I have been using GoodReads to broadcast my reading habits lately. Every time I put down a book (well, okay, my iPad), I log in and post my immediate, momentary thoughts. This makes for a different kind of “review” than I would normally write on the Internet: less thoughtful, more fragmentary and contradictory.
It also exposes one of my quirks. Recently a friend noticed that, unlike most people, I finish almost every book I start, even the bad ones, even after I know they are bad. This is true. I’ve only given up on one book this year, but I’ve hated and finished a shit-ton of crappy books, including a thousand-plus page fantasy epic (volume one of a series that I know I’ll never revisit) that took forever to choke down.
“There are too many mediocre books in the world,” she said. “Why waste your time?”
But, see, I love to read mediocre books.
More specifically: I love to read books by writers who are struggling. It becomes a kind of performance, a drama in and of itself, for me. Think of athletics. A gymnast, say, who turns in a perfect routine every time can be boring. Likewise, one who falls down every time. But put somebody out there who has the potential to do well, and then let her ankle wobble, just a little bit, before the dismount, and I’m riveted.
Same with clumsy writers, who, I find, often have a kind of reckless energy and desperate inventiveness that is lacking in their more polished counterparts. I like watching their make-shift strategies when they’ve painted themselves into corners, for example. What would I have done? What were they thinking?
Now, I happen to think of myself as a mediocre writer, too, at least by the standard of the work that I’ve had published so far. Early on, in my twenties, I exhibited a great deal of talent, but I never had the discipline or the work ethic to live up to that promise, and my fifties are drawing near. Yeeks. I haven’t given up on myself, but I certainly don’t think that I’m any better than these writers whose books I’m patronizing (in every sense of the word). Yes, their lack of mastery makes me feel better about my own work, but not in a snide way. More like fellow-feeling.
That’s not the feeling I get when I read, say, Jonathan Lethem or Michael Chabon, two writers whose birthdays and Bronze Age Geek set of preoccupations match my own, more or less — but whose prose fucking soars. Fuckers.
Those guys make me feel like a loser.
Which is sometimes necessary, too. More on that another day, maybe.