For Your Eyes Only

Ian Fleming’s James Bond books “consist entirely of clichés.”

The Great Gatsby is “incredibly smug about its relationship to the traditional realistic novel.”

Women in Love reads “like someone put a gun to Nietzsche’s head and made him write a Harlequin romance”.


Not my words, of course. Regular visitors will know I am not in the habit of taking pot-shots at other writers’ work, and least of all when they’re dead and buried and unable to defend themselves. As if they needed defending with sales like they had!

So who’s the hot-shot taking the pot-shots? The prestigious American Book Review, no less. Or rather a group of academics paid to choose their example of a bad book for a space-filling exercise.

The article is being recycled across the media and everyone is jumping on the band-wagon. The Guardian Books Blog proudly proclaims, “There’s such bad writing out there (do I have the energy to bring up Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer?”

How sad is that?

A book is as good as the reader thinks it is. Just like any other art form.

And apparently one helluva lot of people think Dan Brown’s books and Stephenie Meyer’s books are good. Not masterpieces, sure.

But bloody good reads.

And at the end of the day, isn’t that what a book is all about?

As writers, we write so that others may enjoy what we’ve written. Why else would we put ourselves through the agony and torture of submitting to agents and publishers, or putting our creation on Amazon?

Traditionally agents and editors were the arbiters of good and bad. They decided what got published and what got promoted and advertised.

Most of the time they got it right. Those that didn’t usually went bankrupt. Publishing is a business at the end of the day.

Of course we can all find faults if we want to. I’m sure Dan Brown, Steph Meyer, and even the venerable JK herself will be the first to admit their books are not perfect. They’re not going to win the Mann Booker or whatever it’s called this month.

But their sales figures speak for themselves. Let alone the spin-offs in film rights, etc…

Books, like other art forms, invite critical examination. But just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so a good book is in the mind of the reader.

I have tried, and failed, many time to read Tolkein’s The Lord Of the Rings. I can’t get past the first page. It does absolutely nothing for me. But I would never condescend to call it bad.

I cannot read James Joyce’s Ulysses to save my life, but I simply love Jane Eyre. I love Pride & Prejudice but cannot get into Emma!

I love Dan Brown! Even his last one!

My favourite author of all time is Enid Blyton! And yes, some of her books are as close to being “bad” as you can get. But she’s still the greatest children’s author that ever lived! (The Magic Faraway Tree and The Land Of Far Beyond are masterpieces of their genre.)

To be sure, the e-publishing revolution will mean some books will be published despite their authors’ best judgement, and e-books full of errors and libel and other evils will inevitably find their way into the market-place.

Those alone will deserve the tag “bad books”.  Save your vitriol for those, American Book Review. As Ian Fleming might have put it, they can be For Your Eyes Only.

Don’t get left behind by the e-publishing revolution.

There’s never been a more exciting time to be a writer!

  1. Now I want to read all of them again and do you know what? I just might!

    • Tiffany Dunne
    • March 2nd, 2011

    Did you major in English? I have always enjoyed your imaginative posts. Im a professional author, and have been for, oh, a couple of weeks now. Your style actually reminds me of mine, all the way down to your transitions and lucidity. Im a free lance author and have had excellent results using this agent. I am getting $50 – $75 writing posts not unlike your own posts.
    Catch you later!

    • Did I major in English LOL! Not a chance. Had the best truancy rate in my school, whic meant plenty of time for important things, like reading. ids books, adult books, comics, non-fiction. If it had words I read it (Tolkein excepted, as per post.)

      Getting paid real money for writing blog posts? Tell me where I’m going wrong!

  2. That strategy of racing for the top five and racing for the win is where everybody wants to be.

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