Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reading Dislikes

I had a late-morning appointment after getting up late, so my day is really running behind.

A couple of months ago, I started doing some self-assessments (as part of the Ongoing Quest for World Domination) and listed some of the things I like and dislike in books. I've since been testing that in library and bookstore visits, seeing what elements will make me put a book back on the shelf and what will make me grab it. The theory is that these are things I should think about in my own work.

I want to make it clear that these aren't any kind of rating or value judgment. I'm not saying that any of these things are "good" or "bad" or saying anything good or bad about people who like or dislike these things. These are purely things that don't happen to appeal to me.

I would have said that I had zero interest in books about babies, in spite of the fact that I love babies and will fuss over any baby in sight (seriously, I play peek-a-boo with the babies sitting in front of me on airplanes). But further analysis and assessment made me realize that what I don't like reading about is motherhood. I will pretty much reject any book about pregnancy, struggling with new motherhood, enjoying new motherhood, dealing with kids, etc. However, I don't mind babies being incorporated into books (I've even done it, myself, with Katie's little niece). I particularly enjoy babies used to bring out different sides of non-parents -- like, say a story about a band of warriors who arrive too late to save the village from barbarians, and the only survivor is a tiny baby they feel obligated to look after. I'd totally read The Magnificent Seven Swordsmen and the Baby, as long as it didn't get too cute. But just about any book showing a pregnant woman or conventional baby stuff on the cover is an auto reject, as is a book whose main plot involves a woman longing for motherhood.

I'm also generally not into books about weddings, especially the weddings of the main characters. I can kind of deal with stories involving weddings where the main characters are more peripherally involved, especially if they don't think weddings are just divine and aren't constantly dreaming of their own weddings. So, Four Weddings and a Funeral was okay (though I hate the ending), but Bride Wars is right out. Or, well, the book equivalents.

Those two things may explain why I completely gave up on reading category romance, even though I used to write it and pretty much inhaled those books in my early 20s. It got to where most of them were either about babies or brides.

I mentioned before that I don't like books about gambling. I've since realized that I don't enjoy books about money, in general -- where money is the primary goal of the story. That would be "I have to find X amount of money in X amount time to save the family home" type of plots, or else the "I have to do these strange things in order to inherit, thanks to my relative's wacky will" story. Money can be a concern, but I don't enjoy it when it's the main focus of the plot. (And, yes, Going Postal and Making Money are two of my favorite Discworld books, even though money and the need for it are central to their plots and there was even a wacky will, but I don't think they were really actually about the money. They were about personal transformation. That to me is different from the "I need XX dollars now or my life is over" stories.)

I'm also not a big fan of miscommunication plots, which often come down to "wait, didn't you get my letter?" issues, or else the revelation that the character never actually talked to the other character about the thing that's annoyed her for the entire book, and it turns out she was wrong about it. Both of those usually involve a story conflict in which one person is angry at another person, and then it turns out to have been a misunderstanding brought on by either an attempted communication going astray or the fact that they never talked about it.

Meanwhile, I'm leery of stories about someone who has a strong hold over the main character in spite of past misdeeds -- that bad-boy boyfriend she still will drop her entire life for the moment he reappears, even though he cheated on her with her sister, left her at the altar and then stole her dog and her credit card.

Those two are tricky because I'm a sucker for reunion stories -- those stories about people who knew each other long ago and were separated for whatever reason or didn't get together then for whatever reason and then find each other later when they're in different places in life -- and those two plots tend to show up a lot in those stories. You can't really tell from reading the cover blurb if they're going to have trouble getting back together because she thought he'd dumped her, but all this time he thought she dumped him because she didn't respond to the letter she never got. There have been way too many times when I bought a book based on a cover blurb about people who grew up together finding each other as adults, only to end up with a heroine in a constant snit who won't speak to the guy, and it turns out it was because of some silly miscommunication long ago -- like her bratty little brother found the letter first and hid it. Or else the guy she's reuniting with is the bad boyfriend from the past, who may or may not have changed.

Oddly, although this list is supposed to tell me what I should steer clear of, no matter how hot these things are in the market, I get a lot of story ideas from making lists like this because it makes me want to find a way to do these plots in ways that would work for me. It's like a stretching routine for my brain, giving it a challenge to take something I think I don't like and find a way to do it in a way that I might like.

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