Thursday, January 29, 2009

In a reading groove

I’m enjoying reading Jack Vance’s “Lyonesse” trilogy even more than I did the first time I read it. Midway through however, I decided to take a Vance hiatus. While visiting the library with my daughters, I noticed that a new book had been added to a series I’d begun reading years before. I remembered the author. I remembered the character. I’d forgotten the writing style.

I brought the book home. Now, I can’t put it down. That’s because I want it out of my hands and back in those of the librarian’s. But, first I want to know how it ends.

It’s a struggle to finish because it’s so very badly written. Did the author always write this badly, I wonder. Did he change, or was it me? I’ve already added him to my short list of best-selling authors whom I can’t stand reading.

It’s probably not all his fault. In my formative years, I watched cartoons all Saturday morning. One day in my teens, I asked myself why I wasted Saturday mornings on such moronic fare. On that day, I stopped watching cartoons. Sometime later, I stopped watching situation comedies.

Apparently time changes tastes. Authors I once enjoyed, I won’t read today. In this case, the author tells his story in plain and simple language. His writing lacks style and bores me. Vance has style. His language is elegant, yet pithy. With Vance, it’s not so much about what’s going to happen next, it’s about how he’ll describe it.

When I first picked up a Vance in a Hong Kong bookstore, I assumed he was British. He’s not, but he knows his English. Yet his elegance is fresh, not archaic. Other authors, born in 1916, use styles that are dated. Vance has moved with his times, and yet his writing moves beyond his times.

I wish I wrote like that.

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