Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Reading in Overdrive

Just back from a vacation in the Colorado high country, no wifi, no TV, no computer. So what's to do in a cabin 9400 ft up the side of a mountain? Sleep, eat, watch the dogs run, and read. In nine days I read nine mystery stories, a history of bread and part of Mrs. Beeton's The Book of Household Management. Obsessive? Ya think? Here's where the obsession really comes to light. At least five of the mysteries, which I read anyway, annoyed me to the point where I would snort and read a clunker sentence or two to anyone who happened to be in the room or on the porch. Even Duncan the Dog got an earful, and his ears are pretty darned big. I doubt, however, that he has much experience with clumsy prose or a distressing lack of editing. His ears are more attuned to deer clattering down the mountain or a chipmunk scolding from a lodgepole pine.

The books in question shall, out of courtesy, remain nameless. However, we might each take a deep breath and hope with every molecule of our being that when we publish, someone will have pointed out the places where we have dumped useless information just because it's esoteric and lets us feel smarter than the reader: like telling me that Fanny Farmer first regularized measurements in recipes. Actually, Mrs. Beeton did so to a degree a century or so earlier. (She lived 1836-1865. Farmer seems to have published in 1918.) This sort of detail feels about as right as chocolate chips in Yorkshire pudding. Then there's the snob effect where the heroine remarks that someone has used incorrect syntax in speech. Dialog is not, not, not, about correctness. Dialog is the faithful, concise reflection of how the individual characters speak. Nor do I appreciate having an author explain what has already become obvious through the action. If you write anything, especially mystery stories where plot and pacing are crucial, don't sin against your readership. If you write, edit or publish such drivel, shame!

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