Sunday, 20 June 2010

I Should Read More Bad Books

Last night I finished reading a rather poor book, His Robot Girlfriend, by Wesley Allison. It kept me awake till 3am, too! How come? And why I suddenly think I should read more bad books?

Let's make one thing clear before I go any further. Bad book His Robot Girlfriend may be, it is in no sense as bad as some scribblings may be. What I mean is, it is nowhere near the top 10, maybe even not 30 percent of books out there. Yet, it did keep me awake through most of the night. Why?

First, as someone who writes (you did notice it's what I do here?), texts lacking in style are a very good guide to how not to write. It is a very good exercise reading something and thinking how it may have been phrased better.

And here comes the first saving grace for Wesley. While the above paragraph is true, it is only so for texts that are just verging on being well written. Truly poor writing is more often than not irredeemable. So Wesley, it's not nearly as bad as it can be. After all, you did teach English, didn't you?

Next, and much more importantly, His Robot Girlfriend raises a lot of very important questions that are lurking just around the corner. Robots. Yes, I too believe they are in our future, and very likely in a way not dissimilar to the one portrayed in Wesley's book.

So, where's the problem then?

The problem with His Robot Girlfriend is that while it does raise a lot of important questions and touches on a lot of important uncertainties, it rarely, if ever, resolves them. Of course, Wesley cannot have all the answers, but at the same time, reading a book such as his you expect at least some of the issues to be resolved, showing where the author stands on them. This, rather than a lack of a true conclusion, is what I find fails me the most in His Robot Girlfriend.

And yet, I found the read most fulfilling. It did really keep me awake until I finished. It held my interest so much I am now writing this, and also recommending reading books as failed as this one. Worse, I am not yet telling why... But I will, and it really is simple.

First and foremost, not every book need give us ready made answers to difficult questions. A lot of the time, it is a question that is more important than the answer. Some questions will have different answers to different people. I do not always want an author to tell me his. But I always want an author to make me think, and Wesley Allison does.

Furthermore, and much less importantly, any writing that is wrong stylistically, but only just so, really serves a similar purpose as questions described above. I had great fun thinking of ways to improve on Wesley's writing. In fact, I am quite confident I could revise His Robot Girlfriend and make it a more compelling read.

I am also sure Wesley would be able to do the same for me, and this particular missive. But anyway... The important thing is: I have been forced to think, and think deeply about both the future, and the present - in the form of writing, style, and suchlike. And that cannot be a bad thing. Everybody should let themselves be challenged thus.

In conclusion: Read. Read a lot. And also read amateurs, and book not universally acclaimed. Because perfect writing sometimes defeats its purpose. Do you always want to be told what to do and how? No? I thought so...