Monday, October 10, 2005

And My Fifty-eighth Book of the Year Is...

...The Song Reader by Lisa Tucker. Sad to say, this was not my favorite of the books I have read so far this year. I felt The Song Reader was almost all "tell" and no "show." The first-person narrator, a girl in her mid-teens, just keeps telling us that this happened and this happened and this happened. Many important events take place offstage, so to speak, and the narrator then tells us about them after she learns of them. She doesn't even witness them, herself. Towards the end of the book, she starts to suddenly recall events from the past and starts telling us about those, too.

I prefer a book that shows us characters' attitudes, motivation, reasoning, etc. by way of scenes in which we can learn these things through action and dialogue. We see the scenes. For many years the "show don't tell" rule has been promoted in books on writing and by reviewers. I thought it was up there with Write what you know as a basic rule of writing.

Though I didn't care for The Song Reader, it was very well reviewed and foreign editions were published in four countries. And it's not the first "tell, tell, tell" book I've disliked in the last couple of years that received a much better response from reviewers and readers.

So this raises a question in my mind: Has a shift occurred among critics and readers? Is the public feeling a lot more warmly toward books that "tell" them what's going on than it used to?

Such things happen. For example, back in the nineteenth century, you saw a lot of novels written in the third person with the author moving around inside the heads of various characters. Now there are a lot more books written either in the first person or in the third person with a point-of-view character. Meaning that though the book is written in the third person, everything is from one character's point-of-view with no jumping around. (According to Rust Hill's book Henry James seems to be responsible for this.)

Is the publishing/literary world going through another change now? Is "telling" becoming more acceptable, even desirable, in books?

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