One of my writing friends whose work is so good I’m sure it will soon be published suggested that I read a couple of poor historical novels. What? Why should I do that? She wanted me to see exactly how bad the books were and why. I read the first one right through as it redeemed itself in the subject matter. The second never made it to my 50-page rule. I will read up to 50 pages just to be sure I give the book a fair chance before I ditch it. This means I read most books to the end.
But, even though it was historical, that other book couldn’t hold my interest. I took it back to the library after 20 pages, so glad I hadn’t spent money on it.
This experience got me wondering if there is any benefit for a writer in reading poorly written books? Certainly after turning the last page of a never-to-be-forgotten book like Herman Wouk’s War and Remembrance or Margaret George’s The Autobiography of Henry VIII the characters resonate a long time in one’s head. And I’ve mentioned before my tears after reading one of Jean Little’s YA books. That poor novel which I mentioned above and am reluctant to name in deference to the author? Not so much.
As I sit here trying to recall the books’ titles, I realize that the only thing I got from reading those badly conceived books was a lesson in what not to do. I still think, however, my time is better spent finding excellent authors as osmosis surely works in this case. Somehow our minds take in the evocative settings, the cleverly constructed sentences, the marriage of plot and character so that, when we write ourselves, we are much more likely to emulate these exemplary authors. At least we know what is in the pot at the end of our writing rainbow.
And that is why I will still put down a book if, after 50 pages, it has not snagged me in the outer threads of its web and forced me to keep winding into its center.
What is your magic page number if a book doesn’t live up to its promise? Do you see any benefits to reading less than stellar writing? Consider leaving a comment on this topic in the space below.