Sunday, 15 July 2012

Bad Books

Danger, these books may seriously lower your IQ.

 There are a lot of badly written books out there, books where the editor was clearly high when they left all the mistakes in, books no one can salvage. But in the last few years some of these terrible books have been making their way into the bestseller lists instead of the remainder pile.

Dan Brown’s ghastly Da Vinci Code books are serial offenders. Riddled with inaccuracies, and bad (non-existent) research; including the belief that it takes about an hour to drive from Scotland to London (try at least a whole day if not longer). Now most of his books can be found on the shelves of your local charity shop, destined to moulder until an enterprising volunteer chucks them in the recycling and replaces them with one of these other offenders.

Harry Potter and the case of the Absent Editor.

The first Harry Potter book is very badly put together. The editor (whoever that culpable fool may be) did not do their job properly. At some universities, students are set the challenge of identifying the grammatical errors on the first few pages alone. It doesn’t take them long, there are so many. Remember that Bloomsbury (who published this garbage) were sued for plagiarism several times over these books (they won, mostly because they paid off the claimants). JK Rowling insists she dreamt this all up in a café in Edinburgh, shame she didn’t bother to invest her millions in a dictionary and a grammar check.

The Twilight Series: A whole heap of wet blankets

Vampire stories have been around a while, from the historical (Elizabeth Bathory bathing in the blood of virgins to preserve her youth, Vlad the Impaler drinking the blood of his enemies) to the fantastical (Dracula – arguably the most famous creature of the night). They’ve been black and white nightmares (Nosferatu), allegories for the horrors of teenagehood (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and cartoons (Count Duckula). But clearly Stephanie Meyer lives in a pop culture free zone, coming up with this pile of badly written, cliché driven balls about vampires who don’t want to drink your blood, they want to go to high school. In the daylight. Where they don’t burst into flames. Huh? It would be bad enough if it was just an attempt to rewrite hundreds of years of folklore, but to be this drippy and to have another editor who doesn’t understand how syntax or grammar works (maybe it’s the same one!) is more than just bad luck.

50 Shades of Really?!?!

So now we come to the most recent offender. EL James’ pile of crapola started life as Twilight fan fiction online, and that really is where it should say. It’s bad enough that it rebuffs feminism, revelling in the idea that all women really want is a rich older man who spanks them and sexually degrades them, too naïve to tell him to stop. There are so many problems with the frankly laughable ‘plot’ that I don’t know where to start! To top it off it really is badly written. I read a few pages of the first one, itching to get a red pen and edit it properly. Self-publishing has a lot to answer for. The clichés, the wet heroine, the frankly misogynistic male ‘fantasy’ figure. Time for James to go back to school and learn the basics – syntax really isn’t that taxing.  (For a laugh, read the Amazon reader reviews).

Now, I know the arguments for these books; ‘they get people reading’, ‘sometimes you just want something light’. But, you have to wonder what they go on to read. If these books are on your level, then you probably could have done with some more reading lessons at school.
I also appreciate that not everyone wants to read Dickens all the time (I certainly don’t, but that’s a post for another day). There are better writers, better books out there, and honestly they can usually be found without much hassle. Ask someone, if you’re a friend of mine (or even if you aren’t – Tweet me) I will happily recommend a selection of books that are more enjoyable, well written, entertaining and hardly taxing instead of picking up a ‘bestseller’. The continued existence of reality TV shows such as TOWIE and Made in Chelsea illustrate that the general public cannot be trusted as arbiters of taste and quality.
As someone who has spent a long time reading for academic purposes, there are times when I too want to switch off my brain, and just indulge. Usually I reach for a thriller or an old favourite to unwind and not have to spend all my time analysing the language, the use of syntax, the style and the plot.
But there is a difference between reading something to unwind and switch off and reading this sort of brain rot – open 50 Shades of Gray and your IQ drops by 20 points every time. If you honestly think this is great stuff, you really ought to write a letter of complaint to your former educators, somewhere along the line they let you down severely.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Defying Gravity

I recently finished the last in Gregory Maguire's Wicked Years series, Out of Oz. The series began with the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in Wicked. Maguire's spun an epic, complex, sprawling saga, spun out of Frank L. Baum's Wizard of Oz books.
Elphaba's story ends much as it does in Baum's original, but the story of her descendants, friends and country continue in Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men and finally Out of Oz, which gathers together characters from the previous books, including a certain Miss Dorothy Gale, as Oz enters its own end game. War has broken out between Munchkinland and Loyal Oz, Elphaba's half brother Shell sits on the throne the Wizard once held, and a ragtag band of strangers will be drawn together to find a solution and save Oz from rending itself apart as it has been doing since before Dorothy's house fell on Elphaba's sister, Nessarose.
Liir, Elphaba's son, his wife Candle, the Cowardly Lion, Brr, a strange little girl called Rain, Mr Boss, the dwarf who accompanies The Clock of the Time Dragon and other assorted peoples of Oz journey across its expanses, searching for a safe place to hide the Grimmerie, the book that gave the flying monkeys their wings. Swept up into the political maelstrom raging across the grass plains, marshes and towns, chased by militia and fate, this disparate gang need to find a way to bond, to connect with their pasts and with the power hidden inside them.
Funny, clever, and bursting with life, I raced to finish this book, desperate to know if Elphaba really was coming back, or if Rain would learn to be part of the world instead of a distance from it.
I suggest you read the previous books in order to fully follow what is going on - Wicked the book differs a fair bit from Wicked the musical, although it inspired it, so don't rely on having seen it. You get a greater sense of the depth of the writing from having read the rest of the series, the complex, detailed plot often harks back to previous storylines and the characters back stories aren't explained in any detail, as Maguire is assuming that you've read the previous volumes.
An excellent series from a talented writer, with a skill for retelling older stories, it's fun, clever, and well worth the read.