On Being Memorable by Debbie Bennett

I don’t review many books any more. There are several reasons for this – not least the fact that I no longer feel comfortable leaving an honest review. I’m me online; I have the same avatar for pretty much every account and I’m not hard to find. And I’ve seen perfectly valid, constructive, yet honest reviews where the author’s army of fans have hunted down the poor reviewer and trashed them publicly – one-starring any/all of their books and generally trolling anyone who doesn’t think their favourite author is worthy of a Booker…

But another reason I’m becoming more reluctant to review is that so many books I read these days are just … forgettable. Meh. I enjoy reading them, don’t get me wrong. I refuse to finish books I don’t enjoy, as life’s just too short for bad books. But next week I won’t remember the title or the plot, and if I see the cover again I’ll have only a vague recollection of ever having read it at all.

Why is that? There’s nothing inherently wrong with these books. They may or may not have their faults; I might have given them any number of stars on Amazon. But they’re just a passing snack on my literary menu – nothing more – and I’m hungry again immediately.

This isn’t meant to be a debate about literary fiction being more satisfying, or somehow worthy. I’ve read classics, but I mostly read genre fiction. But I long for something deep and satisfying, something meaty that will make me think, make me uncomfortable, fill me up and that I’ll still remember next week, month, year. Something that I won’t forget reading for a long time. And you get that in genre fiction – you really do. Just not that often.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t written much of any length recently, too. I’ve been dabbling in other projects – script-writing, short stories etc – but nothing longer. I need something to grab me and inspire me. If it makes me think and question my own values, it will make my readers do the same and that’s what I want to do – not just trot out a forgettable tale. Which probably all sounds very pretentious and superior, but it isn’t. Not really. I’d like my readers to love my books, but any emotion is better than none. Apathy is the biggest killer of all for readers and writers.

So what books really stick in your mind? Ones you can go back to – even though you may remember them. Books where the characters are real. Stories that made you laugh or cry – or even squirm. But stories you’ll never forget. Wow books. I remember reading an extract from Brave New World aged ten – the babies on the floor scene – and even at that young age, it just blew me away and I can still remember it to this day. I’ve read the entire novel several times since and the story stays with me. More modern stuff (and nothing with the twist-you-won’t-see-coming, please!) such as Still Alice, Children of Time, Humber Boy B, The Son in Law, or the incredibly dark and disturbing Schadenfreude (seriously – this is the darkest book I have ever read, but powerful and gripping). All very different genres and all very memorable in their own way. These are the books I want to find and devour … and write too!


Umberto Tosi said…
I know the feeling. Brave New World definitely makes my short list, as do others you named - and others of my own veering towards magic realism - Marques, Borges, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie - plus assorted dark visions like Nathaniel West's Day of the Locust. Oh, the list grows. When I set myself the task of writing a masterpiece the equal of such wizards, I fail miserably, however, or don't write at all. I have to believe they didn't (or don't) set themselves up like that either. Alas, I must be mortal and write what comes and be happy with it, if I can. You've nailed the writer's dilemma, Debbie. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.
Bill Kirton said…
In a way, it's reassuring to read this, Debbie, because I've been having exactly the same feelings. Reading used to be a dependable, repeatable, pleasurable experience but so many of the books I'm choosing nowadays just provoke the 'meh' response. It can't just be that writers (of genre fiction and 'literature') have all let their standards drop, so I start wondering whether some weird critical faculty has been switched on (or off) in my head. Add to that the fact that I too find myself only writing shorter pieces and it really does seem that there's been some sort of revolution.
Susan Price said…
A book that has stayed with me is 'Galapagos' by Kurt Vonnegut. The clarity of his vision is painful but sort of exhilarating too. The 'message' of the book (or at least, the one it left me with) is not comfortable: that the human race is the worst mistake evolution ever made; that it would be far better if we'd never evolved and the best hope is that we de-evolve into something less harmful.
Jan Needle said…
You just made me buy some Kindle books, Debbie. Mmm
glitter noir said…
It took a grouchy post to bring Bill back. Good, even great, work is still being done. And writer through the ages have complained about contemporary crap. Come on, now, liven up--and both read and write!
Martin said…
My already long list, just got longer.
Fran B said…
Over the (too many) years of my reading life, I have bought, given away, lost, loaned and never got back, and more recently downloaded hundreds of books. I've probably read about a quarter of them all the way through, a quarter some of the way through and about half never got around to reading. I'm not a hoarder so I don't have hundreds of books in my home but I do have 'Granny's Bookcase', a lead-paned, hundred-and-ten year-old bookcase, and in it I keep the books I HAVE read many times and will never give away. Hard to choose one over the other, so many different authors, genres and eras. One book I will never never forget reading is Vera Britain's 'Testament of Youth. I was in my early twenties when I first found it and it changed so much about me.
I actually think this may be as it should be. Some experiences stick with you forever, and some are passing pleasures. 'Pleasures are like poppies spread, you seize the flower, its bloom is dead' said good old Robert Burns who had a line for everything! If everything was too memorable, life would become intolerable. Sometimes you want to watch Broadchurch (which stuck with me) and sometimes you want to sit there and let The Apprentice just wash over you. That said, I do think the bigger publishers have become afraid of letting anything that doesn't quite conform to their notions of what will be successful slip through the net. It's the smaller independent publishers who are bringing back the mid-list and I think that's where I've come across a number of memorable novels recently. His Bloody Project, for example, stayed with me. I still think about it (uncomfortably!) from time to time. Some books manage to fulfil both functions, comfort and memorability. I'm rereading Benson's Lucia books for the umpteenth time and enjoy them more at every reading!

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