NVDT #81 – Life’s Too Short To Read Shitty Books


PromptWhat does it take to impress you when you are reading someone else’s book?

Good Writing – Unfortunately there’s not a… No. Here’s a little parable. Remember back before GPS was everywhere, were you ever in a cab where you had to tell the driver how to get wherever the hell you needed to go? Like they knew two words – airport and Galleria. Lots of people write like that set up. They either have no idea where they’re going or how to get there, or they spend the entire ride giving directions.

What keeps me in a book is if I get something out of the first several pages. And to find those two pages, I’ll pick up things from everywhere. I throw a lot of them back. Fishing that way brought me to Barbara Park and Laura Levine, Edgar Box, John Trench.

Never heard of John Trench? Me, either. But there were four or five quotable lines in the first two pages, plus the answer to an issue I had with a critical scene in a WIP hauled up right off the page and bitch slapped me. So much so I was in a state of euphoric Eureka! for at least half an hour. Also, I find these older books have an acerbic sense of social stereotype satire we’re missing in the modern formula factory output. Or, with the L’Amour, the old adage of don’t start with the weather takes a hike because the opening is an exceptionally well-drawn, compact weather/location scene. If I could put a couple of out of work broke cowboys under a train trestle in shitty weather that well, I’d be rich and famous, too. But – seeing how he does it helps me put an over partied kidnapped grad student in a squat without wasting your day getting there.

These days I read, sometimes inadvertently, to learn something about craft. If I don’t notice it, then I tell myself, go back, figure out why you’re halfway through this book, effortlessly. Laura Levine–I’m forty pages in what would be a less professionally handled tosser farce. I skip the 70s moralizing in MacDonald’s I haven’t read because been there, done that, but I drink deep from his well of three-word descriptions that put whatever it is in my face. The way Robert B. Parker ends a chapter. Quit when you’re there, not just when you’re ahead. The way Hammett and Faulkner crush modern writers of ensemble scenes. In books I’d never heard of. How writers snake through the characters and the setting of a scene. How action needs very little set up (The Switch). Characters that might be cliché but rock it. Characters you wonder do people really do that shit for a living?

There are myriads of good writing templates available to put over our work, and we should, just to see if we’re close. If you’ve never done that, go ahead and nail your other foot to the floor now. For instance, I’m always harping on all the descriptive folderol that should be left up to reader to get them to invest. How can you do that if you don’t know that in 12 novels and numerous short stories we are never told an exact age or given a detailed description of one of cozy’s archetypes for the current plethora of every-woman detectives. If Ms. Marple can do it, why do we need to know about Danger Barbie’s auburn curls and Ancestry.com lineage of CIA assassins, white heels, short blue skirt and designer handbag? Are the readers reading or playing Barbie with an imagination coach?

Entertain me, make me suspend disbelief with well-written work. I’ll give anything a chance because I believe any book just might just be the next I Ching or Runes, or Don Shimoda’s Messiah’s Handbook.

“Open it,” he said, “and whatever you need to know is there.”

Or might be.

To see what keeps others reading, click the link below –


Published by

Phil Huston


16 thoughts on “NVDT #81 – Life’s Too Short To Read Shitty Books”

  1. I read L0uis L’Amour years ago, before I even considered writing a book. I remember enjoying his stories , but not much more than that. I guess I should go back and take another look.

    A book that impressed me? The Purple Ghosts of Damnation Row by Albert Wass. I read it over 50 years ago, and I’ve been carting the copy with me through more moves than I can count. Do I remember what it was about? No. One of these days I’ll have to read it again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read L’Amour because my dad had them around when I was young. I’d forgotten most of what was in them so this was a random choice at Half Price books. But right off the bat I felt the cold rain running down behind my collar. I recycle most of my transient books but I hang on to a few. If something has a passage that’s particularly good I’ll scan it for reference, but taking them back feeds the habit.


  2. I have books I bought half a century ago. Written by people who could describe a planet in three lines and make it appear in my head, fully formed. Or draw me into a scene as if I was watching it happen. That’s what I want.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that’s where we’re all trying to get to, whether it’s another galaxy, under a cold wet train trestle or the swimming pool sun room of a fat man and his trophy mistress. Quickly and with great articulation.


  3. After more than 15 years and an array of appalling book choices, I’ve commandeered managing the annual reading list for our book club. Selfish interest. I’ve establish a cast-iron rule for 2022—You have to have read any book you recommend. This was my message with the list for 2021. ‘Below is the rundown of books, dates and hosts for 2021. Three months are unclaimed, but there’s no rush to settle on those. As discussed at lunch, if you read one of the books on the list (including possible titles) and find it is not worth our time, please let the group know. The world is full of books to choose from, so we might as well read good ones.’
    So far another gal and I have read eight books on the list and ruled out three—all books people hadn’t yet read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t do book clubs because of my opinions and low threshold of patience with poor construction. And the stuff people want to discuss… I spent way too much time investigating mechanics and that’s what i like. How the author got us to wherever, not do we like Genie’s boyfriend. Why we don’t like him, maybe!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I used to love reading Louis L’Amour’s books when I was a teenager. Don’t know why I loved Westerns, perhaps it was because I lived on a grotty concrete council estate at the time and dreamed of wide open spaces, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What hurts me the most is to open a contemporary novel and find original use of language and images coupled with deep psychological insights. In an older book, the author of which being long dead, delights me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trendy is always a bad peg to hang your hat on and pursued mainly by the gullible and aggressively ‘literate.’ Unfortunately I see very little clever or original being published, much less insightful. It’s almost back to bad pulp and shock value that has lost both shock and value. What’s wrong with someone’s head always troubles me because we can never really know. Like subject of my next character corral. Why kill your neighbor, cook her heart and serve it to your family to release their demons before you kill them? WTF?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Life’s too short for anything shitty. But then, I’m sitting here eating a shit sandwich, living a shitty existence, working a shitty job, waiting for the shitty end. Maybe reading shitty books is my destiny. Of course, I don’t actually read anymore. But, back when I did, I’d always hope for escape. Take me the fuck away from this mundane world, please.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read a couple pages of a shitty book and feel like I need a shower. The last couple of readable books took weeks, so that’s how off the hook good they were. But I’m playing a form of exclusionary roulette where I’ll pick six at random and check them out in the “library”. Where I’ll either get two and toss or get a couple a day. It seems like I find gems in unheard of places. Things I wouldn’t seek out but fell in the basket. Shit is the shit that makes shit go. There’s a poem in that somewhere, or a Dylan song.

      Liked by 1 person

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