As much as I’ve loved reading for almost 40 years now, and other people know how much I have read, I’m still astonished, and other people are astonished, at times to discover that I have not read certain classics. I haven’t read these books, for instance: A Tale of Two Cities (though it’s on my Kindle now and I’ve started it), Les Miserables, Moby-Dick, War and Peace, Gone with the Wind, Don Quixote, Walden, or The Canterbury Tales. Glancing at lists online that various people and organizations suggest as the top-40 or top-100 must-reads, I am even surprised to find there are some books I’ve never heard of! (I didn’t think that would happen for me on a “famous-classics” list.)
Frankly, since I’ve been reviewing books for so many years, I’ve tended to get skewed toward reading mostly new books. This has been especially true since I started Rated Reads in 2008: I’ve wanted to focus on new works that wouldn’t have gotten as much word of mouth as older books so the site can be more useful to visitors. So the upshot has been: fewer classics.
Even so, I think I’ve done a fairly good job over the years covering quite a few classics. And I’ve discovered some new books that should qualify as “new classics” because they’re so well written.
But I’m OK with not reading the classics or the classically literary newer books that are deep and filled with meaning. I don’t see it necessary to be a book snob. I’m perfectly happy just reading fluff sometimes. I will admit, for instance, that I did eat up the Twilight books, before they got really popular and that’s all anyone who was female, ages 13 to 55 or so, was talking about. I hadn’t planned on reading them (Stephenie Meyer is a fellow BYU graduate, and when I read in our alumni magazine about her book about a vampire who falls in love with a great-smelling girl, I thought it just wasn’t up my alley), but when a trusted reading friend handed a copy of the first book to me and said, “I want to see what you think about this,” I indulged and got hooked. Sure, they’re basically female brain candy, but it’s sure nice to have some tasty Hershey’s kisses to indulge in sometimes, isn’t it? (I say this deliberately because there are also great books out there that are still kind of indulgent but I’d consider more the equivalent of Godiva or Valrhona.) The Twilight series has provided a whole bagful of kisses. I do like a good romance and clean(ish) love scenes. I did get tired of hearing about Edward’s marble chest, though. I just don’t care about muscles and finely chiseled chests, apparently.
Given that I enjoy fluff now and then, I do have standards. I think now might be a good time to share authors I do not like. Yep, I’ve written about some of my favorite books and authors, but now I will write briefly about authors I detest.
- James Patterson, at least as part of a writing duo. I read Sundays at Tiffany’s because I thought it was such a clever premise. The writing stunk. It was short and unmemorable and childishly written. I suppose I should try one of his mysteries, but I’m skeptical after being burned with his ridiculous prolific co-authoring. Actually, now that I think of it, I suppose my entire list of “hates” is of authors who churn out books to a loyal fanbase who will fork over $28 for any new tome from their favorite author regardless of the quality of the writing. Me, I’m not that loyal, I guess.
- Nicholas Sparks. Another prolific author who writes what I consider to be formulaic crud. I firmly believe that if the only way a writer can elicit an emotional response from readers is by using death as a tool to pull relentlessly on heartstrings, he doesn’t have much talent. I generally appreciate nuance. (OK, I did already say I loved Twilight. I can’t explain that.) I read two books by Sparks, I believe, as a reviewer and have seen a few movies based on his books, so I am pretty sure I can say I don’t need to read/see anymore. SOMEONE ALWAYS DIES. Sorry if this is a spoiler, but it must be said. I figure, you read one Sparks book, you’ve read them all.
- Richard Paul Evans. I think he’s a very fine man and has done some real good, and I love his success story. But his writing is sophomoric. Sorry, but it’s true.
It’s fairly safe to say that any author whose writing I find sophomoric or whose plots are formulaic will make this list. Obviously, I make a few exceptions, but in most cases, I’ll avoid this bunk and stick to writers who craft three-dimensional characters, create fascinating worlds, who have amazing imaginations, who can just put together the same old words in the English language in ways that somehow seem new and fresh.
Even when it comes to fluff, I have some standards.