06 January 2012

readability: part one

Lately I've been wondering what it is that makes a novel "readable." I wonder this because, when I think back on the list of recent novels I've read, I come up with titles I never thought I'd find so "readable" yet only fractionally enjoyable: two of the Twilight novels, one and a half books from the Hunger Games trilogy, all of the Harry Potter books, two books by Dan Brown. I'll admit, though I found some of the writing annoying, the ones I enjoyed the most were the Harry Potter series; my biggest issue there was the writing of the adults, who read more often like 12-year-olds using some long-lasting polyjuice potion than actual functioning grown ups. I'm enjoying The Hunger Games, but I can't help but find myself frustrated by what at times is annoying writing, and at other times just reads as downright bad. Yet despite my frustrations and anger (at the sometimes seemingly apparent conclusion drawn by the author that her readers are morons), I also can't stop reading. And I want to know why.


Sometimes I think a bad book (or, to be more generous, a mediocre or "so-so" book) is something like a hit of some kind of inked drug; sure, you know it's poison as you take it in, experiment, tread the waters, but then you dive in and find yourself "hooked." Take Stephanie Meyer, for instance. I can't begin to describe how much I hated Bella Swan, and Edward Cullen, and just about everyone these characters interacted with. But I read the first novel in one sitting, just a few hours. I couldn't put it down. Why? And why did I then proceed to begrudgingly pick up the second novel? Why did I read more? To be fair (to myself), I didn't get past the first few half of book two. ... But no, when I really stop to think, I'm pretty sure I read that whole book, too! It's a good sign, I think, that I've managed to block the recognition of this fact mostly from my memory. I never made it to book three (at least, I don't think--even if I did, I know for a fact I didn't make it through). I had the end of the series described (in detail) to me. I saw two of the movies, own one of them (for laughs). And I find that I can't judge the folks who are drawn into Meyer's world. I was almost hooked. I still sometimes find myself wanting to find a cheap edition and pick it apart. But I resist the urge in this case.

I read The Da Vinci Code because everyone kept telling me I should. That was another one I couldn't put down. Despite the formulaic descriptions of characters and scenes. Despite the fact that I found the main character about as interesting as a wet sponge (which, to be fair, can actually be quite intriguing, as sponges go). Despite the fact that I guessed the ending. I knew who would die, who would live, who would turn out to be the unsuspected villain. It wasn't like reading Jeffrey Deaver, who also follows formulas but at least still manages to bring in a few true surprises that you (or I) could have seen coming yet somehow didn't. I read that book in a day, too, and Angels and Demons took less time ... but that only because I knew the formula, and knew I could skip a few paragraphs and not miss anything, and because in the case of this book I found myself making a game of guessing the next scripted line or the next easily determinable action or the upcoming impending doom of the obviously doomed characters.

Now I'm immersed in the words and world of Suzanne Collins and I don't know what to think. I've always thought I had pretty good literary taste, so it worries me that I'm able and willing to (partially) forgive the level of blind-stupidity perhaps inadvertently attributed to Katniss, the main protagonist, even though I can hardly read a word she says, or thinks, anymore without rolling my eyes and thinking (and once in a while uttering out loud), "Oh brother" or, "You've got to be kidding me." I think it's the relationships that have me, and the Hunger Games themselves, though fairly early in the book you know who will be chosen, who will survive, who will speak the obvious truths. It's when Suzanne Collins has Katniss provide a definition for the word "veranda" that I begin to lose that willingness to forgive. I understand it's a different time, and perhaps this young girl has never seen a veranda (she only knows the word "velvet" by association, too, though she didn't feel the need to define that) ... But this girl is above average in almost every regard, and she thinks we as her audience need "veranda" defined for us? We're not as dense as you, sweetheart. ... And there I've done it. I've made a series referential joke that shows just how invested in these books I've somehow, inexplicably, become.

So what is it?! What is "readability?" What makes these books, if not likable, if not enjoyable, if not even half the time "relatable," somehow completely readable? 

I don't know yet ... but I plan to spend some time, and at least one more blog post, figuring it out.

... To be continued ...

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