books these days

Working in the book industry, I’m exposed to more than average amounts of book articles and opinions. We also get free books from publishers every once in a while, as gifts.

I don’t know whether my disappointment in the quality of books I’ve chosen to read lately is simply due to my having grown up and become more discerning; or if the quality of the writing publishers choose to put out to the world these days is actually declining. Whatever the case, the books I’ve been reading lately have just been bad: poorly written, badly plotted and severely lacking in character depth. So much so that I really don’t care what happens to the characters in them and I simply want to finish the book so I don’t have to put up with the childish writing and crappy editing anymore.

Nothing is driving this observation home more than the fact that I am now coming to the end of an actually really well-written novel: Dark Rivers of the Heart by Dean Koontz. I’ve barely noticed two errors in the spelling and grammar of this book; the plot has been absolutely incredible, keeping my heart pumping adequately throughout (it is a thriller, after all); and I actually care what happens to the characters in the book – even the evil ones have somehow wormed their psychotic way into my thoughts, as I wonder at how their stories will end, desperately hoping they get their comeuppance while struggling not to identify too closely with them. An older book, I suppose, but still one that is able to touch its readers (this one, at least). I read a couple of Koontz’s novels when I was younger and remembered how gripping they were; thus why I picked this recently, amidst all the hopelessly bad books I’ve been reading.

Honestly, what are publishers thinking? I’ve read some blogs lately that suggest it’s not really editors finding a lot of books these days; no, now it’s “book packagers” producing books. You might be thinking, what on earth is a book packager? Well, remember all those Sweet Valley High books from when you were a kid? Or Nancy Drew? Apparently those are all examples of books that were “packaged” – and here I thought the authors were churning out books that fast!

In any case, when book packagers are involved, it’s not hard to see why many awful books would be published.

The recent scandal about Kaavya Viswanathan caused some of the exerpts of her book to be published in various articles, directly compared to the books from which she was said to have pulled those exerpts. Glimpsing the two together, it was clear whose writing was better, and it certainly was not Kaavya’s. As a lover of vocabulary and correct spelling and grammar, I knew from the first three sentences that I would never pick up her book; the copied author’s words were so much more compelling.

All of this makes me think back to the fantastical books of my childhood: the Ramona series (soon to be a movie) and Beverly Cleary’s books. Hours were spent in the worlds those authors created; magical and wondrous. Are they just fuzzed by my memory now? Were they bad, but I didn’t know back then? They can’t possibly have been… I want to go back and explore them again. I suspect Cleary’s books in particular helped shape my more adult love for the world of JRR Tolkien and all things RPG.

In any case, this is an open plea: please, publishers, be more discriminatory. Paper is more expensive these days; waste less on producing bad books and spend your time and energy on the gems. You are the ones who are supposed to weed out the crap from the good… though I suppose the biggest problem is that that is all subjective. However, that’s no excuse for simple, bad editing.






  1. Mum Avatar

    I have recently joined a book club here, it is a new one formed by the Canadian Club and we have been reading some books about Thailand, the first two were ok, I thought, then we read the last one. It was utter rubbish and I thought should never have been published only achiving this because it is easy to get published in Thailand so long as the book is about SE Asia. But after reading your blog maybe it is world wide. However, I remember finding a lot of crap books when i was younger and reading them too before I realized I didn’t like them and retreating to Hugo and Dickens and the like because I thought modern authors rubbish. I think it is really up to the readers to be discerning and not buy or read garbage. I am into none fiction at the moment.

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