but I LOVED Knitting!  And I never would have thought to pick it up in the bookstore if I hadn’t written my own book and wanted to support other people out there like me trying to “live the dream.”

You want to know something else that’s funny?  Immediately upon completion, I felt the urge to write.  I was literally compelled.  I said out loud, “I need to write,” grabbed a notebook from the bed/nightstand beside me, fumbled around in my laptop bag for a pen and started journaling.  It probably would have been more productive if my immediate desire had been to work on TDE, but all writing is practice, even if it is just writing for yourself, to work out your own feelings. (And I know you are all probably scratching your heads about the bed-slash-nightstand thing, but take my word for it, you don’t want the long explanation.)

Also, and this is pretty hilarious, my mom walks into my room at some point looking for something and she asks what I’m reading.  I show her and she says, “I think I’ve read that.”  I’m all like, “Okay, whatever,” and go on with my reading.  About half an hour later she comes back in with a list in her hand and asks me the author’s name.  I tell her, she finds it on her list and reads off the title.  Yep, she’s read it.  She owns a copy!  She bought it at a yard sale!  But, if she had ever asked me to read it, I probably would have said no.  I don’t know why, but I don’t like to read books that other people tell me to read.  I just re-read this and realized it doesn’t sound hilarious, but I still find it amusing, personally.

And now it’s past midnight, I’m all jacked up on my reading-a-good-book high, I still haven’t packed, and still have no desire to pack.  Guess I’ll just be running late in the morning.

My Top 10 Favorite Books

*edited September 8, 2014*

This was a HARD list for me to make.  I love to read.  I’ve always loved to read and my taste in books is broad.  I only had one requirement for a book to make my top ten list: I had to have read it more than once.  To me, that’s an automatic way to determine if a book is good.  Do I want to read it a second time?  A third time?  Otherwise, I just went with my gut.

1.) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  I know, no big surprise here if you’ve read other blog entries.  I’ve read this book more times than I can count.  I cry every time Darcy says, “You are too generous to trifle with me…”  I used to have “I love Mr. Darcy” as the screen saver on my phone.  I’m such a dork, but I don’t care.  Elizabeth Bennett is witty, independent, and kind.  She stays true to the women of the time period she lived in, but she also breaks new ground.  Jane Austen is a genius.  This is ABSOLUTELY the best book ever written.  If you disagree we cannot be friends. (Okay, we can be, but don’t be surprised when I try to get you to love it, too.)

2.) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling.  Okay.  This may seem like it’s really high up on the list.  It’s a YA book about wizards.  Again, I don’t care how big a dork it makes me.  I freakin’ LOVE Harry Potter.  I love the whole series, but Goblet of Fire is my favorite because it really is the peak of the series.  The kids are transitioning from children into young adults.  The happy-go-lucky innocence of childhood disappears as Voldemort returns to his physical body and Harry is faced with death first hand once again.  Complications arise as hormones increase.  And the Tri-Wizard tournament is written with vivid description and heart-stopping action.  J.K. Rowling is one of the best writers of the twenty-first century.  And I will not apologize for listing it as my #2.

3.) Persuasion by Jane Austen.  Another Jane Austen book.  I think of all her heroines, I relate personally to Anne Elliot the most.  She’s a lot like me.  Quiet.  A little bit of a doormat for those around her.  Mid-to-late twenties and still single.  Not the prettiest girl on the block.  Yet, despite all of her seemingly negative qualities, she’s so lovable.   She’s one of the kindest and most selfless characters in literature (there’s where the similarities end).  And she doesn’t change who she is for the approval of others.  And Captain Wentworth is almost (ALMOST) as dreamy as Mr. Darcy.

4.) Bleak House by Charles Dickens.  After Jane Austen, I think Charles Dickens may be my favorite author.  I love the way he builds characters and plot.  In Bleak House, the tension is high from the beginning and it never breaks.  This book dips and twists between different perspectives and different plot lines seamlessly and then weaves everything together in the end.  Everything is connected.  It’s fantastic.  And the book keeps you guessing about more than plot.  Even once the story ends, you are left wondering if Esther is really as reliable as she seems to be.

5.) Matilda by Roald Dahl.  Again, this may seem like an odd choice, but I have a very good reason for including it.  I read this book OVER and OVER when I was a child.  I would finish reading it and immediately restart.  I wanted to be Matilda.  I didn’t want to have her horrible parents, but I wanted to have her genius brain.  I hated Ms. Trunchbull and felt victorious every time Matilda got her revenge on her with the chalkboard.  It’s imaginative and just plain superb story-telling.  This is the kind of book that makes kids want to read.

6.) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  Another childhood favorite.  I forced my mom to take me to the library every two days one summer so I could check out the next book.  Eventually she broke down and bought them for me.  I love the whole series, again, but LWW is the best known for a reason.  The characters, the scenery, the danger!  It has everything a child (or an adult) could want in their fantasyland.  And for some reason, I had a crush on Edmund when I was little!

7.) A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Another love of my childhood: Sara Crewe and the students at Miss Minchin’s boarding school.  This may be one of the first books I read because I loved the movie so much I wanted more time with the characters!  But, let me tell you, the book is WAY better than the movie.  Sara deals with more trials and tribulations than any child should ever have to go through: she loses her mother, her father, her privileged life, her friends, her dignity.  But through everything, she never loses her spirit.  She never lets the world break her.

8.) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I read this for the first time in fifth grade.  I felt so special reading such a “grown-up” book.  Years later, I wondered if my love for it came from that importance I felt when reading it for the first time at such a young age.  But then I re-read it in college and realized that it’s one of the best stories ever conceived about family, young love, and becoming the person you are meant to be.  Every young girl and woman should read this book.  Jo March rivals Elizabeth Bennett as one of the greatest literary heroines ever written.

9.) The Time-Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  I actually didn’t read a lot of contemporary books until the last couple of years, but this beautiful love story pulled me away from the classics.  I suppose you could call it paranormal, since one of the main characters is a time-traveler, but the real world setting is SO REAL.  The love Clare and Henry feel for each other knows no limits.  I love the way the story moves in and out of past and present, from Clare to Henry’s POVs, from one real-world issue to the next, but always remembering it is a love story and that the focus should be on the love the main characters share.  I cry every time I read it.

10.) Same As It Never Was by Claire LaZebnik.  I discovered Claire LaZebnik by accident.  I challenged myself to purchase a book I’d never heard of, by an author I’d never heard of, based only the cover and genre (Contemporary Romance).  Same As It Never Was actually wasn’t the book I picked, I chose The Smart One and the Pretty One, but I fell in love with LaZebnik’s writing and searched out her other books and online presence.  I made so many comments on her blog, she probably thought I was crazy, but she sent me a copy of Same anyway.  It was the first autographed book I ever received and, even though it’s actually her first novel, it’s my favorite of hers.  The story is simple, but perfectly paced and plotted.  The characters make you want to root for them.  It’s just a lot of fun.

So there it is.  My top ten.  I’m sure a lot of you out there will question my choices, but this is certainly only a list built upon my personal preference and the emotion stirred in me when I read these novels.  For good measure, I’ve also compiled a list of honorable mentions.  This was almost as hard as the top ten, because I wanted to include EVERYTHING!  I won’t say why I chose all these because it would take too long, but in no particular order, my honorable mentions are:

A Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Emma by Jane Austen

The Rainmaker by John Grisham

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Green Eggs & Ham by Dr. Seuss.  Okay, this one I will give a reason for.  My mom taught me how to read with this book!

Now, what are some of YOUR favorite books?