Of books and storytelling

When I was growing up, books were a constant companion. The practical dreamer that I was, sounds like a misnomer I know, books provided a beautiful escape, constantly opening my eyes to things I did not know. I could read about places and people that I would never meet. I could imagine scenarios and live them in my mind’s eye based on the sheer imagery of the writing I read. I especially loved the genre of psychological thrillers. Agatha Christie, I remember. There was one of her books that haunted me for a few days, as I kept suffering on behalf of one of her characters, so powerful were the emotions her writing evoked. Thrillers have always been my favorite genre but when it involves people, it becomes even more exciting. I have been fascinated by people and their failings and triumphs for as long back as I can remember. Relationships and their complexities are a subject of interest for me.

I also remember marveling at the storytelling skills of the authors. How they wove tales that were multi-layered and complex, keeping up the mystery and introducing you to characters that were so flawed that they seemed unbelievable and yet so real. Such astonishing prowess! I bowed my head to them.

Recently, I read, The Girl on the Train. For some strange reason, this book is right up there with those books I read back then. Just a few characters but amazing storytelling that repulses you yet you can’t keep the book down. I heard that its cinematic adaptation just got released. Just in time for me. I can’t help but remember Gone Girl, another book that had that same kind of dichotomy between fascinating storytelling and a revulsion you feel for the characters or unfolding of events.

Just reading these books made you admire the writer’s skills. Oh how they must have written and rewritten, struggled with their own souls when they penned those difficult parts. Who were their inspirations? Did some part of the characters come from their own lives? Fascinating to delve into how a book was written. And also to admire the intricate layers, the ups and downs, the pages which seemed aimless but not so when everything fell in place. I never ceased to marvel at their creativity, I still do.

There is so much pedestrian writing that gets published these days that I long for these writers. For these gems among the stones. How I wish that the publishers went for quality more than mass appeal. And why did the choice of the masses become so lacklustre and low on quality? There was a time when we read books to enhance our vocabulary and fuel our imagination. These days some books put me off with their horrible grammar and editing, not to mention their utter lack of creativity. Where is the dedication to perfection? Where is the skill to churn out a tale that is a masterpiece, that reaches out from your keyboard to another’s soul and creates a harmonious communion?

I don’t want to trash popular authors nor indulge in name calling. They obviously have a market. I just wish they were more committed to their craft and to the joy of creating something timeless that will stay long after they are gone and be upheld for the amazing storytelling, not a silly tale that people read in spare time and toss into garbage or prefer to give away.

Have our expectations from our writers really come down so much? Are we willing to read just about anything that comes out in print? I hope not. I pray that my kids can sustain the same vivid anticipation, the same rush of joy that reading a great book brings to you. I hope good writers continue to find an audience, inspiration and publishers.

What is your take on the writing that you read these days?

Pic courtesy: arisara on Shutterstock

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39 Thoughts on “Of Books and Storytelling

  1. You echo my thoughts on the subject of wonderful writing that enslaves you and the horrific writing that finds a market today. Sigh. No name calling. Agreed.

    But, what joy there is in a book that can hook you so wonderfully from the beginning to the end. I love Christie for this reason as do I so many others. For as long as I recall, books have been my escape, both from people and problems. Never regretted that one bit. Now am really tempted to pick up this book 🙂
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    • It is so difficult to describe this book. Characters so flawed and repulsive. A mystery that haunts you and storytelling that is riveting. Now l am looking forward to the movie. And books well l knew exactly what you’d say. ?

  2. Such an insightful post, Rachna!

    Thanks to self publishing houses that everyone who wants to be a published author, can become one 🙂 it’s really sad that in such cases editing gets ignored. Even if you hire professional editor, sometimes, they do a careless job. As a new author, you do not have any idea.

    Sometimes, it’s because traditional publishing houses avoid new writers even though they are good (and they approve their work; ignore eventually). They prefer established writers who guarantee sales no matter how repetitive they are. Name sells.

    But, there are some good and different books. The Girl on the Train as you have mentioned. I am reading The Secret Diary of Kasturba. It’s good. Very good writing. Recently, I read Love Virtually (and Every Seventh Wave, The sequel), and I couldn’t believe I enjoyed reading emails, just emails! (The format of these books).

    P.S.: Can you please tell me the name of that Agatha Christie book that kept haunting you?

    Can you
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    • Thanks, Tarang. I tried so hard but l am just not able to recall the title. If l do, l will ping you. Have noted the books you’ve mentioned for my to-read list.

  3. If you love Reading , you’re never alone; is my experience and belief.
    Like you i am a big fan of Agatha Christie too and a good book or characters stay with me for a while.
    Do try Author Michelle Moran. She writes historical fiction and her writing will leave you wanting more.

  4. Oh to be lost in a book and marvel at a world created solely by words. Stories that haunt you over and over again and suspense that result in chewed fingernails!! I too long to read books like that. And when I find one, it’s like the greatest joy. My biggest fear is to pay for book that becomes a chore to read. It is the disappointment of reading mediocre works that makes go back to Jane Austen or Agatha Christie.
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    • These days l just stop reading the book if it fits not hold my attention. Earlier l would somehow read till the end. Some books are just so shoddy, l don’t know how they ever got published.

  5. So agree with the mediocre writing parts. The authors are taking us readers for granted. They seem to be just interested in putting the book out there instead of making it a real good product.

  6. I agree with you, Rachna. I cannot seem to bring myself to read these masala writers anymore. I tried but then they don’t give me that richness that the reader in me desires. So everything you have written is also what I feel

  7. So agree with you Rachna, some books and authors just astound you with their ability to affect you.

    As for those taking to publishing their writing, I guess it takes all kinds to make a world..LOL! To some extent I am happy for the avenues that have opened up for anyone and everyone aspiring to be a writer. While I totally get the ‘pedestrian writing’ bit that you have talked about, but we do get treated to some truly exemplary and enjoyable writing as well, which otherwise would probably not have got a platform if not for these avenues opening up.

  8. As a voracious reader, I have been following these changes in writing trends with a whole lot of interest. Blogging, easy access to publishing houses (not all of which are worth even their name) has resulted in a whole lot of people writing books. My reaction is mixed, on one hand it is such a pleasure to read such an eclectic mix of writings but on the other hand the quality of some of these authors appall me. And what horrifies me even more is that these authors are now best sellers and that there is an entire generation of youth out there who actually like to read such stuff.
    As far as reading and literature goes, I think we had a much much better exposure growing up !

    • Yes, you are right. On the one hand more people have the opportunity to be published. On the other, it dilutes the quality of good storytelling. And for so many this sub-par writing will be the only yardstick they will measure any writing by. Don’t mean to sound elitist but the plot, storytelling and language must count for something.

  9. You bring out such important points about ‘quality’ Rachna. The soul longs for those beautifully written classics. I don’t mind rereading those classics time and again.
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  10. Sad but true. The kind of books that I used to read years back surely left a mark. And
    These days I hardly find any such. And in terms of expectations… I may be prejudiced but definitely my expectations from Indian writers are on the lower side.

  11. I have heard that a lot these days; that current books being published by Indian authors are full of flaws. I have read a few here and there but they have been referred by friends who I can trust 🙂 So, they didn’t disappoint me as much. I am watching more movies than reading books now a days…have to pick one up soon. Apart from Indian authors, all the other books I read are also recommendations…so far I haven’t been unhappy 🙂

    • That’s wonderful, Latha. Many books are very poorly edited. I guess the publishers are doing a rather shoddy job. Plus, there are so many publishers these days, substandard ones too.

  12. Not just in the field of writing, people say that the sense of music has also been lost, considering the modern songs with meaningless lyrics that become so popular. But then the difference is that these things only last so long, like bubble reputation. While the books or even music of perfection that touch our souls will be remembered for ages and more.
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  13. True. Books allow us to travel to different places and times and broaden our mental horizons. There was a time when me and my friend wanted to get ship wrecked an island with books 🙂 To be honest, I have hardly read many recent authors, so can’t comment on that..
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  14. I totally agree with you. I also read “The Girl on the train” a few months back and absolutely loved it. The character of the protagonist was so perfectly sketched by Paula Hawkins.

    Good books can take us to another place and give us a fulfilling experience, that no movie can give in 3 hours.
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  15. Yogi Saraswat on October 14, 2016 at 10:21 am said:

    ecently, I read, The Girl on the Train. For some strange reason, this book is right up there with those books I read back then. Just a few characters but amazing storytelling that repulses you yet you can’t keep the book down. I heard that its cinematic adaptation just got released. Just in time for me. I can’t help but remember Gone Girl, another book that had that same kind of dichotomy between fascinating storytelling and a revulsion you feel for the characters or unfolding of events. Meaningful Review .

  16. Pedestrian writing – you said it. I see so many Indian authors claiming to be “best sellers” but I cannot get past a page due to the trashy writing. The very reason I gave up the thoughts of writing a book of my own. Not that I’m brilliant, but I do not want my book to be lost in the cloud of such sucky best sellers.

    The Girl On The Train is very well written even if the pace is slow. She takes her time to build a scenario and the ending is fantastic. The movie is releasing today, do watch it 🙂
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  17. I read this post alongwith all the comments (plus your replies to them) with utmost interest and let me admit it that I can relate to the stuff in more than one ways. I am not only a book work Rachna Ji but also an ardent Agatha Christie fan. Christie works like Death on the Nile, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None, The Hollow, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Murder is Easy, Sleeping Murder, The Curtain and Murder on the Orient Express have always proved to be a different enchanting world for me. You are right in asserting that sub-standard and trash works are also coming (and selling) a lot now-a-days. Well, let me reveal that I have also written a Hindi novel (in the murder mystery genre) which has been published as e-book. Whether it is good or trash, it’s for the readers to decide.

  18. A good book can really make you think. And some books, well, they make you think about why the book was even written.

    There’s also one more thing I’ve noted: the Acknowledgements section of a book. Not many books have been created by the sole efforts of just one person. Editors, proofreaders, beta readers and loved ones also form an integral part of the book. But hardly do people ever realise that! 🙂
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    • You are absolutely right, Mithila. All these people behind the writer make for a solid book but often new authors skimp on these and hence their product is quite shoddy and underwhelming.

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