Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Name that book

Buggery Blogger is only part of the reason I haven't been posting much lately. It's back-to-work week, and my mind and body agree that waking up early sucks. I feel like crap, and even Edna Mode can't cheer me up. This comes from Bookseller Chick: Since you've read lots of Harlequin Presents, would you maybe have any recollections of a book I'm trying to find? --A girl gets together with a guy in a van during a snowstorm. They are complete strangers. To keep warm, they may or may not have sex. Through most of the book, he thinks she is all too promiscuous. This tortures him. Of course she is actually a bookworm and introvert. He just happens to see her a second time after she has just had a makeover and is wearing a form-fitting sweater. The cover features a brunette wearing a yellow sweater and maybe a plaid skirt. It's a plain white background. Published before 1996 I believe but newer than the early 80s ones where nothing happens before marriage. Can you help? If any of you can name that book, go help out the BSC, okay? Link above. Here's one of my own: Pub date, 1970s. Science Fiction. A guy wakes up one day to find himself in a 12-year-old body -- his own, about thirty years ago. Somehow, he's living out the fantasy of being a kid again "with all I know now." He turns the tables on his flirtatious cousin who used to make his life hell, and he rakes in the dough on horseraces (conveniently, he remembers some key race results). The mob gets wind of his success and wants to know how he does it. Eventually, he gets gunned down by the mob. He wakes up on a space ship. Aliens have granted him three wishes, and he just screwed up his first wish. The next two-thirds of the book concern his other wishes. In one, he's back in his 40-something-year-old body, but with superhuman strength and amazing sexual powers. Trouble is, his physiology is different, so alcohol makes him violently ill. Things end badly after he throws up on an important business client.
Does anyone recognize this?
***
While I have Bookseller Chick's attention . . . Yesterday in the grocery store, I picked up a paperback edition of Tuesdays with Morrie. I remembered reading something about this in a magazine, and it sounded like a cool idea for a book. In the store, I looked at the acknowledgements. Author Mitch Albom acknowledges, among other people, a rabbi. Okay, so that's good. Next, I read the first two pages. The writing is a bit too slick and a bit too cute, but still, the guy writes a good hook. I'm a millimeter away from buying this thing, but then I get to the deal-breaker. You see, I'm curious about this "wisdom" thing. If Morrie is so full of wisdom, says I, I ought to be able to open the book at random and find some of that wisdom. I did just that, and soon realized that all dialog in the book is written like this: "Here's me saying something." That's Morrie. No 'Morrie said,' nothin'. And here's the author saying something back. No quotes. No 'I said.' Albom distinguishes between his voice and Morrie's by the use of quotes or the lack of quotes. No saids at all. I'm not saying it was intelligent or rational to put the book back on the rack, but I did. Maybe it's a wonderful book. I'll never know. Looking at that single page of dialog, I knew a whole book of that would drive me nuts. I have other quirks, too. Pretentiousness is a deal-breaker for me; I've never made it past the first page of Unbearable Lightness of Being. I liked the first sentence of Stephen King's The Gunslinger, The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. but after the second sentence, I put it back on the shelf: The desert was the apotheosis of all deserts, huge, standing to the sky for what might have been parsecs in all directions. First I'm looking at a crisp cinematic image (good), then I'm looking at King tap-tapping at his keyboard (not good). The first paperback I ever bought with my own money (for fifty cents, I think), The Path Beyond the Stars, had as its first line, It was axiomatic, Jon Wood groused. How do I remember that? Because my brother, who thought it ridiculous for a six-year-old to spend his money on paperbacks, snatched the book from my hands and said, "Look at that! There's two words in the first sentence you can't possibly understand." Never mind that he didn't know the meaning of axiomatic or groused either. This was a dare and, dammit, I read the whole thing. And remembered that first sentence foreverenever. But I'm not six anymore. For adult Doug, if an author wants to throw apotheosis around, he'd damn well better have a good reason to do it. Call me snobbish or neurotic or a miserable little prick. I deserve it. All I'm saying is, these are deal-breakers for me, and I'm one of the guys in your book-buying audience. What are your deal-breakers? Bookseller Chick, do you have any thoughts about this? D.

21 Comments:

Blogger Bookseller Chick said...

Ah, yes. Tuesdays with Morrie. I cannot tell you how many times I've sold that to customers who just rave, RAVE about how much they love that book. I'm really surprised that not everyone on the planet doesn't have a copy by now given the rate they fly out of my store. I haven't read the book for the same reason you gave, I hate the lack of quotation marks. If I really want to read something enough I'm sure I could get over it (and I have in the past), but the truth is the story of Morrie doesn't appeal enough. That and I know how it ends...thank you customers.

No clue about your mysterious novel, but I'll ask around. Thanks for linking for my reader.

1/03/2006 08:57:00 PM  
Blogger Shelbi said...

Too much dialect. I tried DESPERATELY to read Huck Finn, but it was exhausting, and I just couldn't finish it.

Too many big words. If I have to keep a dictionary close at hand in order to understand a book, it drives me nuts.

Weak or stupid protagonists [usually female]. That just pisses me off.

I read a book once where the girl was duped into marrying the bad guy, and stayed with him [and miserable] until the end of the book. She was only able to escape from him because there was a freaking earthquake and he died!

The whole time she was this lame doormat of a ditz, and her 'true love' was a big stupid wimp who never even tried to rescue her until the end when he carried her out of the rubble from the earthquake.

Ach. Made me want to bang my head against the wall.

1/03/2006 10:16:00 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I have read Tuesdays With Morrie. Yes, I have stared for like 200 pages into the eyes of sappy schmaltzy sentimentality and lived to tell the tale.

A friend gave it to me. It's so bad. I mean, it's SO BAD. I'd call it a Hallmark card in novel form, but that's an insult to Hallmark. And the dialogue thing didn't bug me at all, so trust me: it's the content that sucks.

However - I did laugh a lot. In mockery.

1/04/2006 05:20:00 AM  
Blogger Moi said...

Funny, I never bothered with Tuesdays with Morrie because I'm a native Detroiter and hate sports (Mitch is/was a sports reporter here). Despite multiple opportunities to get autographed copies, I've passed on every one and never regretted it.

The biggest deal breaker for me is author incompetence. They make some kind of mistake early on in the book which just trashes my suspension of disbelief and I'm just outta there. (One I remember vividly is a Historical Romance set in the 1180's where Henry II and his beloved wife are riding through the English countryside--even Hollywood got that right!)

Pretentiousness--especially when the author feels he has to explain it the stupid reader in exhausting detail--is also a killer.

1/04/2006 06:32:00 AM  
Blogger Shelbi said...

By the way, thanks for taking the time to comment over at my blog, I really appreciate it.

Re: blogging a novel.
I'm going to try a couple of other things to beat my Internal Editor into submission first, but if they don't work, I may have to blog it.

Something I thought of that might break the deal for others, but that I love is 'breaking the fourth wall.' I love it in movies and books. Don't know why exactly, and I know enough not to try it in my own book, but I still think it's really neat.

Okay, I'm sorry I've monopolized your comments section for this entry. I'm done now.

1/04/2006 08:38:00 AM  
Anonymous PBW said...

Can't help with the mystery novels, sorry.

If I like the writing, I'll read anything off the shelf. Bad writing, I put it back. I don't think any specific story elements are deal-breakers, but books written in second person usually end up back on the shelf, because hardly anyone can write it well.

1/04/2006 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Experimental style with this Look How Clever I Am attitude* is a putter backer, as is Simply Bad And Repetitive style (like Goodkind, imho). Or if an experimental book is too long, like Ulysses (I liked The Dubliners, though). Another peeve of mine is books with lots of politics** and worse, a MESSAGE, which rules out a good deal of the contemporary German writers - bloody left wing bastards. Even the Swede Mankell tends to have a bit too much of it, and he writes Mysteries, not 'litrachure'. *grin*


*There are, in fact, books that manage to tell a good story in a very unusual way, like Lars Gustafssons Bernard Foy's Third Ricochette, or Arno Schmid's Sommermeteor (don't think that one's translated, though).

** I don't mind politics in a Fantasy or SciFi setting, even if there are parallels to present day politics, as long as it's integrated into the STORY.

1/04/2006 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Selah March said...

I read the first five to ten pages. If, in that space, the author cannot get me to ask a question (preferably "why?" or "how?," but I'll take "what?" or "who?" in a pinch) and also genuinely care about the answer, the book goes back on the shelf.

Likewise, if at any point during the reading of the book I find myself with no questions to which I don't already know or can't already guess the answers, or I find myself not caring about the answers to the questions that DO remain, the book is dropped. I put away THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE (848 pages in hardcover) forty pages from the end, and even with the relatively large investment of time I'd already made in the book, have never felt the desire to go back. I could see where it was going, and I wasn't attached to any of the characters enough to see it through.

1/04/2006 10:51:00 AM  
Anonymous jmc said...

I've picked up and put down Tuesdays With Morrie a couple of times. A bunch of people have recommended it to me, knowing that Albom is a sportwriter and I am a sportsfan. I always put it back down because of the way the dialogue is handled and because I just can't stand Mitch Albom. I've seen him on ESPN's The Sports Reporters too often. No thanks.

Deal breakers: obvious inaccuracies that could have been caught with basic research, like tomatoes growing in a kitchen garden in the Egypt of Rameses, when tomatoes are native to the Americas and were first used/noted in 700AD; a lot of dialogue in dialect, especially with too many thees or ye-s or cannaes. Can't think of anything else right now, but I'm sure there are more than those two.

1/04/2006 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Fun discussion, folks. It's interesting how it all boils down to a few common threads.

Apropos of nothing, Kira Phillips on CNN just said, ". . . the Iraq erections . . ." She caught herself at "erect" and subbed "elections" with nary a grin. Now that's professionalism.

1/04/2006 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Paul Abbamondi said...

I have not read Tuesdays with Morrie, but I did adventure through The Five People You Meet in Heaven which was decent. You are right about one thing...Albom can write a hook.

My biggest deal-breaker was on some book called Heat Seekers. Twas a vampire romp...opening prologue is good, chapter one decent, THEN in chapter two the author completely switches to first person POV. I was comfortable in my 3rd. There was no warning. And then it jumped around like a rabbit on hot coals.

Agh, I gave up on it midway. Damn vamps.

1/04/2006 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Stephen King just rambles on, too much at times, but he became such an industry that no one would dare edit him. So they just let him blare on, good bad or indifferent, it'll sell.

I've enjoyed his Gunslinger series, for the most part. There are obvious bits where he's just racing through to get to the next good idea.

But I've always found authors do just what he describes in Misery: you start with one good idea, and as you roll along, another idea comes, and leads to another. You hope.

Sometimes, writers run out of steam, the 2nd idea nevers materializes, then they pause too long to reflect, never get that last burst of inspiration, freeze up, whatever. But the story... just sort of peters out. The Lovely Bones, for example.

Twain did reading tours, as I recall. Huck Finn would flow if read aloud by stage actors, or people who grew up in the South.

1/04/2006 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Jim Donahue said...

While I like science fiction, I tend not to make it through the kind of novel that needs a dictionary of made-up alien or "futuristic" words (see: "Dune").

1/04/2006 01:14:00 PM  
Blogger Jim Donahue said...

>>Twas a vampire romp...opening prologue is good, chapter one decent, THEN in chapter two the author completely switches to first person POV.

There's a novel called "The Lime Twig" by John Hawkes, which starts out like a straight-ahead Graham Greenish racetrack novel with a first-person narrator, but a few chapters in...

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!



... the narrator is kicked to death by a horse and the novel switches to third person. I guess it shouldn't work, but it's just so nervy, it does.

1/04/2006 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Folks, you've made several good points. Sheila reminded me how much I hate 2nd person POV. I can remember only one 2nd person POV short story which I enjoyed, and even then, I remember thinking it would have played much better in 1st person.

Jim reminded me of my problem with neologisms. They're almost inevitable in SF (although, IIRC, PK Dick used very few, if any), but I try to rein it in with my fiction. Sometimes there's no choice. If you're on another planet, unless Earth terraformed it, you had better not start talking about oaks and poplars.

Jim, and anyone else who doesn't idolize Dune: look for National Lampoon's satire Doon (the Dessert Planet). They had tons of fun with Dune's neologisms.

1/04/2006 03:27:00 PM  
Anonymous ROF said...

I believe your "mystery" SciFi story (at least the latter half) is The Reassembled Man" by Herbert D. Kastle.

From: http://www.pywrit.com/ebooks/sfk/HerbertDKastle/HerbertDKastle.htm

The Druggish were much better at their job than all the king's horses had been with Humpty Dumpty.  First, the Druggish simply disassembled Edward Berner - tissue by tissue, nerve by nerve.  In tanks they stored the million remnants and shreds that had been Berner, and they changed his brain into a fantastic recording device.  Then they simply put him back together.  Sinew by sinew, cell by cell.  But is was not the same Ed Berner.  The new Ed Berner was stronger, healthier - stronger and healthier than any other man.  And with a sexual appetite and a promised life-span greater than anyone on earth.  He was very nearly invincible.  Very nearly.  Unfortunately, there was a deadly flaw.  The Druggish had forgotten to make the new Ed Berner a wiser one...
Fawcett Books


This is an old favorite member of my slowly (w/ time) diminishing SciFi library. No collector's item (w/ its cover tattered & pages coffee stained), it's currently stored in a box somewhere around the house awaiting its next read whenever its approx. 10 year hiatus elapses -- maybe next year, or the year after.

Anyway, I don't remember the book having the "knowing then what I know now" story line or the "screwed up first wish," but from that point on, it's Reassembled Man all the way. He has great "staying power" in more ways than one, but he's been programmed to preserve the mechanics of his body so alcohol becomes the catalyst for his stupidity to prove his undoing.

OT: I'm going to copy/paste this into a text document so my time won't be wasted if I can't post again. After I get my new computer w/ other updated & "modern" browsers this Friday, I'll try again -- on a later post OT, maybe.

1/04/2006 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

ROF: the description is close enough to what I remember (especially the name, Ed Berner) that I went ahead and bought a used copy. When I get it, I'll drop a note on the blog about it. Thanks -- I'm almost positive you're right about this.

1/04/2006 11:04:00 PM  
Blogger Darla said...

I'm very opinionated about books (which is pretty obvious if you scan through the book lists on my blog--though not the December list so much, because I was too busy and holiday-spirited to be really vicious). But most of my deal-breakers are writing related--that is, how the words are put together, more than the story itself. Pretentiousness, choppy writing, excessive spelling or grammatical errors, unclear headhopping, anything that yanks me out of the story. Or a secret baby plot.

1/05/2006 06:31:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

choppy writing, excessive spelling or grammatical errors, unclear headhopping, anything that yanks me out of the story. Or a secret baby plot.

It amazes me that manuscripts with abundant technical errors get published. Yes, I've seen this too.

But, what's a secret baby plot?

1/05/2006 08:48:00 AM  
Blogger Pat Kirby said...

But, what's a secret baby plot?

I think it's when the hero knocks up the heroine, leaves town, returns later and is too stupid to realize the brat is his.

Anything stamp with "Oprah Winfrey Book Club" is the kiss of death for me.

1/05/2006 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Darla said...

But, what's a secret baby plot?

What Pat said, but it also includes concealment of the fact of paternity on the part of the mother, usually for no good reason. But, hey, mother and father always end up happily ever after anyway. Gak. I figure they deserve each other.

Anything stamp with "Oprah Winfrey Book Club" is the kiss of death for me.

I've never actually read an "Oprah Winfrey Book Club" book, so I feel a wee bit prejudicial for avoiding them. If one happened to find its way into my TBR pile, though, I would eventually read it. ([cue 60s Life cereal commercial] Give it to Darla. She'll read anything.) That salves my conscience somewhat.

1/06/2006 04:43:00 AM  

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