Ignoring the Rules, and Other Stuff

Every mistake in the rule book, or how to ignore them all and write a bestseller.

The first time I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, many years ago, I hated it. Who’s speaking? Doesn’t the guy know how to use apostrophes? It wasn’t so much that my inner grammar nazi was offended, it was just a very hard book to read. Unrelievedly dark. Depressing. And then to have to struggle through figuring out who was talking because the characters didn’t have names.

I don’t know what kind of mood I was in when I read it, but I obviously wasn’t ready for a book that required patience and thoughtfulness from me. So this week’s reread was very different. I let the book speak to me, and what it said was that the rule-breaking was deliberate and had a point. If I didn’t get the point, that was my problem. I’m not interested in critics’ interpretations of the book because I know what it said to me. The world is dying due to some unspecified disaster. Everything is gone. The characters have no future, and are just struggling to survive from day to day.

Life has been pared down to the basics, which includes language. What is there to say, between two people in such circumstances, that needs elaboration? McCarthy’s language plods on, just as the characters do, with rare escapes into dreamlike segments that might be memories, might be a mind rising, for a short time, out of hopelessness, or might be hallucinations.

A master of story telling can break all the rules and make them serve him.

The face on the cover: is it becoming a woman’s world?

I can’t help but notice, as I browse through several categories of Amazon’s best seller lists, that females have taken over the covers. Since my first impression of a book and whether I want to read the blurb is the cover, I’m finding fewer and fewer that make me willing to take the next step. As far as I can see, on the basis of dipping in here and there out of curiosity, most of those books are about either kick-ass female heroes, or romances snuck into categories in which you wouldn’t normally find them, purely in order to gain more sales.

I read a fair amount of science fiction, so my eyes skim over most of the covers these days. I’m a long-time SF fan, but of serious, even literary SF. Judging by Amazon’s best seller lists, there’s very little of that being written. The dominant themes are women acting like the most stereotypical men, or acting like the most stereotypical women in new settings which most of the authors are unfamiliar with and write in the least convincing ways.

Trends come and go, styles change, society changes, but not all change is for the best.



8 thoughts on “Ignoring the Rules, and Other Stuff

  1. If I ever finish writing the Pride’s Children trilogy, and the mystery which is my only other possible next project, I may some day write SF (one of my first loves), and it will come out literary because I can’t not – and the best writers were VERY competent with language as well as science. Dunno. Time seems to float away from me.

    1. I feel more like time is racing away from me. But glad to see your brain is back online. Hate it when mine goes off. I do hope you can get to the SF while I’m still around to read it.

      1. Might not be your kind of SF – I was thinking I’d have to get an idea, because I go at things whole hog, and may end up spending years on something. When I’m open, things will maybe come at me, and start hooking up. But SF has to make sense plus have something extra for the S part, so it’s hard work.

        1. The S part is no longer really a requirement — at least it’s being more or less ignored in the creation of “soft” SF. I prefer my S to be the social sciences: psychology, sociology, etc. A Well-Educated Boy takes place in the near future, on earth, and is concerned with two versions of dystopia as different parts of the country might experience it. Much like it’s developing these days.

  2. I started The Road and never finished it. It read well. It’s just that I’m not a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction. However, I just finished All the Pretty Horses and loved that story, even though there’s a big info dump towards the end that’s a bit lengthy and cumbersome.
    P.S. One of my favorite book’s is Jack London’s The Road, published way back round 1900.

  3. I have London’s The Road on my Kindle, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. I was a big fan of his when I was in my teens, but recently read The Iron Heel and thought it was awful. For all the complaints about indie writers and a general decrease in literacy, I think our standards for fiction are higher now.

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