The other day I was talking to a friend from a different part of the country, and she mentioned that her Borders was closing so she’d gotten a great deal at the liquidation sale. When I said I’d had similar experiences, she said, “Oh, yours was closing too?” and I told her about its bankruptcy.
Being immersed in publishing blogs and news, I’ve known about Border’s liquidation since it was first announced months ago. I was almost flabbergasted to meet someone who hadn’t heard. Hasn’t everyone in the world been mourning its closure?
This incident made me wonder how much tunnel vision comes with immersing yourself in the writing world. When you surround yourself with hardcore readers and writers, it’s easy to lose perspective and think everyone reads and writes as much as you do. But of course while I read a couple of books a month, many of my contemporaries at Northwestern–one of the nation’s premiere colleges–only read for class.
In particular, I wonder about this whole editing business (even though I love editing, think editors are incredibly important, and believe that when I edit, I do add value to a project). Before I started studying writing, when I was a lay-person reader, I could read a lot more books and not want to throw them across the room. For example, I read the Twilight series and didn’t particularly find anything to complain about in terms of the writing. I haven’t gone back to read the series since, but I’ve heard the writing is atrocious, and when I do flip through the books, the one or two sentences I see are riddled with adverbs, ambiguous pronouns, and cliches. If I were reading it now, I’d probably have to stop. And on the flipside, when I tried reading literary fiction before, I had trouble appreciating it at all.
So now I wonder, which Katie matters more? The one who was truly just a consumer, reading books for entertainment, or the one who has been trained in the art of writing? Does the art really matter if consumers enjoy non-artful books just as much if not more?
In previous posts, I’ve talked about how much I deplore the label of genre fiction and the snobbery with which some writers regard it as unreadable. I still believe that genre fiction can be just as artful as literary fiction, but the more I read of it with honed writing senses, the more I find it filled with weak writing. Other readers love books that I can’t finish. Is the problem the writing or is the problem me? And as an editor when I see these works, should I be trying to propel the writing to a higher level, or should I write it off as a byproduct of the genre and focus only on the story?
This is probably a question I’ll be wrestling with for the next few years. I’d love to hear what other people think, especially people who haven’t studied writing. Do you ever stop reading a book because of poor writing? How important is story to you in comparison to the quality of writing?