A Bibliophile's View of the Library

What Makes An Author Worth Reading?

This is a guest article from Donna. Leave some comments and maybe we can get her to be a regular contributor.


Bibliophilia in Action

A Bibliophile’s View of the Library

I’ll be the first to admit to having a long-standing obsession with books. As a child, I read Nancy Drew and The Chronicles of Narnia obsessively. I have traveled with Bilbo and Frodo to the Lonely Mountain and Mordor once a year, every year (starting on their shared birthday) since I was a teenager.

In high school, I explored many of the “classics” – Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, Dostoevsky, James, Joyce, Thackeray, Tolstoy, Twain – I tore through anything and everything I could lay my hands on. Thomas Mann intrigued me so much that I took two classes about his novels while in college, and even considered learning German just so I could read his work in the “authentic” language.

Since then, my tastes have grown much more pedestrian. In my late twenties, mysteries held a great appeal for me. Agatha Christie was a minor fixation for a while, but soon Ngaio Marsh took over. It was at that point that I formed the habit of reading an author’s works repeatedly in chronological order – from “A Man Lay Dead” (1934) through “Light Thickens” (1982), I spent 3 years of my life memorizing every nuance of Marsh’s Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn.


The Boy Who Lived

The Boy Who Lived

My obsession with the Potter universe outstripped all my other prior obsessions by a significant amount…


And then we had The Boy Who Lived. My obsession with the Potter universe outstripped all my other prior obsessions by a significant amount, and affected my life more profoundly than I would have thought possible. Admittedly, Jo Rowling’s writing is less than perfect (“the treetops were gilded with gold” still drives me up the wall – what else would they be gilded with?), but her sense of humor and the integrity of her storytelling are truly memorable.

Now that it’s over though, what’s a Potter-obsessed girl to do? I can, and will, continue to re-read the series, talk about it with my friends, and look back on some of the developments (especially in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”) with regret. Eventually however, there will come a time when I need something else to read.

I’ve started my search, and so far, have been sorely disappointed. Scott Westerfeld’s trilogy (“Uglies,” “Pretties,” and “Specials”) was nicely subversive and reasonably interesting, though I have to say I ended up feeling a bit disappointed with the ending. Good guys win, and bad guys really aren’t bad guys after all – not much subtlety there, and absolutely no re-read value.


Plum Bad

A friend recommended Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series as being entertaining. I’ve read a few, but to be honest, I have a hard time getting past her lazy writing and non-existent editing.

Pasta or Sandwich?

A character starts eating cold leftover pasta in one paragraph, yet a few sentences later, he’s finishing up his sandwich?


Though she gives credit to an editor, her writing shows all the signs of being slapped together with little thought for characterization, grammatical correctness, or even continuity. She frequently contradicts her own minor facts (A character starts eating cold leftover pasta in one paragraph, yet a few sentences later, he’s finishing up his sandwich?). Her characters are inconsistent, unbelievable, unintelligible caricatures (a tough-talking street punk with a ghetto vocabulary from the first book is a smooth, literate pillar of society later in the series). I find myself getting angry with her publishers for foisting this mess on the public. I am amazed that anyone can be getting paid to “edit” her work; I can only assume they’re afraid to kill the goose that laid the golden egg by correcting the egregious errors that crop up on almost every page she writes.

Worst of all, I cannot imagine anyone churning out this kind of sloppy, hackneyed garbage and not being heartily ashamed of herself. Is Ms. Evanovich so clueless that she actually thinks her writing is good? Yet she is apparently “working on” (I use the term loosely) the 16th book in the series, and if past sales are any indication, will make a tidy sum off of it.


The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

This has got me wondering – what makes an author worth reading? And what does the author owe to the reading public?

Naturally, the story is of paramount importance. No matter how skillfully something is crafted or how carefully it’s edited, if the story fails to engage or move its intended audience, it’s not worth committing to paper.

Characters have to be believable. They have to be “real” enough to care about. That doesn’t mean, however, obviously fictional characters can’t be worthwhile. I’ve just finished reading Gregory Maquire’s “Wicked”, and his Elphaba is one of the most consistently sympathetic characters I’ve encountered. She’s just quirky enough to keep you guessing; it’s impossible not to get drawn into the story of her life.

It really boils down to integrity. If an author is focused on producing their best, if they concentrate on doing justice to their story, it will be worth reading. If, on the other hand, all they care about is churning out a product to make a quick buck, that will be obvious too. While I can’t presume to tell anyone else what to buy or not to buy, I can at least say that I intend to continue to patronize those authors who make an honest effort and shun those who are just in it for the money.
Fin. The End.


Biography: Donna Lafferty is an avid reader (well, duh). She is co-administrator of Knockturn Alley (www.knockturn.org), author and presenter of The Grand Unified Horcrux Theory (presented May 20, 2007 at Phoenix Rising). She owns a day spa in Bloomington, Indiana, plays the trombone, and spends way too much time on the computer.

[tags]Fandoms, Books, Opinion, Guest Post, Reading, Bibliophile, Bibliophilia, Authors, Austen, the Brontes, Bronte, Dickens, Dostoevsky, James, Joyce, Thackeray, Tolstoy, Twain, Thomas Mann, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, A Man Lay Dead, Light Thickens, J.K. Rowling, Rowling, Harry Potter, Deathly Hallows, Scott Westerfeld, Janet Evanovich, Stephanie Plum, Gregory Maquire, Wicked, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West [/tags]

6 thoughts on “What Makes An Author Worth Reading?

  1. Funner

    I also love to read lots of books. Sometimes I do not have time, but for example I like Vargas Llossa, I like the classics…I like also science books…

  2. Tina Kubala

    I agree that being believable is the top issue in making an author great. I am rereading Stephen King’s set of short stories “Skeleton Crew” right now because “The Mist” is one of the stories. As unbelievable as his subjects are, I believe every word when I’m reading them.

  3. sports xoom

    I really miss being a kid and reading the same books you mentioned. I remember one of my favorites was Indian in the cupboard. I don’t seem to read as many books anymore since the existence of the internet.

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  5. Donna

    Hi Funner! When you say “science books” are you talking about science fiction, or technical, non-fiction? My husband is a physicist so when he mentions “science books” he’s talking about Quantum Mechanics. That sort of thing is way over my head, and I’m all sorts of impressed by people who can follow it.

    Tina Kubala – Have you read Stephen King’s Dark Tower series? Some of that was pretty hard to get through (kind of disgusting), but I really enjoyed “The Wolves of the Calla.” That man can write.

    And ooh Sports xoom! My mother is a huge fan of “The Indian in the Cupboard”! I hadn’t read it until about ten years ago, but it’s very imaginative and original (two more very important things in a good author, right?)

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