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The Sunday Salon: Predictable Reading

The Sunday Salon.com I think I feel a rant coming on ...

Predictable writing annoys me.

Predictable books can fall into a few categories:
  • Re-reads: for the most part, these don't annoy me. I only re-read books if they are truly wonderful, like To Kill a Mockingbird. These are the literary equivalent of comfort food. The fact that I can recite passages is part of the fun.
  • Formulas: Some of these annoy me.  Somepopular authors fall into a predictable pattern once you've read a few of their books. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series is one example. Her characters are well-developed but, after reading a few of these books, you know how each person will respond to a situation, and even the romantic tension between characters wears thin. Jodi Picoult is another author whose work becomes predictable after a while. She employs the same literary style (rotating points of view), and includes a trademark dramatic plot twist near the end.  But even so, these books can be enjoyable, particularly if you're in the mood for light reading.
  • Amateur Writing:  These annoy me, big time.  The plot is predictable, the characters are predictable, the ending is predictable, or all of the above. 

Unfortunately, my current read falls into the final category.  I'm about halfway through Daniel Mason's The Piano Tuner.  This book started out in an odd Apocalypse Now sort of way: in 1886 the British army enlisted a London piano tuner to go visit a surgeon-major, stationed in the Burmese jungle, who 1) demanded that he have a piano, and 2) later demanded it be tuned or he would resign.  I guess I am supposed to be hooked from the start, simply wondering why a quirky military guy would need a piano in such a setting.  But halfway through, the piano tuner has yet to meet the surgeon-major.  But even in his absence, it's clear from the stories told by other soldiers that the surgeon-major is a real character all right.  Everybody has stories about him.  But has anyone actually met him?  It seems not (any resemblance to Apocalypse Now's Colonel Kurtz is purely coincidental).  And then Edgar, the piano tuner, is the typical hapless innocent in a foreign land.  He looks wide-eyed at the scenery in every Burmese town.  He shudders at atrocities.  He gets annoyed with British colonial beaurocracy.  As each leg of his journey is delayed, and delayed again, I'm starting to wonder where all this is going.  Will Edgar meet the surgeon-major?  Will I care, or will I have lost interest?

This book was Mason's first novel, and it shows.  More than once this weekend I've found myself walking past the book, not tempted, sneering at it even.  There's been just enough foreshadowing to make me curious how this will all turn out, so I suppose I will finish it, but I just wish it weren't all so ... predictable.

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( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 6th, 2008 08:27 pm (UTC)
Predictable is exactly how I would characterize Picoult, especially after just finishing my third books of hers. I did guess the twist before the twist was exposed in Change of Heart. Nonetheless, she sucks you in and her books are real page turners. For me, better in small increments. =)

I hope Edgar finds the army dude. I hate it when novels "don't arrive" in a timely manner.

Happy Sunday!
Apr. 6th, 2008 08:48 pm (UTC)
Amen! Isn't it amazing how long it can take to read a disappointing book, while a great one somehow ends too soon... The one Picoult that I think ended well/appropriately was Nineteen Minutes...
Apr. 6th, 2008 08:58 pm (UTC)
I'm right with you, Laura. I don't mind a formulaic book if I am expecting it (some crime novels or spy thrillers fall into this category, but is the writing is good, I don't mind a plot I can somewhat predict)...but I HATE amateur writing...writers who make beginner mistakes in plot, tense, POV and overall writing (passive writing and crappy dialogue make me give up on a book very quickly). At least Picoult is a good writer even if she is a bit predictable. I usually like a Picoult novel when I'm looking for a quick, guilty pleasure type of read. The problem is, the more great literary novelists I read, the less patient I am with the so-so writers out there!

Apr. 7th, 2008 02:21 am (UTC)
What I do...
For these types of books, I spread them out. Months pass between and then they seem fresh and new. This is the good thing about getting old. :-D
Apr. 7th, 2008 10:20 am (UTC)
Yes, I've started to find both Picoult and Evanovich too predictable to read. Which is a shame because I loved the first couple of books I read by each of these authors. Mind you, I've come across worse. There was an English crime writer (probably now dead, but I'd better not name her for fear of libel suits) who used to repeat whole sections of exposition about her detective from one book to another. Talk about false economy.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )