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 Look

I love romantic comedies.  I’m a chick, what can I say.  I love love stories.  I have this sorta obsession with what I call “the look.”  I’m sure that all you ladies out there know what I’m talking about.  The Look is this way that a man looks at a woman and simply makes her heart melt.

For example:

Bill Pullman in While You Were Sleeping.  Every time he looks at Lucy (Sandra Bullock), I want to cry!

Colin Firth is the master of The Look.  Bridget Jones’s Diary, Pride and Prejudice, Love Actually.  He just nails it every time!

I think Bridget Jones’s Diary is the first movie where I really fell in love with The Look.  And now I look for it in every romantic movie I watch.  Or television show.

I think there’s just something so wonderful knowing that a man can look at a woman with love reading all over his face.  Even though it’s make-believe in the movies, I have to believe that it can be real.  That there are men in real life who look at the women they love like this.

That someday, someone will look at me like that.

Maybe it’s a pipe dream.  I’ll probably never have this

But maybe…

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?