1. Hettyblue
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    Hettyblue Member

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    Does badly written fiction rot your brain?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Hettyblue, Jul 9, 2012.

    Or can it be instructive?

    I am in a rut - reading poorly executed serial novels and sticking to the bitter end because although the writing is poor the stories are fairly well structured and exciting enough (just) to want to find out what is happening next. That is my choice so I am not complaining exactly. With 3 young children escapism and a 'cheap thrill' is welcome. I am very quick so can finish one book in a day, like being on a poor diet though I am wondering if I need to cut the snacks and stick to fully satisfying novels.

    Should I re-read some classic fiction Wilde, Bronte, Austen, Graham Greene... whatever each time I finish a piece of poorly written genre fiction, to balance my reading?

    What do others do in a reading rut? How do you find a good writer in genre fiction (amazon reviews do not cut it!)? So many celebrated authors are overhyped and I get turned off by that (I like underdogs).

    It is amusing to pick out the overused phrases, 'Stark' being used to describe virtually every glance, expression and shaft of sunlight in my current read (and her previous works), another author was so fond of the phrase 'hip cocked' I imagined her MC requiring a Hip replacement op after the last book. Reading critically makes a difference doesn't it? [Desperately hoping it does]
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Badly written fiction makes me want to throw the book across the room. I generally won't finish reading a book if the prose sucks. I'd much rather read good prose, trusting that a writer who cares enough to write good prose will also put together an interesting story involving well-drawn characters and sufficient intellectual roughage to make the book worth my while.
     
  3. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I tend to think of bad fiction like a bad song. If a song is bad I stop listening to it, if prose is bad and I just don't want to finish it then that's fine, I stop reading. But the good thing about bad fiction is you knowing it is bad and why.
     
  4. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I am with Minstrel regarding good prose. If nothing else I get to read good use of words and so on, and usually those writers can make even a cliche plot and cliche characters worthwhile to read. I want to agree with Lemex regarding learning from bad fiction as well (as in what not to do) but i just don't have the patients to read any further than few chapters.
     
  5. andyscribe
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    andyscribe Member

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    Me too. I've got a discerning reading brain that automatically switches off when prose is bad. I'd rather a poor story well written than a good one poorly written.

    I suppose reading bad writing critically would help highlight some big 'don't's though so you don't fall into the same trap.
     
  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    It does help to read critically, but I worry that reading too much of those types will do harm. I recently read a certain well-publicized trilogy that was great fun, but horribly written. I felt like I had just been on a crack binge. I pulled out some Salinger and Chekhov and just read a Philip Roth so I think I repaired the damage.
     
  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I know what you mean! but don't force yourself to read classics - it won't do any good. Especially if you feel like it's homework to read it. But it's best to avoid genre fiction for a while. I grew up reading junk like Sweet Valley High and I'll tell you it didn't do me any favors - I still have a hard time making a character 'ugly' or unattractive! Fortunately, I stepped out and began finding Norma Fox Mazer , Richard Peck , Ellen Conford. And my reading now is mixed. I like genre fiction and a good beach book now and then, but it's like dessert , too much is nauseating.

    I'm with everyones advice of seeking out good prose - genre tends to regurgitate cliches , literature ,but not all, is about symbolic mood.

    Don't just read 'literature' though. Search out the non fiction section in your library read about someone elses real life adventures , read books on
    nature or animals- which will be chock full of descriptions , or about some part in history that interests you.
    Also, poetry is a good place to discover rich prose.
    When I started to branch out my reading I discovered some new interests and a broader outlook - one of my favorite finds was The Primary Colors and The Secondary Colors essays by Alexander Theroux - I now look at colors, especially, for my writing in a whole new way.
     
  8. Hettyblue
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    Hettyblue Member

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    I suppose I have got out of the 'good' reading habit, I was much more discerning in my youth (and dare I say pretentious?) then when commuting for hours on the tube - oh how I sneered at the commuters reading Harry Potter books :redface: I had the time and head space for novels. Since I have left work and had babies I started reading less challenging work that my sleep deprived brain could handle.

    I do get much cheap entertainment from spotting cliches, plot holes and typo's. I don't equate it with bad music though - sound is much more invasive and I certainly cannot sit and listen to rubbish tunes so despite my laxity on fiction I do retain music credibility (bit of a music snob). I am literally lazy.

    Chicagoliz - was that trilogy shady or sparkly??? - if so I dabbled as well and had to wash my brain out with soap afterwards.
     
  9. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    That's perfectly fine. Harry Potter is terrible. Laugh away.
     
  10. chicagoliz
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    Hetty -- ashamed to admit the trilogy was indeed, quite shady...
     
  11. Hettyblue
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    Hettyblue Member

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    Interesting about a poor story well written - have been thinking about that recently as struggling with the plotting of my story I have been concentrating on improving what I have written so far and cutting out 'the crap'. I do get irritated and impatient with a book that is poetically written yet meanders around pointlessly but that is a personal preference. What you don't often get with genre fiction is any sense of multi-layered meanings and symbolism when Angela Carter wrote about Werewolves you knew she was really looking at sexuality and the real monsters were 'hairy on the inside'. I do miss subtlety and nuance.
     
  12. Eliot Bauers
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    Eliot Bauers Member

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    _____If you're looking to get published, appeal to normal people of the reading public, either one or both, you might want to be careful about passing judgment. (Yes, that's how we spell judgment here in the States.) Beyond the basic mechanics, assessments of writing is completely subjective. Literary professors have entire theses pertaining to what is "good" and what is "bad" when it comes to writing. Then we have critics chiming in. On top of that are professionals in the publishing industry. Wow, could it possibly be that readers deserve a say in what they read? Guess what? In the free-market societies of Western nations, they do! It's called capitalism: an economic form of democracy, where people vote with their money. Anything short of that is less than democratic.
    _____Now, if one defines "good" fiction in terms of literature or literary fiction, then that's trouble. John Updike said that it was just a sham to get people to read more. That's right. Literary fiction was a label cooked up during the 1960s, earliest usage. That makes sense. After all, an awful lot of the intelligentsia was cooking up heroine at the time too. So instead of people getting all starry-eyed about the bible-black seriousness of "good" literature, just know where it came from.
    _____Another thing, literary fiction is racist. (I mean that in the most literal regard--so to speak.) It's considered the "cult of the old dead white man" by sociologists. Most all "literature" was written by...yes, old dead white guys. The literati try to throw in some token females here and there. That, and whenever someone other than a white male writes fiction, the emphasis is always on the ethnic experience--the life of a Hispanic in the barrio, the life of an Arab in London, the life of an Arab in Saudi Arabia, the life of a Hispanic Arab in Saudi Arabia after living in London, so on and so forth. But right now, with the feminist revolution in full swing and the near-total dominance of women in liberal- arts academia, female authors of olden days are getting plenty of play. It's like a darned socio-economic segregational menagerie... No, it's worse than that. It's apartheid. And the only people happy with that are upper-crust elitists who have some nose-in-the-air notion of what's good and what isn't. Remember what happened to the French aristocracy.
     
  13. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Actually, British English uses that spelling too. In Standard British English the only time the spelling is 'Judgement' is in a non-legal context, i.e. coming to a judgement about someone.

    Erm ... no. Capitalism is an evolved form of mercantilism, and is purely an economic theory based around production, capital and profit. Democracy is a form of government.

    These are nit-picks, but they moved me to comment.

    No sociologist I've ever met has said this.

    Are you a Marxist?
     
  14. Eliot Bauers
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    Eliot Bauers Member

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    _____Okay Lemex, show me your doctorate in political science. Capitalism is an economic form of democracy according to Professor Gordon Schochet of Rutgers University and Professor William H. Field formerly of the same. We're talking analogies here, not literal comparisons, and I'm sure you know what analogies are. Those two gentlemen have been researching, studying, and lecturing on connections between political science and economics longer than some of us have been alive. But, if you want to go ahead and disagree with distinguished scholars, you go right on ahead. Meanwhile, you're talking to someone who holds a four-year degree in the field. Four years of hard slogging, and all I got was this piece of paper that lets me hold high-paying jobs.
    _____As for "mercantilism," it's as different from capitalism as protestantism is from catholicism. Mercantilism was the buildup of gold through trade. You also had all kinds of government morons trying to micro-manage their economies to that end. Then Adam Smith came along and said it a bunch of crap. He also started to talk an awful lot of sense about supply and demand, the invisible hand of the market, all of that good stuff. Now we know it's only good stuff if it's practiced in moderation. You might want to read up on Adam Smith, that said.
    _____Finally, the sociologists who addressed the issue of class, race, and dominance of literature handled the topic circa 1999 at the Livingston College Honors Program in Piscataway, New Jersey. The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world. And when it comes to dominance of media, the old white hands set the societal norms. Sociologists here in the states look at EVERYTHING when it comes to class structure. This includes religion, ethnicity, and...ta-da, LITERATURE. Oh, boy! Professor Abena Busia would have a FIELD DAY with this discussion! Bring on the disagreements, dude. I like trouble! It's my caffiene since medical conditions preclude me from drinking the stuff anyway!
     
  15. Hettyblue
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    Hettyblue Member

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    Eliot - thank you what a fascinating post.

    Lemex - He is not a Marxist - I am an old fashioned socialist I have a politics degree, have read Marx etc. and no Marxist would define Capitalism as an 'Economic form of democracy' It is not a theory but a descriptive term for an economic system where the capital (means of production and distribution) in a society are owned privately for the profit of the owners.

    Eliot - you make very sweeping statements in a post warning against value judgements. For me the problem is that I am enduring poorly executed/ edited rushed books produced for the masses under capitalism. For you it seems the issue is pretension? And the veneration of 'Dead white guy' writers 'literature' as a construct - I agree with the sentiment - but that doesn't mean I will stop making judgements about what I consider to be poor writing (part of the satisfaction I get from reading is getting all critical about it). Genre fiction is unfairly slated and sidelined - there are some excellent writers in Sci-fi and Fantasy (for example). It is a shame the well written books are outnumbered by derivative and formulaic ones - often enjoyable for all of that.
     
  16. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I have a GCSE in politics, so I know the difference between Capitalism and Democracy. Frankly, you can say you have all the qualifications you like, and there is no way for me to find out that you have, nor is their any point in 'name dropping' because that's not an argument. Remember, this is the internet. Democracy is a form of government in which a state has more than one political party and can campaign for overall support from the electorate (not, necessarily, the populous); Capitalism is the economy based on business, finance and trade within the state, in which services are provided because they are generally profitable - this pure form of laissez faire capitalism has never really existed, and many countries have alongside capitalism more collectivist principles. Besides, did you know that numerous non-democratic societies have also had a capitalist economy, particularly Fascist countries?

    Also, remember to be respectful to other members on this site - if you haven't read the forum rules it's against forum rules to be condescending. You say you like 'trouble', that's not a good attitude to take. It's actually infractable, but I'll be nice.
     
  17. minstrel
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    Are you suggesting that there's no such thing as "good" or "bad" writing? That any such distinction is subjective? That we should all stop trying to write well and just write any old crap because it's all equally valid? And of course readers deserve a say in what they read, and they get that say. And they do vote with their money. I don't know what point you're trying to make here.

    This is a straw man argument. You're the one who equated "literary fiction" to "good" literature, just so you could attack that equivalence. No one else in this thread has even mentioned "literary fiction," (King Crimson reference notwithstanding.) BTW, some people (not just the intelligentsia) were cooking up heroin (not "heroine" unless you mean Wonder Woman or someone like that) in the Sixties. That's not relevant to whether or not badly written fiction rots your brain.

    Wow. This entire paragraph isn't relevant to the OP's question. Why did you bring it up? Are you suggesting that those of us who enjoy what some call "literary fiction" are racists? That's a pretty heavy charge to level at readers who are just voting with their money. Are we racists for trying to write as well as we can? Are you suggesting that we deliberately write badly so we won't be considered racists?
     
  18. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    Get back on topic, guys. This isn't a discussion about the merits of capitalism and what does or doesn't make it democratic.
     
  19. Hettyblue
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    Hettyblue Member

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    Ok - Can I just say Eliot that longish posts with no spacing make my eyes bleed.

    Right so consumers rule and greed is good. Firstly there are monopolies Fox/ Sky Media conglomerate springs to mind (tilts hat at Mr Murdoch) squashing consumer choice and taking over stuff on a daily basis. 18-35 yo males don't watch telly in the UK either but not sure what point you are making.

    The whole literature is racist point you are making is lost on me I am afraid. Certainly Austen is probably one of the most elitist writers you could hope to enjoy, but this is why you should always take an it's not what you read it's how you read it approach. You should always take account of the time a novel has been written in context is everything. I loved Enid Blyton when I was a kid but I can assure you I do not think 'Foreigners' are by definition suspicious or women who smoke or wear trousers are not to be trusted. I am fond of lashings of Ginger beer mind. Yes there is a racial bias in western publishing houses and literary elitism exists and women writers are often sidelined and patronised 'chicklit' for eg. All fascinating and completely irrelevant to my Q. as minstrel pointed out.

    The internet is a potentially democratising medium - sharing ideas and creativity for free - but what this has to do with my crappy taste in literature I have no clue :confused:

    Thank you for your input though.
     
  20. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It really depends on what you, as a writer and critical reader, take away from a book. A badly written book can be just as helpful to a writer as a well written one.

    Look up your favorite writers and research the writers that influenced them. I know Wikipedia sometimes lists a writer's influences.
     
  21. Eliot Bauers
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    _____If I have to explain why it's relevant, it'd be like explaining the punchline to a joke--taking the fun from everyone. It goes a little something like this. If you would go back to the earlier paragraphs, you'll notice how they point to certain examples of good and bad fiction. Some dudes and dude-ettes have cited old-time classics written by old-time dead people as being "good" fiction. They then cited Harry Potter and what-not as being "bad." Their "good" fiction was all "literature." All of their "bad" fiction. Basically, they're painting this Francis Bacon-esque picture of genre fiction being brain-rotting bad and literary fiction as being good and holy. (I mean, Francis Bacon the painter, not Francis Bacon the political philosopher.... Mmm, bacon... I had some this morning.)
    _____Now about literature and all other aspects of high culture in general being racist, this isn't some random accusation. It's been a major point of anthropological and sociological scholarship in American universities for decades. A go-to name for this would be Professor Jan Harold Brunvand. He made it a blurb in his folklore compendium Too Good to Be True, saying that the distinction between high and low culture is essentially a racist one. I said some other names before (e.g. Professor Abena Busia) on that point too. Seeing as how the profs have been researching and lecturing on the issue before I attended university and continue to do so after, it's an issue that won't be going away any time soon. High culture is all about classical Russian literature, German operas and French composers. Meanwhile, "low" culture is said to be ethnic minority artists from urban environments.
    _____Another thing, why is it that I have to cite sources for my info, and everybody else is making random counter-arguments without doing the same? I'm citing sources. I'm pointing out names of academics and other professionals to back up what I say. Meanwhile, a lot of y'all are trash-talking my points without citing a single source yourselves. If you're going to demand stuff of others, you'd best practice what you preach. And thanks for questioning if I've got a B.A. in Poli Sci.
     
  22. Solar
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    Solar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Eliot, if you cared about your argument you would cite the sources.
    Or at least demonstrate that you grasp the basic reasoning behind whatever
    thesis you're promoting. Otherwise you look like you're blindly
    appealing to third-party authority in order to save face.
     
  23. Hettyblue
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    Hettyblue Member

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    arrghhh :) that is better.

    Ok - In my opinion there is a reason that some books stand the test of time and others do not. I accept that we are in an imperfect world and there is a racial and cultural bias to my education and exposure to reading materials. That understood I still do not rate The Potter books very highly despite the endorsement of Stephen Fry because the stories are ok but the writing is not very good. That is a value judgement I am happy to make as I have read far superior books about magic (Roald Dahl, Margaret Mahy and Philip Pullman spring to mind there are others). I will happily read them to my children though along with the other authors. meh.

    Genre fiction is not all brain rotting but it is difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff so I find myself trawling through the rubbishy books in search of the odd good writer. With 'The Classics' you know what you are getting. There are thousands of crappy books by 'dead white guys' and now with the kindle thousands of crappy books will be self-published - lovely for democracy. This is why I need advice though - to narrow the search a little, choice is great and everything but life is short. Cheers H
     
  24. blandmanblind
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    Low Culture examples: Reality television, popular music, escapist fiction, Kitsch, slapstick, camp, toilet humor, yellow journalism, pornography, and exploitation films.

    These do not seem to me to be the domain of any specific ethnicity.

    I have always understood the significant difference between items of High and Low culture is the amount of effort you have to put into them to get out satisfaction. It takes a lot of work to get the good out of Joyce's Ulysses while say anyone can just sit and watch a Monster Truck show and get the visceral thrill out of it.

    As for "Literary" fiction I've always liked Steve Heely's tongue-in-cheek definition in his novel "How I Became a Famous Novelist":

    As for the gist of the actual thread topic, I am going to do some Jonathen Franzen quoting. From his essay, "Mr. Difficult":

    He goes on to say that a novel can be both entertaining and art, but "difficulty" is where the two tend to divurge for people. What I say is that there is a place for both in the reading repertoire.

    As for bad writing warping your brain, No, I don't think it will happen. I cut my reader's teeth on horribly written escapist fiction, but I don't regret reading them. I don't even regret the pathetic early attempts at writing I did, because of it. I will still even now pick up what is described as a "schlocky" novel and read it, because its a distraction, because it's easy, maybe for the touch of cruel superiority that it gives me.
     
  25. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sometimes, all one wants to do is sit in front of the tv with a cold beer and not think. Nothing wrong with that. And reading 'bad' fiction when you have to keep an ear/eye out for the things going on elsewhere is at least letting your imagination work a little. As a steady diet? Yeah, it can point you in the wrong direction - but it doesn't have to. Maybe save the good reads for the time before bed, when the kids are asleep and the house is settling down and you can indulge yourself for that small 30 minutes before drifting off into exhaustion.
     

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