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Vemy Paw
01-16-2012, 11:34 AM
A few years ago, a local new author made a surprising best-seller with his first published book (about 20 million copies, legal and pirated). It was a record in our country. My friends thought it was very good. The reviews recommended it as a must read. I thought it was good too, much better than some other books by local authors here.

And then someone I know, who is a professor (of statistics) and have read thousands of books, told me that 'admittedly the book is good, but the author hasn't read widely enough.'

Is it really possible to tell whether an author hasn't read enough books by reading his novels?
Is there other author you know of that you think needs to read more books? If so, why? Btw, I'm not talking about books which are not researched enough.

ETA, I just realised that I may have posted this on the wrong sub-forum. If this is the case, I'm really sorry, please move this to the right room. Thank you.

mccardey
01-16-2012, 11:44 AM
Is it possible that the professor meant that the author isn't being read as much as they deserve? Down here, if we wanted to say an author deserves to be read more widely, we might say she is under-read. If we mean that the author hasn't read widely enough, we'd more likely say that he - well - hasn't read widely enough.

Vemy Paw
01-16-2012, 11:46 AM
Is it possible that the professor meant that the author isn't being read as much as they deserve? Down here, if we wanted to say an author deserves to be read more widely, we might say she is under-read. If we mean that the author hasn't read widely enough, we'd more likely say that he - well - hasn't read widely enough.

OMG, I think that's me translating it the wrong way, lol :tongue
Sorry, what I meant by under-read is that he hasn't read enough books. I'll go and edit that.
Thank you!

mccardey
01-16-2012, 11:50 AM
OMG, I think that's me translating it the wrong way, lol :tongue
Sorry, what I meant by under-read is that he hasn't read enough books. I'll go and edit that.

Oh, no - your words are probably fine. Australia is a long way away after all, and we tend to have our own way of saying things!


To answer your question then, I suppose it might be a case of the writing being a bit simplistic, or perhaps unintentionally old-fashioned? Other than that, I can't really see how someone could judge it - but then I'm not trained in that sort of thing...


ETA: Admittedly, I don't know where you are - but Australia is a long way away from everywhere...

Vemy Paw
01-16-2012, 11:52 AM
Oh, no - your words are probably fine. Australia is a long way away after all, and we tend to have our own way of saying things!

I edited it anyway :)

ETA
And actually where I am is pretty close from Australia ;)

blacbird
01-16-2012, 11:56 AM
Factual errors, maybe?

caw

mccardey
01-16-2012, 11:59 AM
Factual errors, maybe?

caw

Or perhaps not being up-to-date with current thinking on whatever the topic is? Not being aware of the discussion happening at the moment, and instead addressing last year's discussion. This would apply more to non fiction work, I suppose, though it might come up in fiction as well.


Are you going to give me a hint? ;) How close to Australia?

Anna L.
01-16-2012, 12:00 PM
I suppose I might call an author under-read if they told everybody their work was fresh and new while it was just old clichés put together, meaning that the author reads so few books that they're unaware what's common and what's actually new. Maybe it would apply if the writing was simplistic, with limited vocabulary and sentence structures, because these are things you can improve simply by reading more books.

Those are my best guesses.

Vemy Paw
01-16-2012, 12:14 PM
Factual errors, maybe?
It's an autobiography, so I don't think it's factual error, but I can be wrong...

Compared to the current books in my country, this book actually more complicated than most. It's about kids, but aimed to adults, and addressed common problems that people don't usually comfortable talking about (discrimination, poverty) in fiction-like prose that even people who hate reading read it.

The professor lives in Europe, though, so he probably was comparing the book to international standard. I heard the international version of the book don't sell as well (about thousands in the US), but I've seen the translation and IMO it was nowhere as good as the original version. May be a cultural thing.


Are you going to give me a hint? ;) How close to Australia?
Close enough to know how it feels to live in the future :D

mccardey
01-16-2012, 12:22 PM
.
Close enough to know how it feels to live in the future :D

I've repped you for being ahead of Australia....

Vemy Paw
01-16-2012, 12:24 PM
I've repped you for being ahead of Australia....

Er, actually you're still ahead than me, but thanks to the rep all the same :D

Terie
01-16-2012, 12:49 PM
First of all, since pirated copies aren't typically paid for (and I'd argue often aren't read), including them in your numbers of copies isn't meaningful. We can't tell whether the author has sold 19 million copies and 1 million have been pirated, or if he's sold 20,000 and the other 19.8 million have been pirated. Could you maybe give us an accurate number of current sales?

That said, I'd imagine his sales are in the quite-a-few-millions, and at that point, who gives a fuck what some professor (of any subject) says or thinks? The author did something right that resonates with readers, and.....

That's ALL that matters. :D

(Also? I'd suspect the green-eyed monster is a major factor in the prof's comment.)

Terie
01-16-2012, 01:09 PM
On a more serious note, another thing about memoirs is that most people who write them aren't first-and-foremost writers. They're people who have interesting life stories to tell. Many of them don't ever (and never meant to) write anything other than their memoir. Besides, most memoirs are actually written by ghostwriters.

So the criticism that a memoir's author isn't 'widely enough read' isn't really valid criticism for that type of author anyway. Reading widely is something that a professional author in the gig for the long term needs to do, not necessarily something a one-time memoirist needs to be worried about.

And I still get a strong whiff of the green-eyed monster.

AmethystEva
01-16-2012, 02:28 PM
To be honest I notice it when the author has factual errors, but when the story is a page-turner and all I want to do is know what's going to happen next, like the hundreds of novels I've read so far turned out to be, I really don't care. I think of it as nobody's perfect, everybody makes mistakes, and when I do get published sometime down the road, someone will notice a mistake I made because it'll be obvious, so if I noticed something I wouldn't make a big deal of it. Some writers read a lot less than other writers do, and that's fine with me. This author wrote a novel because he or she had a story to tell, and personally I wouldn't dismiss it because the author happened to not read that much. All that matters is that it's a good story. That's my opinion. :) All I know is I am lucky to say I am not under-read. That I remember I've read close to 800 novels in my lifetime, starting from a very early age, children's books at six, and I have 10 more to read in my TV stand, so I'm cool.

JimmyB27
01-16-2012, 02:53 PM
Could be that he's using a lot of done-to-death tropes/clichés?

Literateparakeet
01-16-2012, 04:29 PM
Vemy Paw,

I have noticed that my favorite authors and directors read classic books. How do I know this? I had a hypothesis about it so I started digging a little, and so far it holds true, the best writers have read the best books.

Naturally, I can't think of any book examples right now (sorry!), but one of my favorite screen writer/director/actors is Richard Dutcher. He did God's Army, Brigham City, States of Grace and a few others. From Wikipedia: Wade Major of Boxoffice Magazine wrote of the director, "Dutcher has joined the ranks of the very best independent filmmakers in the world. One of his favorite books is War and Peace by Tolstoy.

I think it is a depth of understanding of human nature and life that comes through their work.

ETA: What was the best selling book?

iRock
01-16-2012, 04:58 PM
When their work lacks crunch.

When they do what's been done before, the way it's been done before - and don't know it. A well-read writer will scope out their own genre as well as others.

When they're using someone else's (or several someone else's) voice/style.

When they come into a writers' forum and say, "I don't read much/enjoy reading, but I want to write a book!" and don't understand why we groan.

Vemy Paw
01-16-2012, 05:25 PM
On a more serious note, another thing about memoirs is that most people who write them aren't first-and-foremost writers. They're people who have interesting life stories to tell. Many of them don't ever (and never meant to) write anything other than their memoir. Besides, most memoirs are actually written by ghostwriters.

The author is a new author (at that time). By now he has already published at least 4 books locally. The pirated copies, which was more than double the amount of legitimate books sold, pissed the author very much that he probably will publish his next book internationally (I'm reluctant to talk about it here because I'm ashamed of those unashamed people in my country who had done the shameful illegal activity so un-shamefully :tongue).

I think I need to clarify here that the comment was a personal remark the professor made when we were having a casual conversation (face to face), it was not a review, so there was no harm done to the author's credibility. If there was anything about his comment, I think it probably was more honest, since the professor didn't make anything out of it. Or maybe it was out of envy, honestly I don't know.

What I want to know is just how come he could know that only by reading the book?

Terie
01-16-2012, 05:30 PM
What I want to know is just how come he could know that only by reading the book?

He couldn't know, unless he personally knew for a fact that the author didn't read much. Otherwise it was a guess or an assumption based on a reading of the book. Others upstream have given clues as to what he might have been basing his guess/assumption on.

Vemy Paw
01-16-2012, 05:41 PM
He couldn't know, unless he personally knew for a fact that the author didn't read much. Otherwise it was a guess or an assumption based on a reading of the book. Others upstream have given clues as to what he might have been basing his guess/assumption on.

I see...
It's probably this.
For a long time I've been curious about how could he know...?


ETA

When their work lacks crunch.

When they do what's been done before, the way it's been done before - and don't know it. A well-read writer will scope out their own genre as well as others.

When they're using someone else's (or several someone else's) voice/style.

When they come into a writers' forum and say, "I don't read much/enjoy reading, but I want to write a book!" and don't understand why we groan.

Logically, if this is what the author was doing, then the book wouldn't have been a best-seller, correct?

Polenth
01-17-2012, 12:13 AM
There's been work posted for critique where it's obvious the author doesn't read. It's hard to pin down exactly what about the work makes it show, but out-of-date ideas, ideas developed from TV shows rather than the current fiction genre, lack of understanding of genre expectations and absence of any story structure are common ones. There's a feel to work like that, and it isn't a good feel.

That doesn't mean the professor is right about that particular book. I'd have a hard time imagining the cases I'm talking about doing well or getting good reviews, as they don't hold together as stories.

MJNL
01-17-2012, 12:28 AM
Well, to give an example of an author who obviously hadn't ready very widely when he was first published: Christopher Paolini. His first book was so derivative it was painfully obvious exactly which books he'd read--and how many books he hadn’t read. Not enough to realize what he was writing was, to be honest, cliché. If his parents hadn't been publishers that first novel never would have seen the light of day. It also explains why most of his fans are in the same boat: kids who haven’t read a lot of different things yet. The story feels great and original to them because they haven't been exposed to all the things like it that came before.

Now that he's older, and I'm sure has read more, I hear he's getting better.

Midian
01-17-2012, 12:43 AM
I definitely think there are times when I notice this. It's usually in the mechanics that I notice. But like Polenth, I have a hard time believing that a book that has questionable mechanics would become a huge hit. Of course, I have several books on my bookshelf that I wonder what cosmic lottery they won to become a NYT bestseller because either the writer wasn't very good (and I don't mean the divisive feelings some writers have about James Patterson, JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer type good v. bad writing--I mean quite obviously no-professional-in-their-right-mind-could-have-actually-chosen-to-publish-this-but-somehow-it-happened bad) or the editor wasn't very good or both sooo...

I think there are two things that are possible here:

1. Your professor friend was being overly critical and wanted to appear smart because, well, he's smart.

2. Your professor friend saw something in his writing that made him truly feel that way. Ask him what he meant. It's hard to know what would clue him in on that without having read the book since it is such a huge hit. But this is part of why I love literature: great discussions.

Libbie
01-17-2012, 08:09 AM
Could be that he's using a lot of done-to-death tropes/clichés?

This is usually what comes to mind for me when I think "This person hasn't read enough to justify writing." That, or their spelling and syntax and grammar are just awful, or their storytelling skills are dismal -- but if they're flawed in those areas they wouldn't have sold so many copies.

Celia Cyanide
01-17-2012, 08:14 AM
It's an autobiography, so I don't think it's factual error, but I can be wrong...

If it is autobiography, it is possible that the professor knows something about the person's reading habits.

The Lonely One
01-17-2012, 08:16 AM
It's difficult to do something impressive with information that's new to you and old to everyone else. Nothing wrong with old ideas, but taking your own spin is a bit of a shot in the dark if you're not aware of those who've done it before. Maybe this author hit some common chords in a way that didn't impress your professor.

EDIT: if it's autobiography, maybe it's just the material the author is presenting seems to not take into account outside information that would be relevant.

Otherwise I have no idea.

Rhoda Nightingale
01-17-2012, 05:55 PM
2. Your professor friend saw something in his writing that made him truly feel that way. Ask him what he meant. It's hard to know what would clue him in on that without having read the book since it is such a huge hit.

Yeah, this. You'd get a much clearer answer as to what your professor friend meant and why he felt this way if you ask him. Context is everything. There are some books I've read that I felt this way about, but I'd need to cite specific examples first.

Paolini should have read more high fantasy.

Brown should have read more of the gnostic gospels.

Meyers should have read more vampire fiction.

But just saying, "Author X should have read more books" is pretty vague.

Bufty
01-17-2012, 06:24 PM
This question arose by way of a comment in a casual conversation concerning a memoir? And the listener didn't understand what the speaker meant, but didn't say so?

If the prof is the only one out of 20 million readers to pass such a comment it hardly seems worth bothering about. And not being a psychic mind-reader I haven't a clue what he meant.

I would think it virtually impossible to say whether or not a published novelist hadn't read enough books simply from reading the novel or memoir or whatever.

Tirjasdyn
01-17-2012, 06:58 PM
We have authors who do not read at all or not enough, come through our group from time to time. We can tell almost immediately that an author hasn't been reading or has a very limited reading scope.

Characters, real or imagined, are very superficial and flatter than copy paper.

Author misunderstands or plain doesn't know tropes in their genre.

Author tries to be experimental but is only confusing the reader.

Author uses the plots which have been used before exactly how they have been used before. Retelling Star Wars is popular.

Story doesn't make sense and questioning the author (should you have the opportunity) gets you a two hour diatribe on what's going on.

Author uses sentences that mean one thing in popular culture but they think it means something else.

Author makes writing mistakes that you learn to avoid because reading them is painful.


The first time this happened, we were shocked. However, we've had so many come through that we ended up putting reading questions on our application. Does this mean you won't become famous? No, several examples above prove that. Dan Brown wrote what every freshman in college studying folklore and religion already knew, but the point is, most people aren't those freshmen. Stephanie Meyers may have the stupidest vampires in history but it appealed to teenagers and housewives writing the same fluff in fanfiction, are there are a lot of those.

Chris Paolini obviously rewrote Star Wars and tried to mix elements of one or two other books in, but he was what, 15? My first novel was a rewrite of Sword of Shannara. I was 13.

For an autobiography, a lot of times you get a person who has a phenomenal story but not the tools to write it in the same way a practiced author would. There are ways around this, but I know a few wrestling autobiographies which read like a ten year old's diary but have a gripping story. It's easier to forgive an author when it's their own story and true, I think.

Having said that, Yes. You can tell an author doesn't read just by reading their work.

Vemy Paw
01-17-2012, 07:07 PM
This question arose by way of a comment in a casual conversation concerning a memoir? And the listener didn't understand what the speaker meant, but didn't say so?

I think I felt a little inferior to him at that time; I've always looked up to him since I was very young. I haven't read very many books, since I'm a slow reader and a chooser, so I thought highly of his comments. Peace, Bufty ;)

Anyway, I too think that it's impossible to know the author's reading habit from reading his writing only (at least I can't), but I assumed it was just me being not widely read.

Probably it has something to do with him being a first time author at that time?
Btw, the book is often called an auto-biography, but I heard some parts of it are probably fictional. Can a book still called auto-biography when it's partly fictional?

NicoelSuzanne
01-19-2012, 05:33 PM
Hi there,
My boyfriend is one of those freaky geniuses. We were going through some of the share your work posts together and that is what he kept saying. That person needs to read more. This person is not well read. This person needs to hop outside their genre.

I thought that was interesting when I read this.
Of course the book pile of grumpy ole books he wants me to read keeps growing but I managed to get him to read the Hunger Games.
;)

seun
01-19-2012, 06:03 PM
Authors who ask questions which start is it ok if I swear... or am I allowed to write about sex...are making it painfully clear they need to read more books.

Midian
01-19-2012, 10:13 PM
Hi there,
My boyfriend is one of those freaky geniuses.


Sometimes that "freaky genius" thing isn't genius at all but rather, book snobbery. My husband is recovering book snob.

Vemy Paw
01-19-2012, 10:40 PM
Hi there,
My boyfriend is one of those freaky geniuses. We were going through some of the share your work posts together and that is what he kept saying. That person needs to read more. This person is not well read. This person needs to hop outside their genre.
;)

Interesting! Does he tell you how he knows it?

Filigree
01-20-2012, 01:03 AM
There's book snobbery, and then there's a wide background in writing of all kinds.

Writers who need to read more reveal their skill level through word choice, sentence structure, plotting and pacing, worldbuilding gaffes, and stereotypical characters.

It really does show.

Linda Adams
01-20-2012, 01:30 AM
We had a person in my former critique group who didn't read -- not novels, not non-fiction, something he said after the fact. Claimed he didn't have time. It showed in his novel, which had utterly no sense of story.

S.J.
01-23-2012, 12:52 AM
When they write with no awareness of the literary tradition to which they belong. Most authors seem implicitly aware of the more common or natural allusions which will spring up in their readers' minds at certain elements or turns of phrase.

Coming to a subject completely fresh-minded can produce good results, but I think it's often overrated.