Last year (according to Goodreads) I read a whopping THREE books of fiction.
There was a time (in another life, in a galaxy far, far away) when I never went anywhere without a novel at hand. I’d pull that baby out at stoplights, read over meals, in the bathroom, standing over the printer at work—you know how it is.
Their absence now is an icky symptom of an over-extended life; what time I have for reading—in between parenting, writing, and other madness—is pretty minimal. I DO read for pleasure, but it’s mostly of the online, ephemeral variety, lately. A poem here. A story there. Nothing I can write home to Goodreads about.
While I’m telling you this partly because I have a free writing day for once so OF COURSE I want to spend it lamenting about my lack of time, I also want to make the following point:
My Dear, Darling Authors: when I go to my stack of TO READS and, out all the books I could possibly pick, I choose YOURS to bring with me to a four-hour-long appointment at the salon, it is a complement. Nay, it’s an HONOR. (Diana Gabaldon, YOU’RE WELCOME.)
I feel compelled to make this point because (1) it’s been an embarrassingly long time since I wrote a blog post, and though I have good excuses as to why, I still feel pretty lousy about it, so deflecting the issue by shedding light on the responsibility that authors have to their readers (i.e. me) to NOT SUCK seemed like a good strategy… but MORE IMPORTANTLY (b) I did actually, recently, so honor an author (no, not DG, she’s amazing) who so thoroughly DID SUCK that I feel personally insulted.
I mean, really. I invested time in this book (not much, it was really bad, so bad that after a dozen pages I almost threw it across the salon. But I didn’t bring another book to read instead, so there’s four hours I COULD have spent reading someone else.) Also, I invested money. Or, rather, my in-laws did—the book was an Xmas present off my Amazon wishlist)—which is kind of even worse.
Anyway. I will not tell you which book sucked so very much. I will not gift this “author” with any attention, even bad attention. But let me tell you this:
There is a reason independent authors and publishers get a bad rap. Yes, yes, yes, there are excellent self-published and small press books out there (I’ve been in some of the latter, and I’m about to wax poetic about the former, so please bear with me). BUT, so very many of them are badly edited, self-indulgent space wasters. There’s no accountability. There’s no gate-keeping editorial staff, no publishing house with an established reputation and at least some marketing dollars and savvy to back an indie author up. Some self-published and garage-published books at least have the decency of using fifth-graders as cover artists to clue you in to how much they suck, but often there’s no way for a potential reader to know if the random indie book they’re about to pay money for/invest time in (or select above all others to lug to their hair appointment) is going to be worth it.
Which is why I don’t buy a lot of indie books. (Could ya tell?) When I do buy one (or download one, let’s be honest, Indies give their books away in promotions all the time) it’s because I know the author, or else the book comes with the recommendation of someone whose judgment I trust.
THIS book, though. What upsets me most about how much THIS BOOK sucked was that it tricked me. I didn’t know it was indie-published. I came across it by expressing interest in similar books on Amazon or Goodreads or some such. It looked good. It sounded good. It was published by a “Society” that sounded Literary and Important and Knowledgeable In Such Things, and had garnered good reviews with words like Intelligent and Challenging and that referenced other Authors I Like.
But, no, this book was overwritten, self-indulgent, purple prosy, dense, badly edited crap which, upon closer inspection, was published by a “Society” of which the author is the “President” and which exists to bring literature to the masses by, like, hosting open mics at a venue the author owns. And stuff.
Oh, and those reviews? The author personally responds to each and every one. Especially the bad ones. At length. (I really wish I’d noticed that before I clicked “Want to Read.”)
So let that be a lesson to you, Good Readers. Or let it be a lesson to me, I guess. Someone should learn something from this experience.
But although I am still feeling ill from the bad taste this BOOK I SHALL NOT DIGNIFY BY IDENTIFYING left in my reading mouth (yes, that’s a thing), I’d like to use the remainder of this space to raise a metaphorical toast to a book far more worthy of your attention.
For our recent family weekend camping excursion, I selected the next book in my READ ME queue: LOVE IN THE TIME OF UNRAVELLING, by Franetta McMillian, a Delaware author and acquaintances whose work I discovered at a local literary venue. Ms. McMillian has a captivating voice and a quietly stunning performance presence. As many open mic enthusiasts can tell you, lots of people can read fiction to a room full of people, but very few can tell a story. Not to mention, the story she read—THE FALL OF ROME (Gargoyle Magazine, Fall 2014)—was freakin’ awesome. So guess what? I bought her book… and then kept it in my SOME DAY pile for a year and a half before finally breaking the seal and exploring those words. And after my recent experience, I admit, I was wary.
Let me assure, you. Franetta’s got this.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF UNRAVELLING (2013), represents everything good that an independent book can be. Set in the “shattered States” of the mid-to-late twenty-first century, this collection of interwoven stories explores the tenacity of love, spirit and human goodness within one of the ugliest possible imagined futures. Mired in catastrophic global pollution and entrenched economic corruption, McMillian’s eclectic cast of survivors, visionaries, and misfits are surprising and compelling. Her writing is clear, evocative, and—lo! —clearly well-edited. Her storytelling is creatively non-linear, transporting the reader across time and geography in what seems at first a random set of “Quantum Leaps” but eventually reveals itself to be a clever pattern within the novel’s haunting and beautiful mosaic.
My only (only!) issue with LOVE was a bit of chronological confusion which may or may not be iron-out-able but, in the end, doesn’t really matter. (And I can’t remember the last time a book made me go back, take notes, and do the math, so there’s that.) With elements of science fiction, fantasy, and slipstream, McMillian’s stories hold appeal for lovers of genre fiction, yet they also maintain a consistent, resonating literary tenor that, in my opinion, has the strength to cross boundaries and affect a much larger audience. I can see her work fitting in the highest tier magazines or, with luck, backed by Big Name Brick and Mortar Inc. Yet Ms. McMillian embraced the Independent Publishing model, and more power to her. You can see her creative vision in every aspect of the book, from the cover art (her own) to the composition and scope (there’s a sequel, she informs me, so watch for that!) Which, I suspect, was entirely her point.
While I abhor a badly executed self-published book (particularly one masquerading as something else), I acknowledge that there is, absolutely, well-written, entertaining, and important works out there to be discovered. I bemoan the lack of filtering in the modern book market that subjects sensitive souls like me to total, time-wasting dren, but let it be said that there ARE ways to sniff out the good stuff beyond just random point and click. Getting to know the local talent is a big one (and supporting your local artists can’t hurt). Also important? Recommendations by people you love and trust—like, say, me!
So trust me on this one. LOVE is worth it.