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November 20, 2006

Popular Fiction

I'm having a severe problem with popular fiction - far too much of it is complete pants.

I like to read interesting and thought provoking fiction. I also like to read books that a lot of other people read, so that I can keep up with popular culture, and have something to talk about at dinner parties (though I never get invited to those, hmm).

Science fiction and fantasy pretty much always work for me for the intellectual reasons, but hardly anyone you meet in day to day life will know the difference between Gemmmell and Reynolds. They may have read Banks, but seldom have touched (or even be aware of in some cases) M. Banks.

So, to expand my mind and horizons, I decided a few years back to jump out of genre fiction (into which I also include horror and crime), and embrace the stuff that everyone else seems to be reading. This experiment has succeed and failed in equal measure. My hit rate is much less than 50% I'd say, and I'd like to find a way to increase my odds of a good read.

First the successes. I have discovered some books that have literally blown me away. The quality of the writing, the depths of emotions, the scale of the vision; all these things have surprised me and pleased me. I'm talking about books like 'Atonement' by Ian McEwan, 'Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell, and "The Remains of the Day" by Katsuo Ishiguro. Other novels by these writers are also excellent. I've got a few other authors I like, Ian Banks, John Irving, but I'm quite a slow reader, so have to choose carefully and my list is quite small.

Unfortunately I've had more than a few complete failures. 'Bridget Jone's Diary' was vacuous, 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian' was complete tripe from beginning to end. I thought maybe Richard and Judy's bookclub would be a good source of new choices, but 'The Shadow of the Wind' was rubbish, "An American Boy' was 500 odd pages of complete pointlessness, and while I liked a lot of 'The Time Traveller's Wife', the ending was very disappointing.

I've even had a bit of a foray into Booker prize land - surely that would be a good way to make my decisions? But even a bestseller, prize winner, and personal recommendation like 'The Life of Pi' left me wishing I'd wasted my time elsewhere.

So what am I to do? Most popular fiction seems to be badly written dross. Why are people putting up with it? Why on earth do they keep buying it? Can any serious reader say "The Da Vinci Code" without cringing? The only conclusion I've reached is that picking a random but attractive looking book off the bestseller list is a complete waste of time. The general public must have little taste, and the Booker judges should get out more. I'm going to have to stick with science fiction, and with my small list of quality non-genre authors.

If you know any author or book that is in the bestseller list that you'd like to recommend, I'm open to suggestions, but unless you agree with everything I've written here, perhaps it's best you leave me to my ranting.

Posted by se71 at November 20, 2006 11:40 AM


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