Why My GoodReads Shelf And I Are Sad

Posted by on Apr 29, 2014 in Uncategorized | 6 comments

If you’ve been following my reviews on GoodReads lately, you’ve probably noticed a trend. I’m not writing very many reviews. Or reading as much as I used to. And when I do read and review, they’re not really happy reviews.  I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me. These were good books I was picking up. At least, they had to be halfway decent, with strong reviews by other readers to support such a claim. I used to get swept up by a story even if the writing wasn’t perfect, the characters coming alive in my mind and enacting whole new scenes while I lay in bed waiting to fall asleep. Was I just too tired? What was wrong with me???

This is how I used to read:

Totally engrossed

I could have stepped in a fox hole, or on a land mine, and I wouldn’t have noticed. I would have walked right past Mr. Darcy without a thought in my head for anything other than the story. So why do I now feel like Woody after reading the first three chapters of pretty much any book I pick up these days?

After all we've been through...

Then I came to a realization two Fridays ago while chatting with a good friend who also happens to be a writing buddy. I started out all sad… “It’s been a while since I’ve really enjoyed a good book,” I whined to her.

“Yeah,” she said. “I never thought it would happen to me, but I’ve started reading like a writer. It sucks, doesn’t it?”

My reaction:

Bert looks up from his book in horror

But it’s true … of the last four books I’ve read, two I didn’t finish because “the pacing was off.” One I didn’t enjoy because the story started at the wrong point, failing to convince me of a vital plot point that predated the action by about two days. To top it off, the main character had an experience that was unbelievable (read: author didn’t do her research). And the fourth was a really well-researched collection of fairy tales from around the world that I loved.

OMG.

I didn’t like those books because I was reading them like a writer. I even described the problems I had with them in my reviews without realizing they were things I was looking at as a writer. No! No no no no NO!

Denial is a river in Egypt. I know this because a couple weeks back our plane flew over it and I thought about pointing it out on the map to my four year old. Unfortunately, we were too far from the windows to have any chance of spotting it, whether or not it was visible from so high up. The map seemed kind of pointless. And I’m pretty sure she was sleeping.

But.

There is no gif for the abject horror of this situation.

For now, I’m just hoping that I’ll find a way to turn the writer in me off so I can start enjoying all those awesome books again. Until then, I’ll just have to remember…

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  • Shallee McArthur

    Oh, man. I SO know what you mean. I have this problem all the time. But I’ve found that, with practice, I can instruct my brain to ignore the issues and just enjoy a story. No book is perfect, and I’m learning to turn of the analysis and just enjoy again!

    • Then there’s hope! 🙂 It’s got me so depressed right now because I really just want to lose myself in a good story, and I know if I pick up a book I’m not going to see the story for what it is. Blah! Brain-training shall commence shortly…

  • writeralina

    When I first became dedicated to learning story telling a teacher told me “once you walk down this path you’ll never be able to read a book or watch a movie the same way again.” At the time, I didn’t believe him. I thought, “How could I ever not enjoy reading books or watching movies?” But in the end, he was kind of right.

    For me it doesn’t matter if I’m reading, listening, or watching. Sometimes I have a hard time turning off my writer brain. But when the story is truly compelling, it doesn’t matter. You’ll always something that’s off, like why was that chapter in that character’s POV or the author used more adverbs than you thought possible, but when the story is worthy it doesn’t bother me. I turn down my writer brain, it never truly goes away, which is good because you want to learn from every story you experience.

    I also think you’re a much more prolific reader than I am so it’s also possible that you’ve read so much that you’re experiencing some of the less evolved stories. There are so many stories to experience out there and not all of the storytellers are as proficient as you’d like.

    Just remember that you do have a choice to listen to your writer brain. You either choose to overlook the faults, because you have faith, or it just really isn’t worth your time unless there’s something for you to learn from the experience.

    • It is so true–a writer will always be a writer. 🙂 I am definitely working on learning to turn the volume down on my (rather loud) inner writer. I’m glad to hear that you’re managing it! And every now and then you do come across that awesomely compelling read that helps you to hit the mute button…

  • Hey Intisar — I found your blog after reading Thorn (thanks to your BookBub 99¢ promo). I liked it bunches: enough to even write a review on Amazon and Goodreads, which I almost never do. Kudos on an unusual tale, unusually well told. And my compliments to your cover designer, too.

    Now about that nasty Writer-as-Reader Syndrome. Yeah, since I’ve been writing novels, my experience as a reader has changed. Not sure how it could be otherwise. There was a period of adjustment where the critic-who-knows-just-enough-about-writing-fiction-to-be-dangerous was in the driver’s seat, but I’m pleased to say that it didn’t last long enough to permanently sully my ability to enjoy a story imperfectly told (and aren’t they all, by some standard). A dose of well-deserved humility (perhaps due to advancing years) has allowed me to sorta read with both sides of my brain these days. So now I can both experience a story and learn from it at the same time: talk about multitasking!

    Looks like the other commenters have developed their own adaptations as well. There’s hope.

    • Hi ET – Thanks so much for coming by–and for the awesome review of Thorn. I read it yesterday (I think?) and it made my day. 🙂 I am so glad you enjoyed it. And yes–I *love* my cover designer, she is awesomely talented.

      I too am beginning to find my balance in reading. You’re absolutely spot on with your description of knowing just enough to be dangerous! I am so glad I am learning to quiet that voice while reading. Afterwards (or between reading sessions) I’ll let myself think about the story as a writer more as a learning exercise than anything–and oh yes, there is so much we each have to learn! Humility is definitely the order of the day. Thank you for sharing your experiences–I really appreciate it!

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