Tuesday, 4 May 2010

I picked a new book off the library shelf

yesterday. It had one of those nice little orange dots on the spine, the colour that denotes 'murder, mystery and mayhem'. I like a little light reading before going to sleep at night and that sort of thing can be good.
This was not. I glanced at the first page. It was written in the first person present tense - always awkward unless handled by the best of writers - and there were no less than eight profanities on the first two pages. The story line was also negative in the wrong sort of way. It felt - dirty. I put it back wondering why the library had bothered to spend the all too limited funds for new books on that particular book.
I rather suspect that the problem is what is known as "central buying"...the system whereby the books for the state's municipal libraries are chosen by a central committee rather than individual libraries. This means that they buy multiple copies of fiction at reduced prices and then distribute them. Non-fiction is handled slightly differently but a smilar problem applies.
Yes, it is a problem. What we read depends on the committee and their views and interests not on what the general public might want to read.
Of course they say that what the public wants to read is taken into account and I do not doubt that it is but the committee has the final say. Even if individual libraries bought their own books there would still be a need to choose.
Naturally we do get books at the library by a wide range of authors and we can be fairly certain that the latest books by authors like Alexander McCall Smith will eventually appear on the shelves. People do read those.
What we also get are books - often in multiple copies - that some critic has decided is worthy. There were multiple copies of a book by an award winning Australian author. They sat on the shelves and were eventually dumped in the annual book sale. They sat there too until someone bought them for an overseas mission school where the kids were studying the novel for English literature. There are twelve listings for Patrick White. Both the audio-copies of Voss are out at present. I happen to know that this is because they are 'required' study for the students in question. The other ten items have been sitting there for years but the library is required to keep them because he is the Australian who won the Nobel Prize. Is it a waste of shelf space? I do not know although I know I am not going to try and read any more. It bores me.
There are other supposedly good writers who bore me as well. I find much of their "remarkably insightful" work nothing more than self-indulgent navel gazing.
I do not have a lot of time to read for pleasure and I want it to be for pleasure. I do not want drivel. I do not wish to preached at. I do not want a soul searching 'artistic' non-story. I do not want needless profanity.
Is it too much to want both good writing and a good story?


Donna Hosie said...

But reading is so subjective, and that is one thing us writers have to accept. A novel that feels dirty to you, may actually appeal to someone else.

This is why it is so hard to get published. You need to get your great story in the hands of someone who loves it. Someone clearly loved that book you picked up or otherwise an agent would never have agreed to represent it, and a publishing house and editor would never have agreed to publish it.

catdownunder said...

I know Donna - I am wondering at ME! Why can't I appreciate this supposedly wonderful writing? But, as Dad says, "not all Shakespeare is good"! (Heresy?)
Hey, it is actually RAINING here - wonderful words of water on the roof!

Donna Hosie said...

It just rained here for about 30 seconds! Blue sky again now. I guess that was winter.

Old Kitty said...


I hope you find that special book for you. I think for me it's the fun of discovering what I think are gems after wading through what I think is muck.

But yes, all reading is very subjective.

And yes we love libraries! :-)

Take care