Why I don’t read contemporary books

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I’ve said repeatedly that I don’t read anything that was published this decade, because I’m a cranky bitch who hates everything about modern living … and all that. Hur hur.

I’m not doing this to be an irrational hater, but rather to analytically illustrate what I think is wrong with contemporary literature. At random, I have selected a paragraph out of a book titled, Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe, because another blogger linked to it recently (hello!), and I think it serves as a good example of why I have dismissed this decade’s literature all together.

Disclaimer: I have not read this book, cannot review the quality of the story itself, and haven’t the slightest idea of what the writing is like outside of the preview available on Amazon. I have absolutely no opinion on the book itself; my complaint is with contemporary writing practices.

From the sample:

They both turned to look out of the window of the assisted living facility in north London. Issy had installed Joe there when it became clear he was getting too absentminded to live on his own. Issy had hated moving him down south after he’d spent his life in the north, but she needed him close to visit. Joe had grumbled of course but he was going to grumble anyway, moving out of his home to anywhere that wouldn’t let him rise at 5:00 a.m. and start pounding bread dough. So he might as well be grumpy close by, where she could keep an eye on him. After all, it wasn’t as if anyone else was around to do it. And the three bakeries, with their proud, shiny brass handles and old signs proclaiming them to be “electric bakers,” were gone now; fallen prey to the supermarkets and chains that favored cheap white pulp over handcrafted but slightly more expensive loaves.

First, for some unfathomable reason, authors have all decided that they have a raging allergy to commas. Maybe they think it’s more conversational, that commas are outdated and useless, or they simply never learned how to organize a sentence during their schooling; whatever the case, reading feels more like delving into an overgrown forest where one is expected to hack their way through alone. It also makes it significantly harder to read out loud, since being expected to run on and on without any pauses in one long unbroken sentence gives a monotone effect that can be really quite hypnotic … Woah, sorry, got sucked into the wrong dimension there for a moment.

The worst, in my opinion, is something that I think of as “THE TWITTER EFFECT.” You never, ever, not in a million years, see sentences longer than 280 characters (most will stay under 140, which was Twitter’s original cut off point), even in novels. Yes, I know that Moby-Dick was ridiculous for having sentences that spanned more than one page, but that doesn’t mean the answer is to only write short, choppy, status updates in lieu of actual paragraphs. I blame social media.

The longest sentence in the quoted paragraph is 258 characters, including the improperly used semicolon. Four of them are shorter than 100 characters, which accounts for more than half of the sentences in the paragraph.

So, let’s rewrite it. After all, if I’m going to claim that I can do better, I might as well back it up!

They both turned to look out of the window of the assisted living facility in north London, where Issy had installed her grampa Joe after it had become clear that he was getting too absentminded to live on his own. Issy had hated moving him so far from his home, but she had wanted him close by for her to visit, and they had no other family members who were willing to help take care of him. Joe had grumbled, of course, but he was sure to be grouchy anywhere that wouldn’t let him rise at 5:00 a.m. to start pounding dough, so he might as well be grouchy where she could keep an eye on him. The three bakeries of his past, with their proud, shiny, brass handles, and old signs proclaiming them to be “electric bakers”, were gone now, fallen prey to the supermarkets and chains that favored cheap, white pulp over handcrafted, yet slightly more expensive, loaves.

The length is the same, but I combined the seven sentences into four to decrease the choppy effect of countless periods, and enhance the overall flow of the story itself. I used a lot more commas for clear organization, and with any luck, you should be able to read that sucker out loud without stumbling. Give it a shot, and tell me if I’m wrong.

Thusly we have learned: Use commas and think longer thoughts, ’cause I ain’t got nothin’ to read.

I need a rest after writing this post. Whew.

2 comments

  1. I absolutely agree. I read most of every book I read aloud, and it’s so frustrating when I have to pause or re-read because there are grammar and punctuation errors and misspelled or misused words. The sad part of Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe is that was published by a trade publisher, which should have stellar editors. I used to mention the writing in my reviews, but felt like a broken record with “could have used another round of editing” and complaining about misspelled words and the unwise demise of the comma, and occasionally the period. There was a book a read awhile ago that seemed to think exclamation points were periods. I don’t blame you for giving up on the novels of today. It’s often more work than it’s worth.

    Like

    1. I get the feeling that trade publishers have decided that it’s easier to design a snazzy cover than it is to properly edit a manuscript.

      Thank goodness used books are easy to come by, because otherwise I’d have nothing to read.

      Liked by 1 person

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