Friday, January 29, 2010

Reading as A Writer vs. Reading as a Reader

Writing has changed the way I read books. Here is a summery of my review of Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier four years ago.

The characterizations and prose were good and I liked the world it took place in but it didn't fit with the mood of Hans Christian Andersen's original of the Fairy Tale. Sorcha's boyfriend was incredibly boring and the ending wasn't tragic or happy. I'm a traditionalist. I like extremes. but mostly what I didn't like was the 'modern' view points and values of the main characters set against the 'historical' values of the 'less smart' characters.

Contrast that to this newer reaction to Foxmask, also by Juliet Marillier.

Marillier's prose and attention to detail are . . . humbling. She weaves a setting that must have taken ages to research and tosses words around like they're nothing. Sometimes they're poetical, sometimes they're matter of fact but they always match perfectly with the mood of the scene. Her character are distinct and consistent, her plot simple, but elaborated on in a way that makes every detail important --every detail count --and she explores issues that the reader doesn't quite know how to process even after they are technically resolved. The complex themes lead each character to their own climax, almost effortlessly. Stylistically the book is perfect but if I had to point out a flaw it would be the romances and the obvious separation of characters who have things figured out and those who don't. I like romance --I loved the characters involved in the romances of Foxmask, I loved how they were eventually resolved. What I didn't like was the supremacy, love-is-a-kind-of-magic, two-halve-of-one-whole, I-love-you-like-fire-or-whatever-other-cheesy-poetics-come-to-mind attitude about them. Perhaps I am being overly cynical but such things get on my nerves. As for the other 'flaw' ---I am referring mostly to the way Creidhe's family is so strong and affectionate and virtues in the way they live their lives and run their island in obvious contrast to Thorvald and Margaret or the tribes on the other island. This may be explained away however in the first book. I would be willing to accept the fact that Creidhe's parents had to discover these superior values in the events of Wolfskin rather than simply having been born with them for no apparent reason.

Do you see the difference? I don't mean the length (the first one was a summery)or even my obvious change of opinion about the author (I'm tempted to go back and read Daughter of the Forest again to see if I would like it this time around). I mean the sort of things I observe. Form. Plot formations --details on why or why not things leave me satisfied. And no matter how much I like the book I can't help but find at least one thing I would like to change. Out of habit if nothing else. I sometimes wonder if writing has forever spoiled me as a reader. I can't simply read a book and enjoy it --or not enjoy it as the case may be. I analyze. Continuously. Relentlessly. Its true that this makes me more susceptible to being blown away by a well written passage and it doesn't necessarily mean that I won't let a weaker passage slip by me if the story is good enough but I still think there is something lost. If a well written passage is so well written aren't I just as likely to enjoy it even if I don't know why? Isn't the weaker passage that I zip through anyways a testament that the story is really what matters? As a writer hoping to improve my craft, every detail is important and I should continue to analyze what I like and why I like it, but as a reader looking for a good story it can be annoying to have a miniature editor in the back of my head while I am trying to get involved with the characters.

That said, read Foxmask. Its fabulous.

Edit: I have been remiss in my Conspiracy of Kings Count Down haven't I? And only forty days left. I apologize. the mind doth wander --and wonder if it comes to that. If it is of any use to mention, "Leroy Roachbane" (the second story in Instead of Three Wishes) is a very odd story. Not bad --very entertaining in fact --just odd. I can't imagine where the story came from. It seems our Ms. Turner has a more unusual mind than I took her too ---but then, doesn't' everybody?

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