Reading bad novels

When I was in graduate school I experimented with reading a lot of novels I chose at random off the shelf of the public library, novels by people I’d never heard of and which, as far as I knew, had never enjoyed any particular acclaim. I thought maybe there were things I could learn about the construction of novels that I couldn’t get from really successful examples. Maybe you can better see the device that joins the pieces when they’re not joined exactly square, so to speak. So I read these books in order to figure out what was wrong with them.

Anyway, what I learned was that most randomly chosen novels aren’t very good. What’s worse, the typical not-very-good novel doesn’t really have anything wrong with it. Its problem is an absence of things that are interesting — interesting sentences, interesting sounds, interesting ideas, interesting people. And “Don’t be uninteresting” is not a very helpful piece of advice. So I guess I’m just recording the fact that this experiment was a failure. In case you were thinking of trying this, I recommend reading good novels instead.


4 thoughts on “Reading bad novels

  1. Em says:

    I got to a point in my life as a reader, somewhere just after college ended, where I could not tolerate bad novels. I give you credit for trying or for thinking there might be a larger purpose at work. I just wanted to be properly entertained.

    Not with the aim of bringing anyone down, but do you remember some titles that might be funny now? When I worked at the public library we pages were fond of wondering what Miss Read’s books were like. There were so many of them, and yet they never seemed to circulate.

  2. withlovebyli says:

    Indeed most books are mediocre. The crap that gets published these days sickens me but at the same time gives me hope that my future books aren’t going to flop.

  3. Cliff Burns says:

    Years back, when we lived in an apartment with no air conditioning my wife and I would go see ANY movie, as long as we could sit in a cool theater. Now, I’m much more discerning, life is too short to waste on bad books, food, TV, films. I feed my mind, body and spirit the best sustenance available and am a better all-around person as a result.
    Critical thinking is sorely lacking in our society and, thus, the proliferation of crap…

  4. Novel says:

    I where Cliff Burns was ‘years back’! Have become a bit more selective in my reading matter, perhaps as much as what I watch on TV and the films I watch! Great Blog!

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