I’m currently listening to an audiobook that I started at the beginning of the first lockdown, so it’s fair to say that it’s not entirely grabbed me. A gap of over six months is partly explicable by my discovery of certain podcasts, which eat into book-listening time, but that’s not the whole story. And firing it up again has sharpened my discontent and made me try and put my finger on the problem.
I think it comes down to this: the whole thing feels slow.
It’s not that nothing’s happening. There is action and there is drama and there is mystery, and it’s also fair to say that, at two and a half hours’ in to a 14hr story, I’m still only scratching the surface.
But the whole thing seems slow. There is little room for nuance as everything is spelled out for us. All decisions are shown, clearly and without room for error, and in a way this is a good thing. But it really does sabotage any sense of momentum and imperative.
Perhaps recognising the condition in other writers is a sign that I am learning. I am seeing in others what I am guilty of myself, and the first step towards solving a problem is to admit you have one in the first place. In a way, this particular story has come at the perfect time for me, when I’m examining my own flaws and looking at paring back my writing in general.
Perhaps it’s just that this audiobook has flaws sharp enough for even me to scrape my numb feet upon, but I don’t think so. It’s not bad, not that I would like to determine it thus.
Anyway, isn’t it possible to learn from weaker stories just as it is to find inspiration in masterpieces? I think so, though I don’t go so far as to seek out bad books in place of quality; I have (sadly) limited reading time and my primary focus is on pleasure, even in my non-fiction.
And, on that note, let me recount my experience with 50 Shades of Grey. Whilst walking to work one morning I chanced upon a copy sitting on a bench by the river. Aware of its reputation, and in search of cheap (free) thrills, I picked it up and started to flick through it as I strolled onwards.
I abandoned it on the next bench I came to. That was enough for me.
I happily imagine the life of that copy as it journeys along the riverbank, one bench at a time, as it passes through many hands from sea to source, and then, and then…
What next adventure can a poor lonely copy of a truly bad book have? That, dear reader, is entirely up to you.