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Reviews: A review

I've now finally finished reviewing all the books I read on holiday, carrying me nearly a third of the way through NaBloPoMo. Also, never one to under-complicate matters, I've submitted slightly edited versions of them to Amazon, on the grounds that I do occasionally find their reviews helpful so I should give something back. I've actually enjoyed writing them, though I take far too much time on each one. I had hoped that a combination of daily posting and morning pages might help cure me of my tendency to over-think and tweak, but this does not (yet) seem to be the case. I suppose I am able to get them done faster when I need to finish before going out, so the problem is more that I let them expand to fill the available space. Nevertheless I plan doing some more this month, and perhaps the chance of getting my Amazon review rank down into 5 digits will spur me on beyond that...

It's certainly made me think more about what I've been reading, as has sea_bright's comment that I didn't seem to expect to like most of the books I've reviewed. In fact that was more-or-less by design: faced with such a wide variety I decided to make the most of it. Before the holiday my reading had been dropping off. Though I enjoyed the books I did read, there weren't many that enthused me enough to give them a go, so I made a conscious effort to use Reading Week to recapture my enthusiasm and broaden my horizons. Obviously, since then I've been spending my spare evenings reviewing rather than reading, but at least the enthusiasm has returned. The horizon-broadening aspect has been less successful, though. If anything, I reinforced my ideas of what I enjoy and don't, which I suppose is useful even if it wasn't really the plan. For example, most (but not all) of the books that I enjoyed most have a sense of humour: not that it's very surprising that that should be a quality that I value. More significantly, though, I confirmed that my tastes lie in the direction that they always have: weird books. I don't much mind whether it's science fiction, fantasy, horror, or one of their many cross-overs, subgenres, mash-ups and hybrids (call it speculative fiction, for want of a better term). The important thing is that it's not realistic.

What I'm looking for is the unexpected. By way of counter-example (and with an apologetic hat tip to sea_bright for picking on her favorite genre), consider crime fiction. I'm occasionally lured into reading some by an intriguing premise on the back cover, but am almost always left disappointed. Typically I like the set up of the mystery ('Who is killing people and leaving little dolls by their bodies, and why?') but the resolution is invariably disappointing ('It's a murderer. He's doing it because he's mad.') But of course it's a madman! It literally couldn't have been anything else. In weird fiction, there could be any number of explanations: sinister rites, aliens, time-travellers, anything. That's not a great example, I grant you, but hopefully it illustrates my point. Essentially, I suppose, I'm interested in plot over character, and speculative fiction offers a wider range of plots, or at least (if one accepts that there aren't really that many to be had) a wider range of possible twists. That also explains why I'm less fond of 'straight' fantasy, space opera or whatever, because they can often feel, in their ways, as limiting as any other genre. And, while I'm at it, suggests an explanation for my aversion to spoilers, and rewatching things: ruin the surprise, and you ruin the thing I would otherwise have enjoyed most. Ironically for someone who's spent his last ten evenings sitting on the sofa blogging, I'm a neophile at heart.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 11th, 2008 11:15 am (UTC)
Crime fiction - it is argued - is essentially morality in one package or another. I haven't yet been tempted to read spec fiction because sinister rites lead me back into morality tales (cui bono and why?); and to me, plot can't be separated from character anyway. Murderers aren't always mad, or rather their madness allows them to cross the boundary between feeling murderous for any sort of reason and actually doing it: I feel like murdering Melanie Phillips every time I have the misfortune to read anything she writes, but I wouldn't actually do it even if it were The Ideal Untraceable Crime. Crime fiction allows me to consider what crossing that boundary entails.

I also know that a sense of humour is a very individual thing indeed, and often things I think really are funny don't hit that target with others.

I think this is all a weakness, mind, and I ought to get out a bit more. Just saying.
Nov. 12th, 2008 12:04 am (UTC)
And yet you seemed strangely unattracted by that Sam Bourne novel where someone was murdering good people to bring about the end of the world...

One of the things I like about crime fiction is that there is generally a very limited set of possible outcomes, and yet it still (if done well) manages to be surprising. Unless the possibility of sinister rites or aliens or whatever has been introduced at an early stage, falling back on that as a resolution is definitely cheating. I always feel the best mysteries are those where I could have guessed what was going on if I'd put all the pieces together, but didn't because the author managed to keep me sufficiently distracted.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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