Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Notes on recent readings

I read two short books during this last month that I feel I need to mention.

First, I read Saturday by Ian McEwan. Before I comment, let me say that I was mesmerized by Atonement - an intense book by McEwan that was well-researched and quite compelling. And I should also say that his book Amsterdam was one of my favorites. So I suppose I shouldn't expect greatness to hit three times. I liked Saturday, I just didn't think it was McEwan's best novel. His writing, as always, was breathtaking, even when he was describing highly technical neurosurgery details. I don't even mind that there was very little plot. I did mind that the plot seemed a bit too pat and too coincidental. A good read, but not, in my opinion, his best.

The next book I read was Everyman by Philip Roth. I am ashamed to say I hadn't read anything by him, and I thought this might be a good start, since it is short and recently published. I won't dismiss any of his other books because of this one, but I must say it wasn't one of the finest books I've read. The writing was amazing, the characters were well-rounded and real, and the details were nuanced, but it was essentially plotless and a little depressing. I enjoyed reading it, but I think I need to try one of his more famous books. If anyone has a suggestion... ?

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

Occasionally I like to browse the present and past winners of this contest. The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is an annual contest of bad writing, with the entries consisting of single sentences of some of the most horrible writing...

I don't usually mention my perverse love for reading these entries, but I just had to share a statement made by Michael Quinion, editor of one of my truly favorite websites, World Wide Words. I subscribe to his wonderful newsletter on language and in the July 22 issue, he had this to say about the contest:

I've always been ambivalent about the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for Bad Writing. He wasn't that awful a writer and doesn't deserve such mockery. Admittedly, he wrote floridly, as did many authors of the nineteenth century, but we don't point the finger of accusation at Dickens, whose pages are often at least as enpurpled. To mock decidedly bad writing, it should be renamed the Dan Brown Da Vinci Code Bad Fiction Contest. Trying to outdo him really would be a challenge.

Heh. I guess I'm not the only one who is still mystified why Dan Brown is so popular.

Oh... and I highly recommend subscribing to the newsletter, especially if you love the English language.