There is something almost magical about reading. No matter what was happening before you picked up the book, and no matter what condition that book may be in, as soon as you start reading the words, you can be transported anywhere. Your mind just folds right in on itself and takes you away. Or at least it should.
I always know if I am enjoying the book I am reading. It's the book that I pick up for five minutes, and two hours later someone (mum, husband, sister, friend) throws a tissue box at me to get my attention, having been trying to carry on a conversation with me for nearly twenty minutes and failing utterly to get my attention (the tissue box is better than having the cat dropped on my lap, she tends to try to eat the book).
I also know when I am reading a book that I'm just not that into. It's the book I sit down to read, skim a page, then realise I need to take something out of the freezer for tomorrow. Or, maybe I suddenly can't remember if my phone was charged. I have a sudden urge to check email. Did I watch that episode of whatever I taped last week? I don't want to read the book. I find any reason not to read and two days later, I still haven't progressed through the book.
Why? Why does one book take me on that quest through time and space and into a place where I am utterly untouchable and the next leave me wondering if maybe it is time to vacuum the rug?
There really is an x-factor when it comes to writing. It isn't about technical perfection, or about uniqueness (most of the stories I read are about as generic as they come) and it isn't even really about the characters, though good characters will make me forgive a lot. That x-factor is what makes me an David Eddings fan, but dislike J.R.R.Tolkien. It is why I find Barbara Hambly charming, but Tamora Pierce, I could probably do without. I'm not saying one is a better writer than the other, or one does this better than another; what I am saying is that one works for me, and hits just the right tone and just the right note and the other doesn't.
Fortunately readers are varied in what works for them, so there is room in the world for most styles. I have had many arguments with other adamant fantasy fans who have told me that I cannot call myself a fantasy fan without enjoying Tolkien. I do call myself a fantasy fan, and a fantasy writer, and I still don't enjoy reading Tolkien.
There are countless times when someone has said, 'oh you like so-and-so, you'll love this', and they've handed me a book which I have taken gratefully. Two pages into it and I'm finding excuses to go weed the garden and six months later I'm returning the book having ruffled a few more pages to make it look like I've gotten further along than I have.
As a writer, this tells me a few things. One, if I don't like reading my own work, I have problems. Two, people who read similar books to ones I enjoy, should, theoretically enjoy reading what I have written (or at least most of it). And three, not everyone in the world is going to like my work, even if they happen to like some of the same authors I do. So when people say they despise my writing, I probably shouldn't take that personally and I should look for someone who will enjoy it for what it is.
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