Thursday, August 16, 2007

Good vs.Great

I took a look at my library this morning. My books come in all sizes. Hardbacks, trades, paperbacks, audio, and yes, a couple e-books. They vary in length, characters, style, and genre. And I think what amazes me most is how some authors can pump out a book every six months. They're like machines. Actually, I don't own many books by those authors. I don't find them filled to overflowing with conflict and resolution that brings me to fits of laughter or buckets of tears. They just don't have that "wow" factor. You know? They may be funny, and good enough to be called a "good read." But how many of those books do you really think about years later? How many of those characters come to mind at the strangest times? Characters that make you want to go back and read the story again. How many books of fluff 'n stuff do you actually recommend when asked?

Not many, I'll bet.

I think the public needs to realize that for most authors ... a great book takes at least a year to write. Usually longer. Because while authors are finishing up their current masterpiece, they're usually under contract and have to spend time on the next one. At least outlining, drawing up larger-than-life characters, working the puzzle that is often ... mind-boggling.

Storytelling is one of the great past times down through the ages. Before the age of TV and radio, families told stories. One of my favorite stories, made into a movie, is Out of Africa. In it there is a scene where Robert Redford asks Meryl Streep to tell a story and she says something like, "At home, my neices always give me the first line." To which he answers something like, "There was a Chinese man named ..." Then good ole' Meryl takes off and for the next few hours makes up this brilliant story that mesmerizes her guests.

Anyway, I certainly don't do the script justice here. But you get the picture ... it's a beautifully told story within a story. Out of Africa is a based-on-fact story of Karen Blixen who wrote her own autobiography. She, as one can easily see from this movie, was a great storyteller, writer, and lady. Fortunately, some stories are made into movies, otherwise the world would not know about them. But that kind of storytelling, when written well, becomes bestseller status. A piece of our history. Beloved and regarded as priceless pieces of literature by some. Books like The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill A Mockingbird, Little Women ... the list is endless.

I wonder, often, how many stories are never written down. There are professional storytellers out there, but they don't like to write. I've met some. But either way, storytelling is an art, and like any fine wine ... to write them down - takes time.

I realize there are such things as "beach reads" and light books that are meant to whisk you away for a sweet story of romance or mystery. They're fine books, in fact, thank God for them. But every once in a while you just want a story you can sink your teeth into. One that will take you out of your skin and deposit you in another place and time. That unless the phone rings or the dog barks, you forget where you are. Now that, my friend, is great reading.

So what's my point? My point is that stories are plentiful. Good stories can be short or long, but enjoyable, and satisfying. Badly written stories can drone on forever, and you feel you've wasted your time. But a great story, no matter the length, short or long, should become a part of you once read. Pick up a new book as soon and you can ... and start reading ... then pass it on.

Blessings to you and yours.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This might be why I reread Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights so often. The books that bear rereading aren't necessarily old English classics. My copies of The Prince of Tides and Sophie's Choice are ragged and worn from repeated use. Even books that don't fall into the "classics" domain, like absolutely anything written by Daphne Du Maurier, rest on a nearby shelf for days when I must return to the windswept moors for a break from our hectic lives.

I feel certain that none of these novels were written by the teams of writers that modern, "prolific" authors use to keep the franchise flowing without actually having to sit down and write every word they sell as their own.

That, my dear, is the difference betweeen good and great. I don't believe that great books can be written by committees or churned out like sausage stuffing. They must be created by real, live writers—like you. CK