Two years ago I discovered an app for my Kindle that allows me to scroll through a list of free books on the topics of my choice and decide which, if any, are those I’d like to read. Many of these novels are the initial efforts of a brand-new author; others are first books in what is to be a series. A few are older books that the author chooses to promote in hopes of garnering new readership.
For someone who reads constantly, as I do, this should be (and often is) a great boon. It provides me the opportunity to discover authors whom I’ve never before encountered, and to enjoy reading without the worry and hassle of returning books on time to the library. I am able to satisfy my voracious reading habits without incurring the national debt to satisfy my addiction. In theory, then, this app provides me wonderful benefits.
In practice…not so much.
Make no mistake: I use care in selecting the books I download. After finding a novel listed on the app, I thoroughly investigate it. I glance swiftly through the plot description, deciding if the story even sounds like something that interests me. This can be tricky, as anyone who wants to select a good book knows. In any case, I am persnickety. I enjoy light mysteries, but I don’t want too much blood and gore; “thriller” is not, to me, a leisure-time activity. I’m a nervous person by nature, so I don’t need highly suspenseful novels to provoke an anxiety attack! I also prefer that my books not be drenched in romance; heaving chests and tight buttocks and kissable lips are irritating, not titillating, and I find the romance-novel style names (Chance, Promise, Lark, Wolfe…) utterly laughable. Nor do I want blow-by-blow descriptions of the sex act. In my view, sex is something best done, not described.
Should a novel pass the sniff test in all these areas, I then read both the best review (the gushingly-favorable 5-Star review that was probably written by a family member or best friend) and at least two or more of the worst reviews. Those are usually the deciding factor. If the poor reviews contain any complaints about the writing—grammar, spelling, punctuation or editing—the book is a no-go. (Disclaimer: Never doubt that I realize my own writing is hardly error-free; of that I’m all too sadly aware. But I am not asking a weary public to pay hard-earned money for what I’ve written.)
If a novel that I’m considering passes all my onerous qualifications, I finally take the plunge and download it.
Despite my care in selecting each book, though, I’m often disappointed. And so it is that, all too frequently, I’m reminded of the time my mother had chosen a novel at the library on one of her favorite subjects, the early American settlers. Using just as careful a selection process as I, she nevertheless found one book to be so bad–so utterly, terribly, reprehensibly, abysmally awful–that the only thing she could possibly do was read some of the more unintentionally-hilarious passages aloud to us kids. My mother read aloud very well: expressively, and with perfect diction. Delivered in her faultless and precise voice, the dreadful passages of that appalling book were so unbearably funny that we literally collapsed on the floor, clutching our sides as we laughed until we hurt.
I still laugh just remembering it. Such a comically cruel thing to do to the minds of young people! Some of the more painfully bad sentences from that book are burned into my memory to this day.
Too late, Mom and I discovered the words “Vanity Publisher?!” penciled lightly on the flyleaf of that appalling novel. It is notable that the librarians had not erased the words.
In the world of e-books, half the novels today are essentially vanity publishing specimens. Many of these so-called authors should have their keyboards smashed and their fingers broken for the atrocities they commit in the name of literature. More terrifying yet is the fact that a reading public swallows these works, hook, line, and sinker.
Writing a book is hard work, and those unequipped to undertake the job should not be doing it (and I include myself in that assessment). But if they insist on doing so, those authors should at the very least have the intelligence and grace to haunt the halls of their local college, find some starving graduate student aiming for a Masters in literature, and offer her or him a few paltry bucks to edit their “masterpieces”.
The rest of us might have fewer laughs that way, but we’d sure as hell burns be hitting the “Delete!” button less.