Maybe I’m just a poseur thinking I know what good writing is. I have a master’s degree, so I have to be able to express myself in writing, but there’s nothing to prove that what I write is readable. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that most master’s theses are tedious outside narrow audiences. I did take a couple of creative writing classes in college, but I don’t remember anything other than it was fun. During my current incarnation as a writer I’ve spent a few years on Scribophile where I’m required to critique the writing of others. Writing and reading critiques of others’ work and mine has been perhaps the most valuable education I’ve had on how to write. Hitching myself to ProWritingAid and Fictionary has allowed me to step it up a notch. Something must be working. Thirty editors of magazines and anthologies can’t all be wrong.
But then I pick up a book. I started reading a detective story today. Within the first two pages I’d encountered three lines with words dropped. Okay, that’s just poor editing, not the author’s fault. But during that same time I found three words used wrong. Not just throw away words, but words that were critical to the sentence. Definitely the author’s fault. And it seems every noun has an adjective, frequently repetitive. Adverbs run amok. And there is a whole lot of what I’d consider just poor writing. And misogynistic. The author is a woman, so it’s even worse. The publication date was 2013 so maybe our understanding of misogyny has grown.
So I thought, maybe this is a person who was just starting out. I know my writing has grown over the past five years. But I looked her up online and she has over twenty books, stretching back to the 2000s. She has a following.
The book has a promising premise: a detective who can tell what a person is feeling if she touches them. Pretty handy skill for a detective. I like a little supernatural in my stories. I’ve given it time to grab me since I like the setup, but five (short) chapters in, nothing has happened. Well, her house burned down, but that doesn’t seem to have bothered her. She’s mostly obsessing about whether to have sex with her best friend’s father. Eww. The affect, dialog, actions of the characters don’t really make a lot of sense. People say things that people don’t ever say out loud.
In recent memory I’ve only ditched two books that I considered unreadable. One was about Mary Magdalene, a historical character who intrigues me. But the prose was so purple I felt the need to wash if off my hands every few paragraphs. I finally had to put it down. Another was so poorly edited with misspellings, wrong words, and erratic punctuation that trying to make heads or tails of what was going on was a chore. I read for pleasure, not for work. There have been occasionally other stinkers which I’ve stuck with until the end. I’m afraid this book won’t be one of them. I’ll give it a few more chapters, but she needs to up her game and tone down the misogyny pretty quickly. And I’m not naming her. I don’t want to get sued. Or threatened by fans of bad writing.