The good, the bad, and the unputdownable

by Miriam

One of the assets of a pricey liberal arts education is that you can turn on the literary pretentiousness with the best of them and then tuck down with your popcorn title of choice, feeling confident in the fact that you know the difference between what’s great and what’s the intellectual equivalent of a Twinkie. Aside from the days of suffering through various soporific graduate school seminars, I’ve never really spent much time agonizing over my literary tastes. I pretty much read from every category of fiction and nonfiction and can find value and entertainment in all but the most execrable writings.

Which is why I like this piece by Laura Miller in Salon. Sure, Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson and James Patterson* may not be on same artistic level as Jonathan Franzen, Ian McEwan, and Ann Patchett, but as their legions of fans will attest, you can’t put down their books once you’ve started them. You may hate yourself in the morning, but you’ll stay up way past your bedtime to get through every last pagefull of clichés, awkward character development, ridiculous plot twists and workmanlike prose though they may be. Thing is, a good story is a good story is a good story. And, there is craft (and sometimes genius) in telling a good story whatever the author’s writing abilities. There is a great deal of bad writing in my life that I am grateful to have read. And, I hope there’s a fair amount of it left in my future. As long as it’s good, of course.

What are your examples of good bad writing/writers?

*Whose work I’ve excoriated for years‘cause, you know, I’ve got that pretentious lit-major-followed-by-a-career-in-publishing thing to live up to.

14 Responses to The good, the bad, and the unputdownable

  1. Anonymous says:

    Lee Child is mine. His books are formulaic, his protagonist is static, and never grows or changes, and his writing is marginal.

  2. Amy Tripp says:

    J.K. Rowling isn't the best writer, mechanically, but she can sure as hell weave a story.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Rowling, Goodkind, M. Zimmer Bradley… There's many of them, and as you said, you hate yourself in the morning, but in the night before you don't even remember there's such thing as sleeping… Happened to me many many times.


  4. tericarter says:

    Just last night I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. to finish Michelle Moran's NEFERTITI, a book that was recommended right here — on this blog! — and I wish I could remember who to thank. This morning I've already started her next book, THE HERETIC QUEEN. It's not Margaret Atwood, but I'm loving it.

  5. Simone says:

    Charlaine Harris! The Sookie Stackhouse books continue to one-up each other and amaze me with each new enjoyably ridiculous supernatural adventure.

  6. Kristin Laughtin says:

    I really wanted to come up with something more original than J.K. Rowling, but she came to mind too quickly. Her prose is not bad at all, and I think she's a better writer than the ones you mentioned, but it's her story that captures everyone's hearts. I don't read Harry Potter and think, "Wow, that was a beautifully crafted sentence", I read Harry Potter and think, "Wow, I can't believe that just happened! This concept is really cool! Oooh, that's an interesting detail. I wonder how Harry will get out of this one!"

    The other things that come to mind are long book series from my childhood, like the Baby-Sitters Club. Formulaic, chapter 2 was copy/pasted into each new book, etc., but dang did I read the heck out of them.

  7. Joelle says:

    For me it's a genre. While I'm editing, which seemed to be most of the last year, I can't read within my own genre (YA), so I read cozies. The cooking murder mysteries are my faves. I know they're like watching TV, but I don't have a TV, so why not read them? And as a cook, I even learn a few tricks now and again!

  8. Alli Sinclair says:

    Teri, that was me who recommended Michelle Moran. I'm so glad you liked it. I'm sure you'll like The Heretic Queen even more.

    Sometimes I look to a certain genre to give me what I'm craving at the time. It just depends what mood I'm in. If I want comfort-reading, then Janet Evanovich will always deliver. Sure, they're the same characters and similar stories in every book, but her books are like visiting old friends and sometimes that's what I feel like. And of course, I love a bit of Jack Reacher every so often.

  9. tericarter says:

    Thanks, Alli. :-) I am already half-way through THE HERETIC QUEEN. It's like comfort food.

  10. Cacy says:

    I second Charlaine Harris. I am so very addicted to the Sookie Stackhouse books.

  11. Monica says:

    Am I the only one who thinks Rowling writes beautiful sentences? The last two books are full of gorgeous prose while still being plot driven.

  12. DGLM says:

    Ok, now I'm going to have to read THE HERETIC QUEEN too. Monica, I like Rowling's writing. It's not flashy but it gets the job done and she occasionally charms me with a lovely turn of phrase or astute observation.

  13. February Grace says:

    You know, I am the intellectual equivalent of a Twinkie. Yes, a Twinkie living in a biscotti world…



  14. Patch says:

    I was really confused, and this answered all my quetsoins.

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