Books That Choke

6210847346_96b079c434_zREADING HABITS CHANGE over time.

Moby Dick, considered a classic work of literature, would struggle to get published today.


The novel oscillates between daring adventure on the high seas, to a lengthy discourse on whale species, how to procure the oil from blubber and other trivial information only useful to a seaman or aquatic anoraks with a penchant for mammalian facts.

A little side adventure that I started on this blog was to review the BBC’s Big Read Top 100 Books. The list is a little dated now (2003), much like some of the classics on the list which would struggle to find commercial success in today’s climate; patience for the heavier, slow building tome reserved for die-hard sci-fi and fantasy readers.

Traditionally marketed books coupled with a deluge of self-publishing options, and with it, lower barriers to entry means that competition is fiercer than ever for that finite attention span.

I’ve been told Anna Karenina is an excellent read. After the first 100 pages.

Who now has the patience to wait that long for a plot to kick-in, when a Lee Child book (IMO the equivalent of fast food – quick, easy and does the job) can hook you in the opening pages?

In lists of Writing Do’s and Don’t’s, writers are taught to hook readers in the opening paragraphs.

Deliver a killer opening line. Lodge that hook in their mouth so deep, the reader will be flopping helplessly ’til the end when you finally show mercy and return it to the sea, gasping for air after a thrilling ride.

A little less ‘Call me Ishmael,’ and perhaps a little more ‘I’m pretty much fucked.

In honour of some of those excellent books which are being replaced by cookie cutter Detective/Thriller/Espionage stories where the main character has a (insert vice here) problem, I’m going to continue making my way through the list, despite my struggle with certain novels.

One month after picking up Catch-22, I’ve battled through the cast of characters, confusing plot-lines, repetitive dialogue and still only find myself 2/3 of the way there.

I’ve long since given up hope that the meandering prose will correct its course, not that the late Joseph Heller would have cared what I thought, critical success and acclaim greeting his book on its release over fifty years ago.

While there are some gems to be found within (“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you“), it’s been a truly frustrating read in spite of Mr. King‘s endorsement of it being one of two of the Great American novels in the past fifty years.

I can’t wait to get back on track and find the next read. I haven’t been captivated by a book for a very long time, probably since LOTR.

Although perhaps that says more about me any my recent reading habits.

Has my imagination atrophied since I was a teenager? Am I a damning indictment of the internet and social media generation that skims content, more interested in the completion of something than the process of absorbing every little nuance and action of the storyline?

As a teenager, I would have put the ratio of fiction:non-fiction books that I read in a given year at 80:20. Now 33, I crave more knowledge, prioritising non-fiction. Books about sales, marketing, spirituality, self-improvement, etc.  Left brained reads that no longer feed my imagination, but advance my career/work.

When did that balance invert?

All it takes is one book to capture the magic again. To be transported to another world.

With the advancement of science, especially in a week where AI trumped its masters at our own game, we continue to embrace new technology, venturing deeper into uncharted waters of mind, time and space.

Today on Albert Einstein‘s birthday, we are still searching for the ultimate thrill – time travel.

Although many would argue that we have already found the means to do so.

They’re called books.

Further Reading – Top 100 Quotes from the Top 100 Novels, Remembering BBC’s The Big Read, Reading for Writing

pathfinders chapter 1

image attibution Peter Zuco via flickr

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