The Problem With Paperbacks, Part 1

10 Aug

Summer provides a lot of free time in my schedule, and I try to take advantage of that and get some reading done.  Lately, I’ve had difficulty getting going on some of the more intense books on my list – I’ve yet to read One Hundred Years of Solitude, despite it being the most “Facebook favorite book’d” book in history, and even though the Llama and I had planned on both reading All The Pretty Horses at the same time, I can’t really get that one going, either.  Too much Spanish, or something.

So, on my way up the hill I decided to swing by the Overland Book Company and see what I could see and I was immediately drawn to the massive shelf of paperback mystery/thriller novels.  In my formative years, I probably ready a couple of hundred of these books, all by airport-reading luminaries like Koontz, Cornwell, King, Ludlum, and Grisham. I thought it might be fun to get some easy, disposable stories to tear through; at best, these books would be fun, engrossing page-turners, and at worst, they’d be forgettable.

Wow, was I wrong.  Out of five books, two have already been completely disqualified from reading for reasons I did not forsee.  I’ve listed the books I got, and my impressions so far:

1) Dean Koontz, Forever Odd and Brother Odd

I’ll start with the books that I enjoyed – Koontz has always been a really easy writer for me to read; he limits his style to one or two sentences per paragraph, and his narratives generally get going on, like, page THREE, and move in real time.  Odd Thomas, the character at the center of the “Odd” books, is a pretty fun character – he’s sort of a neurotic 21-year-old psychic as imagined by an aging, out-of-touch writer.  Sometimes his plonking, obvious pop-culture references grate, but in general, I find them charming.  To wit:

“She has the sweet face of a beloved grandmother, yes, but the steely determination of the Terminator.  Of course I mean the good Terminator from the second movie in the series.”

It’s kind of charming, no?  The fact that he can’t just say “the good terminator,” but has to point out that the good terminator was from the second movie in the series?  Anyone who gets a terminator reference in the first place is going to know that, and anyone who doesn’t won’t be helped out, really, by how he further explains his reference, and the whole thing is just so… like… my dad.

But anyway, I liked these books.  They moved quickly, had entertaining stories, and were pretty funny.  

Too bad I also bought…

2) David Baldacci, Simple Genius

One word: YIKES.  I totally thought, from reading the back of this one, that it’d be a fun spy romp, sort of the book equivalent of “Enemy of the State.” It even begins with a series of maps before the first chapter, a practice which I support. The thing I didn’t take into account was that David Baldacci seriously can’t write.  Don’t take my word for it; the following excerpts are all from the first three pages – the setting is a bar in DC, where our heroine, a DEA agent, has gone to blow off some steam:

“Brain-piercing music crushed all other sounds and would provide an army of hearing specialists with lucrative business in a few years.”

“Meanwhile, a pair of waitresses juggled trays and bad attitudes, all the while prepared to slug anyone attempting to grab their ass.”

“Michelle Maxwell was tall and very attractive.  What they didn’t realize was that she could be nearly as dangerous as a bomb-wrapped terrorist and was looking for any reason to put her foot through someone’s front teeth.”

Yowzers.  It only gets worse, and when it’s all coming at you, sentence after horribly-written sentence, well… I am saddened that someone who lacks even a basic grasp on the rules of style has sold millions upon millions of books.  The derivative story is one thing, but the writing is so high-school, so uniformly sloppy, I get embarrassed when I read it.  Doesn’t this guy have an editor?

So, the next book was Crichton’s State of Fear, but seeing as how I got further in that one before I gave up, and had more complicated reasons for stopping, I’ll give it a post of its own.


2 Responses to “The Problem With Paperbacks, Part 1”

  1. jaegle August 10, 2008 at 6:12 pm #

    Wow. That sentence about the waitresses is intense.

  2. lurk August 10, 2008 at 7:32 pm #

    Right? That sentence was actually the deal-breaker for me.

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