I am reading a (published) book that I'm not loving - and wondering if the experience is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because a few things about it worried me before I even began Chapter 1 (well, the prologue, actually). However, the experience is reminding me of a post I have wanted to write for a while, one detailing "The Seven Deadly Sins of Books" - those horrible sins that books should never commit.
THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS OF BOOKS
1. BOREDOM. I'm OK with a fairly slow start, mostly because hope springs eternal. My assumption is often, "This has been published; therefore, it's worth getting through these first few chapters, and then things will pick up." But there's a difference between a slow start and a book that is BORING. This 500-pager that I'm reading right now is boring. The prologue promises a good set-up. Then, literally nothing interesting happens until page 138. I'm sorry, 137 pages that produce boredom in the reader - followed by even more boring chapters after that one interesting tidbit on page 138 - make this book a prime example of the "Boring" sin in action.
2. WASTE OF TIME. Have you ever finished a book and thought, "Well, that's eight hours of my life I'll never get back"? The bad book you have just finished has committed the "Waste of Time" sin. This is probably one of the worst things any reader can say about a book. It means that the reader perceives zero redeeming value in the pages - not an interesting character, not a clever plot twist, not a lovely turn of phrase. I have had this experience only rarely, but that's because I am willing to abandon a book at the point I become convinced that it will be committing this sin. But I do have a few that I could name...
3. PADDING. This seems to be a particular problem with popular nonfiction these days. Take a somewhat interesting concept or list, spell it all out in Chapter 1, and then repeat everything ad neauseam in subsequent chapters before doing a summary chapters that repeats all of it again. That said, I think there's a difference between playing with type size and margins to create a book that makes the consumer feel as if s/he 's getting his/her money's worth and endlessly repeating thin content to make it seem more scholarly, serous, or detailed than it really is.
4. PRETENSION. I love an ambitious book, but I hate a pretentious one. We all know of writers who love the sounds of their own voices (words on the page). Often this comes through in highfalutin, overblown vocabulary or tortured, extended metaphors and excruciating levels of descriptive detail. Example: Not too long ago I read a nonfiction book that had fascinating content but was horribly marred by the author's love of complicated, pedantic, polysyllabic words. In her desire to attract the attention of The New York Times, she took a book that could have been a best-seller and turned it into a pretentious slog.
5. TOO LONG. Oh, how this Deadly Sin rankles me. How often have you read books that are 100 or 200 pages too long? You don't have to be an editor or writer to know when a book is too long. You just have to be a reader who starts flipping pages to see how long the chapter is, or who marvels at how slowly the book is moving along, or who notices that you've just read 50 pages where nothing much happens. What frustrates me so much about the Too Long deadly sin is that it's committed by people who should know better. Writers should self-edit. Agents should force reductions. Editors should say, "Good, but cut it by 100 pages and send it back to me."
6. PHONING IT IN. We all know of writers whose every work rockets to the top of the best-seller simply by virtue of their name associated with it. Sometimes the books are good; sometimes they're not. The phoned-in installments rehash the same old characters and plots time and time again, relying on characters making the same mistakes that they've made a million times in the past. Again, you don't have to be an industry professional to recognize these phoned-in books. As you read, you think, "Is this the best he can do? Wait, didn't she already do this in Book X? Hold on, didn't the character have a similar experience in Book Y?" You feel the author's boredom as you read, experiencing the Phoning It In deadly sin first-hand.
7. UNEDITED. This is another publishing-industry Deadly Sin that we should be ashamed of. I just finished a book published by a much-heralded new imprint of Penguin. The thing was full of typos and grammatical errors - I found at least 25 of these. For shame. Listen, nobody's perfect, and I think readers can forgive a typo every now and again. Even the best editors and proofreaders are going to miss something. But this level of unprofessional editing and publishing? I'm sorry - this is a Deadly Sin I cannot forgive.