WAITING FOR A GOOD BOOK

To_Kill_a_MockingbirdRecently, I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird. It was re-released in a year ago by Audible.com, with a new narration by Cissy Spacek. After I settled into it, I remembered why I love it. It’s a rare story in which all the pieces fit. Some call it the perfect book. It may be.

It never hits a false note. Takes its time, tells the story at a leisurely pace. It talks about justice, injustice, racism, and the legal system. It’s about family, love, relationships and coming of age. Discovering the world is both better and worse than you imagined.

My granddaughter was assigned to read To Kill a Mockingbird for school and found it boring. I don’t agree, but I understand her problem. She lives in a world so changed from the one in which “Mockingbird” takes place, she can’t relate to it.

Harper Lee wrote about a world without cell phones or email. People walked more than they drove. Food grew in gardens. The world was segregated, separated by class, religion, and ethnicity. My granddaughter can’t even imagine such a world. In her world, the President is Black and her white grandma is married to a brown man.

Everything is instant. You don’t go to a library to do research. You Google it. There’s no time for slow-moving books that depict a less frantic world.

It’s no wonder the fastest growing segments of fiction are fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, and so on. These books are fun. Exciting. So much of “literary fiction” is dreary. Authors seem to have forgotten that literature is also supposed to be entertaining.

I need stories that are more than a dark mirror of reality. That’s not enough. I want a good plot. I need action, stuff to happen. I don’t want to just hear what characters are thinking. I want to see them moving through their lives. I need characters who develop, grow, are changed by events. And, I need heroes. Un-ambivalent good guys for whom I can root. I welcome enlightenment and education, but I require entertainment. Lately it seems the reality-based books I’ve read have forgotten how to entertain. The people they portray are sad, depressed, trapped, miserable. Living lives so hopeless they lack even the energy of desperation.

Are our lives truly so pathetic? So grey and drab? I don’t believe so. I think it’s easier — and fashionable in current literary circles — to write that way. Easier to capture a single note than a whole range of feelings. There are plenty of sad and hopeless characters, but there are also plenty of glad and joyous ones. Winners, not just losers. Heroes and success stories.

I don’t understand current criteria for publication. I don’t get it. A high percentage of the new books I read (I read a lot of just-published books for review) are dull. Many are also poorly written. I find myself wondering why this book, whatever it is, was chosen. To me, I has no merit. I don’t even review these books. I don’t like trashing books and authors, so if it’s that bad, I just skip it.

Boring to me, is the worst sin in literature. I don’t believe Faulkner, Wolfe, Hemingway … or for that matter, Harper Lee — would be published today. I doubt they’d get a reading.

I miss books based in reality. I bet there are great manuscripts waiting, their authors yearning to be published. I hope they get to it soon. Because kids like my granddaughter need to discover how much fun books about real people can be.



Categories: Books, Entertainment, Fiction, Literature, Movies, Publishing, Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

21 replies

  1. My daughter also had to study To Kill a Mockingbird for school and loved it. She could appreciate the situation, having studied about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X as well. We had some really great discussions on segregation and racism etc. Like you she could appreciate the fact it is well written. I also hate the modern books with it’s poor grammar and instant gratification. I grew up with the classics from the 18th and 19th century. My mother would buy them all second hand. books for us and that is what we got. They were more about relationships between the characters but were also a good insight into the times that they were written.

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  2. Books are always boring when you’re assigned to read them, so I understand your daughter.

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  3. One of my favorite ones..

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  4. Great comments–it has been too long since I read this book. I will add it to my list of fall reading! You can’t beat the eloquent simplicity of having something to say and saying it well. No bells and whistles or dancing gifs…just the power of words. Today we all suffer from too much information and not enough time to think. For the younger crowd, this is all they know.

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    • Yes, a really good book is still the ultimate escapist entertainment. A lot of youngsters don’t get it — maybe most of them. Their world has not been conducive to quietly enjoying a book. That’s such a pity.

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  5. One of those books that left a mark for me.

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  6. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was one of my favorite books in school, and I believe it was my teacher who really made it come alive. Sometimes young people need to be given the perspective they are lacking, to make them truly appreciate what they are reading. This particular teacher had students who could barely read come through her class with the distinct ability to do so, mostly, I believe because they were so motivated to devour the ideas, topics, feelings, thoughts in the older novels and works the teacher was putting forth. Sometimes we need a little help to appreciate the finer things. I know sometimes I do.

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    • A good teacher makes the difference. It was my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Schiff. She made us pretend to be different people and write little diaries. She encouraged me to write and it changed my life.

      My mother was a reader. She was always plying me with books. And I was always reading them!

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  7. In trying to put together an outline for my next novel, your requirements sound like a good place to start. You say: “I want a good plot. I need action, stuff to happen. I don’t want to just hear what characters are thinking. I want to see them moving through their lives. I need characters who develop, grow, are changed by events. And, I need heroes. Un-ambivalent good guys for whom I can root.” Sound good.

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    • Thank you. I always thought that was the basic stuff all good books had. Lately, so many books lack most of it. Grey, sad people living miserable lives who never do anything except think about how much they missed. TV shows go the other way. Everyone runs around in a frenzy, but nothing ever happens and the next week, they all run around again — and nothing happens. Thank you for caring!!

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  8. “a world without cell phones or email.” Yes, it’s hard to remember life before Facebook and Twitter, before 24-hour cable news networks, before texting, before laptops and iPads and the internet. I can understand why some young readers who take all that for granted might find To Kill a Mockingbird boring. And that’s really a pity.

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    • Most of the kids that age find READING boring. Anything longer than 500 words is too much focusing on a page. I can’t imagine growing up with books to keep me company. That’s sad. I use all the electronic stuff too … but I can’t imagine life without books. That would be awful.

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      • sound bytes have become the new communication tool. No one has the time to spare to read long novels that develop an entire history of their own–look at People Magazine, all pictures, few words. I bought a gardening mag. years ago, it too was all photos with almost no copy.
        We no monger read in paragraphs, we read in short sentences, and shortened words.
        And if your mind has been trained to play connect the dots with Twitter, Facebook, electronic toys, smart phones and tablets, no wonder they can’t settle down to read a boring old book. I think you hit it, Marilyn. Focus. Those brains must be so stimulated by all that electronicity going on, its a wonder they even sleep in full sentences =)

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        • It’s everything you say. But it’s also the books they are supposed to read really ARE boring. And off the mark. Nothing to do with the world kids experience. I know a lot of people are “rediscovering” Jane Austen, but I guarantee you my granddaughter would be frustrated beyond words to have to spend any time in that world. At her age, I thought Jane Austen the dullest writer to ever set pen to paper — and I still do. Fusty old mamas and their fussy, manner-obsessed children. Who cares? I didn’t 60 years ago.

          There ARE books that kids might like. Frankly, getting kids interested in reading at all … finding books that resonate for them … should be the priority. Forget about official book lists. Whatever it takes to hook them into literature … Harry Potter? Douglas Adams? James Lee Burke? Jasper Fforde? Stephen King? Any book or author who can grab their interest and lure them into the world of books works for me.

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