Thursday, March 11, 2010

Judging Books...

Open letter to authors, publishers, marketers, etc:
If your book has a major plot twist that should shock or surprise your readers, do not discuss it in the synopsis in such a way that makes it absolutely obvious WHAT the plot twist is. The book jacket for a novel I read recently discussed a plot twist by saying, "Then, decades later, another unimaginable piece of information turns up. For the reader, it is an electrifying moment, a joyous, fall-off-the-couch-with-surprise moment. For Patsy [the main character], it is more complicated. Blame must be reapportioned, her life reassessed." The way the story is set up, if blame has to be reapportioned, then that "piece of information" can only be one thing. I knew what the twist was before I even started reading the novel. My point is this: if you truly wanted to make it a "fall-off-the-couch-with-surprise moment", you should have camouflaged it better in the synopsis. Saying, "Decades later, Patsy discovers something shocking about her crime that causes her to reassess her life." is more vague and leaves more possibilities open.

Much love,
Shelly

I'm currently reading Water for Elephants, which has been sitting on my shelf for a couple years for one simple reason - it had no synopsis at all, so I didn't have any idea what it was about. I only started it now because the book club I just joined is reading it this month. Otherwise, it might have sat on my shelf indefinitely, because I had very little interest in it. I'm not very far into it, but so far it's fantastic. The first chapter grabs you and pulls you in. It's as good as John Irving, back in his Garp days, only maybe a little better.

I'm also listening to the first Harry Potter book on cd. I've just about finished it- in fact, I'll probably finish it on the way home, and I've already got the second one checked out of the library to start as soon as I finish the first. I've been thoroughly enchanted with the first book. I have a major apology to issue to all my friends who told me, over the years, how much I would enjoy the Harry Potter series if I read them. Not that I disrespected my friends, or didn't value their opinions, but I just didn't have any interest in the HP series. And I never really knew why until I started planning this post. I remembered a few years back, when Supergirl first got curious about the books I read, she asked me what one of my books was about. And, because I hadn't yet figured out that the plot lines of almost all the books I read aren't really suitable to explain to a small child, I told her. She immediately started asking a bunch of questions about why the people did what they did, why they weren't good, etc., etc. Rock chimed in and said, "Because Momma doesn't read happy books. Nice, happy things don't happen in her books." He was joking, in part, but I was a little stung, too. And I realized yesterday that I was stung because the criticism is ABSOLUTELY TRUE. I don't really read happy books. And that's exactly why I resisted the Harry Potter series for so long. They sounded really sweet. And wholesome. And I don't really do sweet and wholesome. Give me a good serial killer, or a dysfunctional family and I'm happy. But I've been pleasantly surprised by the HP series. They are sweet, and wholesome, but they are also fun and really, really entertaining. (Oh, and I've also learned to PG my book descriptions for Supergirl. So now, my descriptions are more along the lines of "Oh, it's about a family." "And what do they do?" "Well, they do family stuff, you know." Instead of saying, Well the teenage daughter drops the baby down the stairs giving him permanent brain damage, then has a nervous breakdown, accuses her father of molesting her, and gets packed off to a special school for crazy teens. And the parents split up. Of the True Blood series, my description was, "It's about a girl and her boyfriend." "What do they do?" "Oh, they go out to dinner and talk a lot." Well, see, he's a vampire and she's a mind reader, so they get into lots of trouble, and they also have lots of sex. Much better, all the way around.)

16 comments:

Gina said...

I hate when they give it away in the synopsis! Give the reader a little credit, already!

Shelly Overlook said...

I know you will love HP. I just know it. & they get a lot darker as they go on.

Tess said...

I loved Water for Elephants. It sat on my shelf for at least a year before I read it, because I was worried it would be sad (animals and such). Definitely one of my recent favorites.

Fiona Picklebottom said...

My copy of Water for Elephants is sitting under my bed, along with approximately 100 other books, because the piles next to my dresser got too high (I really must start reading faster than I acquire), and I keep looking at it, thinking, "Should I read this next?" but then I grab another thriller or murder mystery. I'll have to try it next.

Also, I LOVED HP.

Fiona Picklebottom said...

I just realized that to say I keep looking at something that is UNDER MY BED seems odd, like I spend a lot of time lying on my floor or something. :) Anyway, what I MEAN is that every time I go to grab a book to read, I look under there and think that thing about what to read next. :)

Shelly said...

Gina - I know, right?! I was like, anyone with half a brain can figure out what the plot twist is here. It was still a good book, because there was lots more to it than just her crime, but I WAS a little insulted that they thought it was going to be a big surprise after they made it so obvious on the book jacket.

Shelly said...

Shelly - Oh, I already do. I had the second one checked out and ready to go in the cd player the minute I finished the first one! I'm totally hooked!

Shelly said...

Tess - Ooh, I'm so glad you liked it. I'm still really liking it, but I've been distracted by magazines for a few days and need to get back to reading it!

Shelly said...

Fiona - My theory on acquiring books is that I'm stocking up in case of apocalypse. Other people stock up on food or candles or other supplies, but I need books. So yeah, I have the overflowing bookcase and the three or four piles in front of the bookcase that are all "to-read".

Shelly said...

Fiona 2 - I totally understood your comment, but your clarification is hilarious! And I'm very relieved to know that you don't spend your time lying around on your bedroom floor.

Pickles and Dimes said...

Ooh, I also loved Water for Elephants - it's very, very good.

I'm glad I don't have to face a librarian anymore to check out books. After my serial killer book-reading phase, and my foresic pathology phase and my apocalypse phase, I wouldn't even want to know what they think of me.

I am toning it down finally and reading a "normal" book: Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler. Love her writing style, which reminds me of Catherine Newman.

Shelly said...

Shauna - HAHAHAHA!!! Yes, I bet they were getting worried about you.

I love Anne Tyler! I don't think I've ever read anything by her that wasn't good.

nicole said...

I loved Water for Elephants. It was not at all what I expected, but I remember really enjoying it. I resisted HP for a long time too, but then read the series twice in one year! They are entertaining and sometimes that is good enough.

Shelly said...

Nicole - Glad to hear you liked Water for Elephants, too.

Yeah, I'm really enjoying HP.

Jess said...

The HP books have all sorts of evil twists! That's what makes them so awesome!

Shelly said...

Jess - I'm very excited to see how the story develops as it goes along. I'm really loving the series.