Some follow-up thoughts on Demon Angel, and some more thoughts on impatient/lazy readers

I finished Meljean Brook’s Demon Angel last night, and I agree wholeheartedly with Robin’s review and her grade. Here are some other thoughts about the book, most of them rather silly nitpicks and things I liked. I initially thought I’d stick all of this into the comments section of the review, but writing it sparked some other thoughts that I’d like to share with the audience-at-large. So here goes:

1. Brook snuck in an All Your Base joke in the book. Holy shit, I love this woman.

2. I was heartily sick of the word “arousal” by the end of the book. I never thought I’d be so happy to see the word “erection” in a book, but oh dear sweet lord I was heartily sick of Hugh’s never-ending pants-tenting arousal that I would’ve settled for ANY other euphemism, up to and including “purple-helmeted soldier of love” and “quivering arrow of passion.”

On a related note: the passion Hugh and Lilith felt for each other once they started bumping formerly-supernatural uglies was so constant, so over the top, so out-of-control that it felt…silly. There was an oppressive air of arousal (gaaah, that word!) that hung around them, and even in the midst of life and death events, they couldn’t stop thinking about each other’s fiddly bits. Really, at that point, I wanted to smack them a little for being Too Horny To Live.

3. Dorian Gray references = WIN. But then I’m an Oscar Wilde dork.

4. The dialogue was weirdly clunky in a lot of spots. I understood she was going for an archaic, old-fashioned feel with Hugh’s speech, but it only worked half the time.

5. This is perhaps the first instance in which I’ve read a book marketed as a romance novel that contains world-building on par with some of the best fantasy novels. There are all sorts of nifty details in here, such as the deal with Colin’s blood (and why he covers all his mirrors), the different realms of Hell and the ongoing civil war between Lucifer and Belial. I closed the book feeling impatient for more, but especially for Michael’s story and the Further Adventures of His Sword (in all senses of the word, heh heh).

6. As Robin noted in the review, Brook over-explains certain aspects of the story; as I read it, my fingers itched for a red pen to strip away the unnecessary sentences. This is a problem many romance novelists have, however, and I’m not sure if it’s a tendency in the authors themselves or if the editors are the ones pushing them to signal things like HAY GUYZ THEIR REALLY IN LURVE OK AND LOOK OMG HE’S CRYING NOW louder and ever louder.

7. Conversely, Brook doesn’t really spoonfeed the world-building, the plot or the setting. For example: I’ve never taken a class in English history, so my knowledge is fuzzy at best, but I managed to figure out from context that the very first part of the book concerned the events surrounding the Magna Carta and King John’s turbulent relationship with his barons, even though Brook never mentions either by name. That’s some serious skill there.

I also appreciated that Brook didn’t infodump as soon as some new aspect of the world showed up or some reference was made (though she came close a couple of times), and that she didn’t bother to over-explain the plot, such as how Our Daring Heroes managed to wriggle themselves out of the tangles of wagers and bargains they’d gotten themselves into.

I did e-mail Brook afterwards, asking her “OK, this one aspect confused me, and does it mean what I think it means?” and she wrote back and said “No, Lilith was doing THIS” and I was all “OH, that’s right, never mind then.” And Brook apologized for not being clear enough, but I brushed away the apology, because seriously, it was all quite clearly there; I’d just missed it because I wasn’t reading carefully enough.

And this got me thinking about how very lazy and impatient I’ve become as a romance reader. Romance novels do a lot of things really well, but they’re not particularly subtle, and many seem to assume that the reader knows little to nothing. Romances tend towards clarifying everything, which sometimes leads to awkward, infodumpy clumps or (sometimes this is worst of all) the ruin of a wonderful set-up or joke with over-explanation.

This difference was underscored recently when I re-read the beginning of Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth, one of my favorite books. (I love it so much, I gave it as a Valentine’s Day gift once, because hey, what’s more romantic than slavery, torture, death, insanity, social ruin, megalomania and bankruptcy?) The book proper begins:

The ship he meant was the Liverpool Merchant, Captain Saul Thurso, and he had never seen her, though she carried the seeds of all his dreams in her hold.

She carried death for the cotton broker who owned her, or so at least his son believed. For Erasmus Kemp it was always to seem that the ship had killed his father, and the thought poisoned his memories. Grief works its own perversions and betrayals; the shape of what we have lost is as subject to corruption as the mortal body, and Erasmus could never afterwards escape the idea that his father had been scenting his own death that drab afternoon in the timber yard on the banks of the Mersey when, amid colors of mud and saffron, he had lowered himself rather awkwardly down to sniff at the newly cut sections of mast for his ship. Not odours of embalmment, nothing sacramental; the reek of his own death.

Now that I’ve read the book three times, the introduction makes complete sense to me, but I remember feeling confused yet excited the first time I read the first chapter. Who were these people? How did the ship kill Erasmus’s father? How did all of this tie in with the introduction? But slowly, organically, the gaps were filled in, just as new mysteries sprang to fill their place and were in turn resolved.

Science fiction and fantasy do the same thing, too—good science fiction and fantasy, that is. I much prefer to figure out aspects of the alien culture from context rather than having somebody sit down and go “Oh, you know very well what the fibbertigoo is, young Snikersnak, but once again, I will explain to you what it does…” This sort of exposition style bothers me so much, it’s part of the reason I set down Sharon Shinn’s Mystic and Rider. It was truly a disappointment after the way she set up the world in the Samaria series, when she revealed the nature of the god Jovah over the course of three books and gave no real inkling in the first book as to what was really going on vs. what the settlers believed in.

But back to Demon Angel.

When I read Brook’s first foray into the Demon Angel universe, i.e., “Falling for Anthony,” I experienced moments of impatience. She’d introduce new terminology without explaining what she meant, and I’d feel mildly indignant. “The Doyen? Who’s that? And what the hell are the Scrolls?” I caught myself, though and realized that if I’d been reading any other sort of story, I’d have faith in the author and wait for her to show me what these things meant down the road. And Brook did. The explanations sometimes creaked and clanked instead of flowing smoothly, but it all worked out quite well.

Demon Angel utilizes a similar worldbuilding/storytelling method, but I knew what to expect and didn’t balk this time. One of the more consistent complaints I’ve heard about this book is that it’s confusing, but I didn’t find it that way until the very end, when I had difficulty keeping track of which parties had bargains and wagers with the other, not to mention the assorted possible outcomes. However, this wasn’t necessarily a flaw on Brook’s part; it was more a mark of how lazy I’d become as a reader. Demon Angel forced me to keep track of events a lot more closely than I normally do with a romance novel, and really, that’s a good thing.

So what do you think? Have you noticed a tendency towards impatience or laziness in yourself when you’re reading romance novels? Do you have different expectations regarding infodumpiness and the obliqueness with which information is delivered in romance vs. other genres? Do you hate being spoonfed, or does it peeve you when authors make references or quote bits of foreign text without bothering to explain them within the story itself?

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  1. 1
    Robin says:

    OMG I totally agree with your point about Hugh and Lilith’s lustfest in the second half of the book.  It felt a little like Brook had waited so long to get them there that she wanted to make up for the long page count!  I don’t think I talked about that in my review, but it nagged at me, too (although it also reminded me of some of Linda Howard’s books where the hero is hard at the most inappropriate of times, which I know some readers find sexy but I just find sort of creepy). 

    OTOH, I also agree with everything you say about the worldbuilding, and the way DA broke the Romance norm in that regard.  And, most importantly, IMO, she did it all without sacrificing characaterization, hybridizing the Romance with SF/F in ways I hope more authors/editors will try.  Even when the writing or plotting or pacing was clunky I *knew* I was reading the product of a smart author, and that, more than anything else, predisposes me to like a book.

  2. 2

    Didn’t read the book in question, but as both a reader and an editor, I despise both spoonfeeding and infodumping.

    The mad proliferation of both is what made me throw the latest Kay Scarpetta against the wall.

    I could barely read it…it literally gave me a headache trying to find the story under all the extraneous fleeting thoughts of every goddamned character about his itchy ass and the constant “Remember this plot point? Way back on page 20? Well, here it is again, since you probably forgot. Now remember this. Write it down.” sledgehammer technique.

    As for ‘arousal’, I also hate repeat words. I will actually do word counts… my current record is 1,567 usages of the same term in a 14K manuscript.

  3. 3

    does it peeve you when authors make references or quote bits of foreign text without bothering to explain them within the story itself?

    Good god, Dorothy Dunnett.  I love the woman more than I can say (except for the times when her writing makes me want to burn all my own and then commit suicide from despair), but she habitually quotes foreign languages sans translation (or even attribution) and references points of history so obscure you’d need Ph.D.‘s in English, Scottish, French, Irish, Turkish, and Russian history to catch them all.

    Which is to say, if you try to read the Lymond Chronicles, learn to just let it go, and don’t worry about understanding everything.  It’s the only way to stay sane.

  4. 4
    The Dean says:

    From the Dean’s Desk:

    But my dears, the opportunity to enhance the inventory of potentially useful phrases for sometime in the future makes this not an author sin but perhaps only an author infraction.
    Plus for the truly tweaked reader, that’s where the Right Click; Translate might be useful.  Education, my dears, is somewhat of a task mistress.

    What causes The Dean greater anguish is the series author who sets the character context with exactly the same three paragraphs book after book. 

    The Dean is as fond of Betsy and her shoe troubles as the next academic but MJD might try the patience of her loyal readers with the exact same first two pages: Betsy, shoes, not dead, Queen of Undead World by evil trickery played by undeniably hot Eric, now King of the Undead…you get The Dean’s point.

    The Dean suggests a gentle alternative to MJD along the lines of the following:

    “I’m Betsy and you don’t know about me unless you read that story bout Tom and me which was mainly true with some stretchers”…no, wait!  That’s the beginning of the greatest American novel.  The Dean’s abject apologies to Mr. S.C.

    “I’m Betsy Taylor, ok really Elizabeth, but what can a girl do with the name and no dimonds?  I am the Queen of the Undead and now let me get right to the heart of the narrative.  If you need to know how I got this lofty position, buy the other books. OK really, I’m just (sort of) kidding. For those readers who need to know, the first pages of the other books are in Appendix A.  Knock yourself out.”

    MJD: feel free to make use of that quote. The Dean may be cited in either APA or MLA, whichever is more convenient for you.

  5. 5
    Charlene says:

    There’s a happy medium. Too little information and I get confused; too much and I get bored. Either way I’m not going to finish the book.

    One thing that does bother me is when reviewers and commenters won’t use a writer’s full name and resort constantly to initials. I’d love to read something by MJD, if I knew who the hell he or she was. We’re not all experts.

  6. 6
    Kat says:

    Frankly, I’m such a lazy romance novel reader that these days I can’t be bothered reading anything but the dialogue. I still get the story and none of the boring bits.

  7. 7
    meardaba says:

    Oh, I’d definitely agree that romance readers are lazy, and I am probably one of the laziest.  I think one of the reasons is that I am so used to being spoon-fed and not having to think about the plot/characters/actions that when this changes and an author challenges me, I get pissy. 

    IF the book makes me think but still sucks me in to the story, then I’ll keep reading and actually start using my brain.  Otherwise…bye!

  8. 8
    cassie says:

    MJD = MaryJanice Davidson, author of the “Undead and ____” books.  I liked the first one, but haven’t read past the second.  It was all too much of the same.

    After this, Robin’s review and DearAuthor’s reviews and discussions on this book, I think I’m going to have to get Demon Angel, although I also greatly dislike infodumps and being spoonfed, which doesn’t seem like it’s going to bode well for me for Shinn’s Mystic and Rider, which I’ve had on my TBR for a little while.  Maybe I should finish reading her Samaria series first.

    I tend to read very quickly – though I don’t skim unless it’s gotten really boring/terrible and I still want to finish it – unless the writing is so wonderful that it makes me slow down to read each word.  Sometimes I read slower on re-reads, just because.  I’m fine with foreign text or obscure references that are unexplained if it doesn’t disrupt the rest of the story (and sometimes even if it does); I figure I can always look it up later if the meaning is not in the context, but perhaps I haven’t read anything really challenging, like Dunnett (who sounds intriguing).  I think I read this way for all genres (and even other media such as TV shows* or movies) and have more or less the same expectations when it comes to infodumping and world-building or setting the stage for the characters.

    However, I rarely come across a romance novel I want to pick apart and discuss, unlike, for a recent example, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, which I think is fabulous (aside from a few reservations).  It’s set in the real world so the world-building probably isn’t as extensive as in, say, Robin McKinley’s Sunshine (alternate universe based on America), but I think there’s enough that you know what Forks, WA is like, and her vampires are quite different from anything I’ve read before.  I don’t recall any exposition that bothered me (in either Twilight or Sunshine), but I’m due for a re-read (of both, but Twilight first, I think).  So maybe I do have a sliding scale of expectations.

    *House drives me nuts when the writers have Wilson drop anvils about House’s motivations or feelings.  There are quite a few scenes that I thought would have been so much better if they’d just stop talking and let the viewer figure it out for him/herself, if they haven’t already.  Apparently, though, I can forgive a lot for a Greek myth reference (that is left unexplained!  And so was the one with the “30 pieces of silver”, which I thought would have been fairly obvious anyway since I’m pretty sure the title of the episode was “Finding Judas”, but according to FOX’s poll there were quite a few who didn’t get it).

  9. 9
    Em says:

    Charlene-

    MDJ=Mary Janice Davidson. Betsy is her Vampire Queen heroine.

  10. 10
    Tara Marie says:

    …it was all quite clearly there; I’d just missed it because I wasn’t reading carefully enough.

    With this quote I think you’ve hit on exactly why this book works for some people and not others.  You can’t read this without reading every word, you can’t skim, you actually need to pay attention.  I found myself going back to reread whole passages because I wasn’t paying close enough attention and I’d missed something important. And, that wasn’t the author’s fault, she included every bit of info I needed, I simply had missed it. 

    It’s not for the lazy reader, skim reader, or the speed reader. 

    I think you’re right it’s very easy to become a lazy reader when reading romance, because in most books the focus is on the couple, but once in a while a book reminds us that sometimes there’s more to the story than reaching the HEA.

  11. 11
    Marianne McA says:

    “For those readers who need to know, the first pages of the other books are in Appendix A.”

    Shouldn’t mock – I’ve seen an author do something very like that. During my teens I read the Westerns in our local library. One author had a loooooooong series, with very larger-than-life heroes, who were introduced in precisely the same way in every book.
    I always imagined the readership must have eventually complained, because at some point in the series, those parts were lifted out and instead included as appendices at the back of the book. It was the oddest thing.
    In what possible eventuality could you need a description of a main character after you’d finished the book?

  12. 12

    Infodumping is a crime committed by a writer too lazy to get deep into point-of-view. Whether this is the fault of lack of experience, a looming deadline, burnout, or what-have-you, doesn’t matter. The result is the reader is given explanations instead of experiences.

    Ideally, the crap should be blue-penciled, but these days, the deadlines are too tight, and the critique groups are dropping in collective IQ points*. Do you know how often writers blog about what their critique group wanted more explanations for? And yet, I don’t think more explanation is really what they’re after, they just don’t know better.

    *Maybe it’s not that bad, but in their rush to be published, the critique group gals are not doing their homework, either.

  13. 13
    Eliza says:

    I hate hate HATE being spoonfed anything, either in books or in TV, as it always takes me out of the story and makes me wonder why the hell this character is playing exposition fairy when everyone so clearly knows what’s going on. In some things it’s expected, however, like the cheesy sci-fi I so enjoy. Trashy romance is one of those areas where I usually overlook it simply because I’ve come to expect it; when the author doesn’t use clunky exposition to play to the least intelligent in her readership, I’m always pleasantly surprised.

    I do have to say, though, that while I agree that the world-building in Mystic and Rider was initially pretty damn clunky, I was able to overlook it because the characters were very obviously explaining it for the benefit of the outsider, in this case the slave kid who they picked up in the opening chapter. The use of the outsider as a legitimate vehicle for explanation of an unfamiliar world – having him ask questions that the reader might be asking – is one of those devices that, while it might annoy me a little, I can understand and accept its usage. And I found that the book itself, once you got through the first three or so chapters, was actually really wonderful – not quite so good as Summers at Castle Auburn, which I loved, but definitely good enough for me to buy the sequels. But I’m forgiving when it comes to fantasy.

    In any case, as long as the exposition isn’t over the top clunky, I can tolerate it. Like someone mentioned with House, MD – if we’re in a society where the majority of people aren’t going to get the “thirty pieces of silver” reference, I can cut authors who over-explain a little bit of slack.

  14. 14
    kardis says:

    I agree with many other posters that I have become a lazy reader, and a lazy movie watcher. I just feel like I went through so many crappy books and movies that left me unsatisfied that I eventually just turned the old brain off and sat back to enjoy the ride. I didn’t really find most of DA hard to follow, but I do think that I took it a little bit too much at face value. So, I think I should read it again with my brain fully engaged. I don’t like info-dumping but I’ve gotten so used to it that I hardly notice it anymore. Argh. P.S. Candy- I laughed so hard when Meljean made the All Your Base reference, I will love her forever just for that!!

  15. 15
    SandyW says:

    I find I don’t mind the occasional info-dump, as long as it’s useful information, enhancing my reading of the story. I would rather see background/historical/worldbuilding all tidily grouped together and labeled as such than disguised in conversation. (As you well know, Percy, the cavalry is equipped with the Spencer Repeating Rifle which can fire…)

    One of my favorite examples is the introduction to Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider books (it’s been decades, so I may be a little off)
    ‘Rukbat is a golden g-type star in the Sagittarian sector…”
    The introduction provides all the background the reader should need to be able to dive right in to the story and not be totally lost.

    I also appreciate it when an author is successful at dribbling out bits and pieces of information and making me work a little to put it all together, like Meljean Brook did quite well. Yeah, it wasn’t an easy read. And it was a little slow in spots. But I will be standing in line to get her next book.

  16. 16
    Kass says:

    I don’t think romance reader = lazy. I do think that readers are entitled to decide what they want from a book. Want a book written in understandable English? Pass on Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress (which I read all the way through and hated). Want a book that you don’t have to read and reread in order to understand it? Pass on Karen Armstrong. I tried one of her books (The Battle for God?) and it was a wrestling match with my brain. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the payoff had been better, of course, but it wasn’t.

    I’ve attended law school. I can read things that are written in odd ways and comprehend them. I don’t mind uses of phrases in different languages, as I know French decently well and have sung in others enough to at least recognize the language. And I don’t mind picking my battles. Some books aren’t worth fighting through to read, IMO (like Shadowheart). Some are. Everyone will draw a line in a different place. I don’t have a problem with your line as long as you don’t come over here and start trying to erase mine. :)

    My word is meaning73, and believe me, I mean it.

  17. 17
    Robin says:

    I don’t think romance reader = lazy. I do think that readers are entitled to decide what they want from a book.

    I agree with both these statements, although I don’t think anyone is categorically equating reading Romance with lazy reading.

    Speaking only for myself, I DO worry that I’ve become a less vigilant reader, if not sloppier, at least more conditioned to bad copyediting, less complex books, and unsbutle writing over the almost three years in which I’ve been reading Romance.  Sure, some of it has to do with the fact that I’ve adapted to certain generic conventions and adjusted some of my own expectations accordingly.  But some of it is that I’ve just plain gotten used to some things that I wish I hadn’t.  And I wonder if I, as a reader who is still plenty critical when I’m working in my own field, for example, am slowly being worn down by what I see as somewhat low expectations on the part of authors and publishers for what constitutes *good* Romance.  And I wonder, more broadly, if one of the reasons publishers are getting away with shorter page counts, for example, is that genre readers DO slowly adjust their expectations downward to a point where we’re less bothered by things wwe would once find objectionable.  Just in my own reading experience I think I have become more tolerant of errors, inconsistencies, info-dumping, fill-in-the-blank plots, and hackneyed devices, and that disturbs me.

  18. 18
    Miriellie says:

    I would say that I have to agree with Robin that I have come to tolerate more errors and info-dumping when I read romance.  Mostly because I’m coming off reading academic writing and don’t want to have to think too much.  At the same time, I do want an engaging story.

    But I would argue that books in general are coming out in print before they are truly in their best form.  There’s a pressure to come out with the next hit, and it results in poorer quality.

  19. 19
    DS says:

    In fantasy infodumping is something I connect with authors just starting out.  For instance, the worse case I can remember in fantasy was in Lynn Flewelling’s first published book Luck in the Shadows.  Ever so often one of the characters would start explaining their world to another character and I would start wanting to tear my hair out, especially since I was listening to the book being read and couldn’t fast forward. 

    I’m really not a fan of any sentence that begins “As you know” unless it is a courtesy where one is saying “I am not assuming that you don’t know this obvious this, but just in case….”

    Simon R. Green also wrote a series of short novels published in the US by Ace.  The Hawk & Fisher series also always introduced the characters with the same words.  Once past that they were pretty good dark fantasy/mystery novels with a nice pinch of romance.

  20. 20
    Robin says:

    But I would argue that books in general are coming out in print before they are truly in their best form.  There’s a pressure to come out with the next hit, and it results in poorer quality.

    I totally agree with this, and imagine that it must really bother some authors, as well, who are writing under the gun all the time and end up having to compromise for the sake of publication.  But while I think it’s a *reason* for diminishing quality, I don’t want to accept it as an *excuse* because it doesn’t HAVE to be this way.  Publishers may try to sell us on the idea that voracious readers push the need for ever more books, but with so many authors NOT selling past their first or first few contracted books, it can’t be readers alone driving this particular bus.  Personally, I’m not convinced that publishing a few less books in a year would imperil market diversity (such as it is now) so much as it would allow for better, more readable books (and perhaps more sustainable long-term careers for more authors).

  21. 21
    rebyj says:

    I’m not a lazy reader, I’m a cynical reader, I assume I’ve read it all/seen it all before.
    That’s why a book has to really draw me in before I put the effort into really disecting it and THINK on it.
    Sharon Shinns series you mentioned did that as well as Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series.

    I spent time reading, re-reading and cross referencing from one book to the ot her. I had a blast!

    That said, I read a lot so I don’t HAVE to think. It’s an escape and there are plenty of novels out there that don’t demand any effort.

  22. 22
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Romance novels do a lot of things really well, but they’re not particularly subtle,

    Subtle goes right over too many readers heads. Subtle is for literary fiction (or so I’ve been told by multiple editors). The first round of rejections on my book all said that I needed to make things more blatant. That I needed to make it obvious what they were thinking/feeling, cause if I didn’t too many readers weren’t going to get it.

    Do I buy this?

    Not entirely. One of the things I love about Heyer is that she’s subtle. Lots of stuff is hinted at, but there’s no brick to the side of the head. Maybe editors (and authors) are underestimating readers, but when I read the comments above (readers who only read dialogue, people who can’t follow the slightly highbrow themes in House, etc.) it makes me think they’re on to something.

  23. 23
    Octavia says:

    I *have* noticed the literalness of romance novels, and I’ve always thought that it had something to do with how we feel when we are falling in love—that absolute fascination with the beloved, to the point that you are interested in and really want to know about even the tiniest detail of his life.

    It does seem to me from reading Romance sites that a lot of Romance readers are greedy for that level of detail—they really want to revel in every little aspect of the hero and heroine’s journey, however trivial, and they especially seem to like having everyone’s feelings all spelled out along the way.  I’ve often thought that that is one of the reasons why so many readers hate first person narrative in Romance, which I like a lot due to the fun of putting together the pieces of what the hero really thinks of the heroine from what she tells you about him.  So yeah, I guess I can understand why editors tell authors to be more obvious, even though I would like them to do the opposite.

    Has reading Romance made me a lazy reader?  Absolutely not.  I am still as critical and analytical and nitpicky as I ever was, and I really hate it when authors spoonfeed or infodump or otherwise make the implicit explicit, and I don’t expect to change anytime soon.  That does mean that I have to choose my authors carefully and that I probably don’t read as much Romance as a lot of other readers of the genre do, but I also think it helps keep me from getting burned out in the genre.

  24. 24
    Jackie says:

    Fascinating conversation.

    Can’t wait to read DEMON ANGEL.

    The hardest thing for me to do is read a book based on its own merit/strengths, and stop rewriting it in my head. “But it SHOULD BE this way” thoughts. Ugh. Wretched stuff, really. Pushing aside the writer to make room for the reader can really interfere with my enjoyment of a book, especially in my genre.

    But right after that, I hate being spoonfed. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’m not stupid. That being said, I loathe infodumps, but I get that sometimes, they’re necessary. When an author pulls off an infodump that doesn’t feel like an infodump, I stand up and cheer. And then I take copious notes.

    Crap, there I go, not reading just to read. Grrr. Hazard of the job, I suppose…

  25. 25
    Jackie says:

    (Er, of course, shoving aside the writer in me to make room for the reader is totally my problem, and has nothing to do with the book I’m reading. Unless it’s a particularly fabulous book, where I’m sucked in and tune out everything else, I will always have a little voice in my head whispering how the author SHOULD have written the book. Sheesh. Thank God chocolate shuts that voice up. For a while.)

  26. 26
    edeevee says:

    Ahhh, the veil is lifted!

    I don’t write (or read) romance but I have a friend who does both. Recently, we swapped manuscripts.

    In my feedback of hers, I constantly harped: Show don’t tell! Be more subtle! Trust your reader!

    In her critique of my YA, she repeated (ad nauseum): But, how does she FEEL about this?!

    Well jeez, I thought the cough and eyeroll said exactly how she felt.

    Maybe we’re both right for our respective genres?

  27. 27
    Robin says:

    I *have* noticed the literalness of romance novels, and I’ve always thought that it had something to do with how we feel when we are falling in love—that absolute fascination with the beloved, to the point that you are interested in and really want to know about even the tiniest detail of his life.

    For me the problem is distinguishing the desire for visceral detail from a general lack of subtlety and a tendency to explain so much of the mundane that the more complex ideas don’t even have a chance to emerge AT ALL.  I think Kinsale, for example, is very detail oriented, and her prose can actually move in slow motion for me as it lights upon so many small moments, details, and emotions.  She creates a lot of her emotional intensity by making her prose, well, I would say almost claustrophobic, but I don’t mean that as a criticism.

    OTOH, there is some Romance writing that’s just unsubtle, dull, and pitched, IMO, to a lower common denominator.  And if editors and publishers are offering the ‘wisdom’ that readers can’t get past those lower levels of understanding, what a pathetic state of affairs that is. 

    It reminds me of the kid who is tagged early on in school as academically challenged, and who, from then on, is placed in less academically challenging classes, so that by the time (god willing) the kid actually emerges from high school, he is sufficiently dumbed down by the system as to perform at a much lower standard than he might have otherwise.  If the publishing industry wants to pitch some books low, go for it—personally I think it’s a gargantuan insult to humankind as a whole, but whatever.  But when that becomes the norm (and I think it might be), IMO we’re all in trouble, because a certain level of ability is suddently being *prescribed* to the reading public, and that MAKES ME WANT TO SCREAM IN FRUSTRATION AND RAGE!  Not only at the arrogant presumption but also at the ass backwards logic.  (And Octavia, just so you know, I’m not directing my rant at you or anyone here—yours was just the last comment I read before I posted).

  28. 28
    cassie says:

    Maybe we’re both right for our respective genres?

    I don’t know… I probably read as equal amounts of Romance and YA, and info-dumping or anvil-dropping in either is not something I usually appreciate.  As for not having enough information or decription or whatever, I think there’s quite a difference between ambiguity/mystery and confusion, and reader perception or interpretation plays a part too.  I wouldn’t generalize – have you read Robin’s review of Demon Angel?  There’s a section where she’s saying the same thing you are: “Show don’t tell! Be more subtle! Trust your reader!”; I know I’ve said it more than a few times for both Romance and YA books (and other genres).

  29. 29
    Marianne McA says:

    Never know where to look for stats on the internet, but as a starter:
    “However the average reading age of UK citizens is only that of the average educated nine year old.”

    So, playing Devil’s Advocate, Robin – is it such a massive insult to pitch books low? If the majority of people read at a low level, why isn’t it a good thing that books at that level are available to them?

    (I’ve said before, but in the interests of full disclosure, my youngest daughter is severely dyslexic and it is stonkingly hard to find her age appropriate books written at a level she can read. She’s eleven, and I’d guess she’s now reading at the level of an ‘educated nine year old’.)

  30. 30
    Robin says:

    So, playing Devil’s Advocate, Robin – is it such a massive insult to pitch books low? If the majority of people read at a low level, why isn’t it a good thing that books at that level are available to them?

    Putting entirely aside issues of dyslexia and similar learning challenges, I stand by my original assessment, in part *because* of the stat you cite, Marianne. 

    Maybe it’s my own background as a teacher, and quite a bit of experience teaching “remedial” college students (the university’s word, not mine), but I don’t think this is an issue of accessibility or democratizing literature.  I think it’s a combination of a)lessening academic standards and ubiquitous tracking of certain cohorts of students out of college-oriented academic tracks, b)a conflation of education levels and intelligence levels, and c)a paternalistic attitude toward students who are not as educationally gifted that deems them less able to be successfully challenged academically.  IMO, that literacy rates are comparably (and IMO scandalously) low in countries like the US and those that comprise the UK is more of a *result* of low-shot educational expectations and opportunities than a reason to perpetuate them.

    A similar democratizing argument is made here for so-called “vocational” institutes, where students earn certification in any number of fields, from massage therapy to dental or medical assistance.  While I agree that students who wish to pursue a vocational track should be encouraged and supported in that goal, IMO they should also be given every educational opportunity to develop certain core academic skills before setting out on that path.  Unfortunately, such is not the case, and it’s often those students who were most poorly served by schools that end up in vocational tracks, a reality which, IMO, runs completely counter to the goal of truly democratic education.

    IMO if we truly want to make books available to *everyone*, we should be focused on raising literacy and comprehension rates.  Of course, the more citizens can read and think for themselves, the more the politicos have to worry about, I suppose.

    As to your daughter, I’m terribly sorry about her dyslexia; I cannot imagine what it must be like to struggle so with that kind of challenge, and I hope we continue to develop better teaching and learning strategies for kids like your daughter.  Under any circumstances, she’s not the average reader, and IIRC the ressearch shows that dyslexic children are often very intellectually gifted, which must make the obstacles to reading that much more difficult to bear.

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