Monday, 15 October 2012


That term conjures an image of the fur-clad Duchess of Literati sneering at ill-mannered urchins from the safety of her mink-lined Rolls-Royce Silver Spoon. What is a book snob? One who reads only the BEST. No.
   The term was used by fellow-scribblers to worry over the grim prospect of never again reading stories for the sheer fun of it, Jeeves. Becoming a writer may destroy you as a reader, if you let yourself fall into that trap. I’d walked that clifftop path before. What to say of it? Everything has its behind-the-scenes viewpoint.
   If you are a police officer, you will glare at the travesty that is the cop movie. Medical dramas placing emphasis on the heroism of overworked doctors are bound to leave nurses feeling cold. Stories about vampires will, inevitably, piss werewolves right off.
   And writers? Don’t get me started. Oh, if you insist. Crank the starting-handle on the front of that Rolls-Royce Silver Spoon, Jeeves. The Duchess of Literati wants to go for a spin. She has her quota of ill-mannered urchins to mow down, after all.
   My fellow-scribblers bemoaned the occupational hazard a writer must inevitably deal with. This is the business of READING. At some point, readers decide to become writers. A few of those writers actually manage the transition after penning five or six novels.
   How harsh a reader do you become, in reading as a writer? Do you read for enjoyment? Are you prepared to read a story just to see how it was constructed? Do you find a book so badly-written that you simply abandon it?
   Where, along the way, do you transform into a book snob, mowing down lesser books from the back seat of your Rolls-Royce Silver Spoon? (All 0.75 regular readers of this blog will glean that the spoon in question must be non-runcible.) The difficulty for the writer, in reading, is one of being a back-seat driver. You want the story to go in a particular way, but you aren’t the one at the wheel.
   I said that I’d walked that clifftop path before. Luckily, I didn’t fall. I didn’t find myself reading a book for pleasure only to discover, shock-horror, that I was merely reading to study technique. Why not? Was I capable of disengaging the writing brain and using the reading brain to get from start to fart?
   Not exactly. I pulled stories to bits, to see how they worked. And I enjoyed doing that. I decided to read certain authors to see how particular stories were constructed. If I enjoyed the fiction along the way, great. That’s the point I’m getting at. Enjoy reading, even if you are reading as a writer.
   This was the case with the detective novels of Raymond Chandler and the Bond books by Ian Fleming. I read them to see how they were done. Sat down and planned it. I’ll buy these books, and look at particular authors. And I’ll learn. My time in the company of Sherlock Holmes was spent absorbing structure. But it was with one eye on fun, just as the other eye dealt with the mechanical side.
   Reading books and seeing faults in them from a new stance just because you’ve labelled yourself a writer…is a losing game. A clifftop path with a sudden halt. Don’t get too tangled in that pursuit of the BEST in fiction. Oh, I read GREAT stuff. But I also read GRATING stuff. I think you really have to go slumming, same as I did. You have to be prepared to read books that you suspect you may put down and give up on.
   It’s a RARE book I’ve done that with. Once I start a book, I’m meant to go through with it to the bitter end. And sometimes that end has been world-class bitter with a patent pending. I’m struggling to think of the books I gave up on. One, two, three, four. I’ll struggle some more. How many? Not many. Perhaps no more than half a dozen in a reading lifetime…oh, the crap I forced myself to read. And the crap I wrote. The books I should have given up on…let me count the ways. Ah, no time.
   See the positive side of reading. Let your stance as an author enrich your enjoyment of the experience. Better that, than to let your writerliness taint your views. Yes, you’ve read some stinkers. But the ones you finish are the ones you finish. Those finished books, good, bad, indifferent, taught you much I’m sure. I’d hope you came away from reading having enjoyed reading.
   You may demand great fiction, but you won’t always get it. I’ve read great books with appalling typos in them. That didn’t destroy my reading experience. Flip that over. Wonderful typesetting couldn’t disguise a crap book. Who decides whether a book is crap or not? Each reader. Individually. Inside each tiny mind. Thus endeth the lesson.
   So, writerly ladies, gents, and all those caught between or far outwith, are you book snobs? Writers, reading and coughing up blood simply for being writers? I think you are just trying critical hats on for size in an attempt to flog yourselves over your own worst imperfections. Nothing to do with the stuff you are reading. Everything to do with the stuff you are writing.
   Remember, those imperfections of yours may actually be key indicators of your wonderful writing style. Tread carefully. Don’t squash your own unique telling-points. Here are a few books to consider. They are not bad books. Quite the reverse.
   Does it matter to me that the characters in Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth should probably die off from lack of supplies with all the to-ing and fro-ing underground? No. It doesn’t matter to me at all. No book snobbery there.
   What is Dracula’s rationale for avoiding the major population centre of Berlin? It’s closer than his destination of London, and he has a greater grasp of the language in Germany. Why not set up his undead empire as a Berliner? He heads for London. Does this destroy the book’s plot? Certainly not.
   Dare we mention the books that JUST HAPPEN TO TURN UP in front of Frankenstein’s monster? Really, Mary? No, seriously. REALLY, Mary? The monster must be educated, so here’s Paradise Lost. WTF?! I glossed over this. Almost became a writing snob, but I reined the mare in. The clifftop path I walked that day was signposted. So I came back down, unscathed. (I like what Mary Shelley did with that book. She’s a fucking superstar. I gladly say that of the author of the next piece…)
   Okay. I have a slight problem with Jane Eyre, in that she just happens to fall in with her relatives after wandering in the wilds. But the family situation is explained. There is foreshadowing. Even so, it does come across as a thumping geographical coincidence.
   My shameless bias in Charlotte’s favour excuses this literary excess, as Mary Shelley’s excess is similarly excused – but only just. I look askance at the connection, bundled up in a sub-plot concerning inheritance, and move on. The walk along the cliffs is not for me, for there is much enjoyment to be had from Frankenstein and Jane Eyre. (Suddenly, I have a deviant literary mash-up in mind. Dr Phibes, the screens!)
   The Hound of the Baskervilles…plays a very strange game of pitting the occult against Sherlock Holmes. Is there really a huge spectral hound out there on the moors, Sir Arthur? Er…
   In Kipling’s case, style intrudes. Both editions of The Jungle Book contain a story not set in the jungle. Snow and ice intervene. Should we return the books as not representative of content under the Sale of Goods Act…
   The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy L. Sayers, houses a wholly improbable cause of death within its mysterious pages. Yet that sits perfectly well within the self-contained atmosphere of the story. And that’s a few books in on the series featuring her aristocratic detective. She went out of her way to contrive many an arcane scene in her books, did Dorothy.
   Does that matter? Have His Carcase has one of the most outlandish plot-devices going for it. The scramble to secure evidence from a corpse before the sea washes clues away. Mad writing. But it works. Because, as readers, we want it to. As writers, we should want it to, too.
   Find me a book you can’t find fault with, and I’ll find fault with it. Not out of spite. This is just the way things are. A book isn’t a wheel, or a meal. You’ll know a broken wheel, or an awful meal. A book is harder to place. Flip that over. A book is harder to excuse.
   Your terrific book may not be mine. So, I say again. Find me a book you can’t find fault with, and I’ll find fault with it. With that in mind, I warn of the path to the shaky cliff. Don’t go out of your way to climb to that high spot, with its winds buffeting you.
   If you can’t read a book without finding faults, you are reading every book you’ve ever read. Buck up. Enjoy what you read. That is the point of reading. Worry about being a writer when you are WRITING. The Duchess of Literati crashed her Silver Spoon up her own backside. Don’t join her in that pursuit.


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