Monday, February 17, 2014

5 Reasons Bad Books Are Good For Us

Kale salad
Kale salad (Photo credit: Salim Virji)
Are you a writer who hates reading bad books? Let me explain why, like kale (or so they tell me), bad books are actually good for us.

1. Bad Books Give Us Hope

Ever finish reading a fabulous book and be plunged into such deep despair you consider never trying to write again? I will never, ever, be able to write anything near this brilliant, we think. But when we read a bad book, especially one published through a big publishing house, we are all smug self-confidence. I know I can turn out something that certainly ain't any worse than this train wreck.

2. Bad Books Fight Book Hoarding

Do you have shelves filled to overflowing, stacks of books here, there, and everywhere, that you can't bear to part with, because those books are your favorites (all three thousand of them)? Bad books, on the other hand, are quite easy to stuff in a bag to donate to your local charity.

English: Stack of books in Gould's Book Arcade...
English: Stack of books in Gould's Book Arcade, Newtown, New South Wales (NSW), Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Bad Books Give Us Something to Rant About

Let's face it, when we've been suckered into dropping our hard-earned cash on the latest blockbuster book that turns out to be a total waste of time and money *cough* Girl with Dragon Tattoo* *cough*, it ticks us off. And anger is one of those emotions that needs to be taken out for a walk from time to time. Most people suppress anger and swallow it in unhealthy ways, so having a legitimate target for our anger can be a very good thing.

Just be cautious re: ranting via an acidic book review on Goodreads or Amazon, if you ever want to make a connection with the author, his agents, or her editors.

4. Bad Books Help Us Get Shit Done

Gray vacuum cleaner
Gray vacuum cleaner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
With a great book, we can't wait to race home from work and dive into it.  We neglect everything else we "should" be doing, like housework, or our own writing, because we have to find out what happens next.  We'll stay up into the wee hours of the night reading it, because we can't wait to find out how it ends.

Bad books let us put them down and get some sleep, have an actual life.

When we're reading a bad book, we're more likely to say, "Let me just write this blog post first," or "Another ten pages on the MS before I go back to reading," or, more rarely, "I think the vacuum cleaner is calling my name."

5. Bad Books Teach Us How Not to Write

Bad books often teach us more about the craft of writing than good books do.

Plodding plotting? Dreadful dialogue?  Typo typhoons?

With bad books, we can gleefully pick apart why they didn't work.  The main character didn't have any.  There was so much head-hopping we needed Dramamine to quell the nausea. The sex scenes were about as erotic as a visit to the gynecologist, only with less lube.

Often I've read something that jumped out at me as terrible writing, and the second thing that jumped out at me, along with a flush of shame, was, "Holy rejection letter, Batman, I do this too!"

So there is value not only in the existence of bad books, but in actually reading them.

Just not too many of them in a row, please.

Have you ever experienced that sinking feeling, of seeing some blunder in a crappy book 
and realizing that you do the same thing in your own writing?
What have you learned from bad books?
Enhanced by Zemanta