The last refuge of the unimaginative

Readers fall into one of two major camps: readers who are interested in style, and readers who are interested in substance. Everyone cares about both, but everyone will pick a side in the question of Robin Cook versus Hugh Laurie.

Robin Cook is a medical doctor, and some kind of genius. He’s written medical thrillers for years, including Foreign Body, Cure, Intervention, among others. His plots are airtight, appropriately convoluted, tense, and wonderful. Unfortunately, he’s a man of science more than he is a man of words. His plots are interesting – his writing is not. I’ve read some of these books, but not many, because I’m more of a Hugh Laurie gal.

Hugh Laurie, of Blackadder, Jeeves & Wooster, and House, has written one book: The Gun Seller. I loved this book. Were there some plot holes? Maybe. Imperfect characterization? Sure. Whatever. But his writing style keeps me in it. That’s what makes me turn pages – not figuring out who injected the syringe full of air into the neck of the Senator’s beautiful wife. Because I don’t care about the Senator’s beautiful wife. I really don’t. Not until you make me.

A further example: Wrack, by James Bradley, and now out of print. This book scarred me in a way that previously Hunter S. Thompson was only capable of. It had a weird plot, an uneven timeline, and chapters that were dissertations on maps and history (okay, so maybe that’s my thing). But this book moved me in a way that I simply cannot put into words. Raw, visceral, horrifyingly, seat-squirmingly, uncomfortable in parts – even the bad guys, I liked. I like uncomfortable prose. Chuck Palahniuk, Hunter Thompson, Jack Kerouac (and every beat author ever), even Jim Butcher (the most recent Dresden Files, Changes, had me cussing him for two weeks). I like it when I don’t like it.

Maybe that’s why I like Batman more than Superman.

Anyway, when you’re a style-over-substance reader, like myself, I think it’s easier to jump genres. My mother, whose favorite genre is probably the historical murder mystery, will read anything that makes her turn the page. She’s been reading my manuscripts, urban fantasies, and she likes them. Why? She likes the way I write. She likes my protagonist. And I know it’s my mom, but she’s one of the most trustworthy readers I know.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, anything by Stephen Fry, any non-celebrity memoirs (and a lot of celebrities). Look, I am not saying these things are without plot, without merit. But I think there’s far more talent in someone who can literally make nothing interesting than someone who can’t make anything interesting.

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One Response to The last refuge of the unimaginative

  1. Zena Shapter says:

    You know, I’ve never been able to my finger on why I find it easy to jump genres. I think you’ve just given me the solution: I must be a style-over-substance reader! Great post.

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