Monday

Are they any good?

Now that I'm back into my groove of reading again, it's hard for me to imagine that I stopped reading for a number of years -- well not exactly – For nearly a decade I only read “millionaire” books or any other book related to getting paid. Unfortunately, none of it has caused an overflowing of wealth to come upon me, but now that I have the “chase” out of my system, I am happier. I’m doing more of the things that make me happy as opposed to trying to find it external of whom I really am; which brings me to my topic today - reading.

When I picked writing back up, I found I didn’t have a choice but to read other writers. Not because I was lacking ideas or to fulfill any selfish motivations but mainly because reading is a part of the writing creative process. It helps you to see what works and what doesn’t and if you are reading beyond your talent, it gives you something to strive for. So, in the case of writers, reading is fundamental. It seems however, not everyone received that memo. Since my exodus from reading fiction there has been a plethora of writers to come on the scene and I wish I could say that all of them are good, but I can’t. In fact, it seems like someone plastered posters throughout the hood that read “Get Rich Quick, Write a Book.”

Everywhere you look now, people are writing books. The erotica and urban books have just taken on a world of their own. I don’t have a problem with that until I spend my money and realize the person really can’t write. Not that I’m asking them to exhibit the talent of Toni Morrison or anything, but it would be nice to read pages that move beyond the simple. The problem, I find is that some people write, like they talk. I’m not talking about creating a character that has a certain dialect, but what I am talking about is just plain bad sentence structure. Keep in mind, I’m not professing to be the next great literary King, but I do strive to get better each time I take pen to paper. I feel I owe that much to myself as well as the reader. I’ve found that is not the norm. What I’ve found is that writers have sold the craft out in order to make a few dollars and that is sad. One would hope that we as artists have more pride than that.

So, why does this bother me? For several reasons. For one, bad writing further erodes the educational foundation of the reader. Take some of the erotica that is out here – heck, let’s use Zane since she sparked much of what we see today. There are people who actually believe “that” is good writing. I will admit that it’s marketable writing, but it’s far from good. I wish I had some examples to share as to what I mean, but I only stumbled upon her writing because my nephew was reading her. If you were to meet my nephew you would agree that he’s a sweet kid, but eventually you’d realize that he’s not the brightest chap -- but I love him just the same. I’m sure he was reading her for entertainment purposes only. Be that as it may, I wanted to see what all the hype was about. I couldn’t believe the grade level of her writing. I mean my 11 year old reads more complex writing than what she offers her readers, but maybe it just comes with the subject matter. I don't really mean that, I'm just offering her an out. The other reason bad writing bothers me is because we as a people are forever associated with those stories. Twenty years from now, people will look back and find that the popular literature of our community was erotica and hood stories -- poorly written I might add. What a sad state of affairs. But it’s our fault.

We are afraid to tell the truth. We think we’ll hurt a person’s feelings if we are honest. I think we do the person an injustice by not being honest. If you have friends that write tell them the truth. You can find a way to say, hey, “You aren’t ready yet.” Telling them the truth makes them get back in there and work out their deficiencies. I’m not saying they have to be perfect, but no one likes to eat an entire half baked cake. If I wanted dough, I would have licked the bowl. That’s why I like blogging. Bloggers will defer leaving a comment as opposed to lying and telling you your stuff is good. I can appreciate that.

I said all of that as a prelude to the following. Next year I’m going to buy a lot of these self published authors that I’ve run across in blog land and on Shelfari and I’m going to give honest commentary regarding their book. So that it’s not too subjective, I will even use examples to support my comments. My commentary will also be tastefully done, but I will not run from telling the truth, so if I recommend someone it won’t be just some passing recommendation. I'm also going to try and come up with a fair grading system, so that I point out both strengths and weaknesses. Until that time...tell me, what’s your take on today’s writers?

18 comments:

Pro said...

First off, as a newcomer to your blog I want to ask you to stay out'a my head! I've recently picked up reading beyond the scope of David Bach and the entire finishing rich hoopla, as well as the admitted self help/nonfiction guru reader I am, and am reading an anthology of fiction by Black authors (edited by Terry McMill'). I can't agree with you more concerning the market being flooded by foolery draped in glossy eye catching covers. However, I admit to having gone through my E. Lynn stage near the end of my HBCU days and well into my early 20s. To date, he still is my favorite fic-lit author; Bell Hooks being my all time great!

Anyway, I don't want to bore you with my conundrum of this crappy literary problem. I, too am reading out of my box to add some freshness to my creative thought process when I do embark on the 'ubiquitous' Great American Novel.

You have been bookmarked;)!

Sheletha said...

I would first like to say that I hate ghetto fiction, but I think most of you all know that already.

Then I would like to make a plea to publishing houses that contract fresh outta the penitentiary inmates to write for their houses. Everybody isn't a Donald Goins, get it together. Everybody deserves a fair shake, so if you must hire a penitentiary writer make sure they have gone to some workshops to perfect their writing so that they can communicate their thoughts effectively.

Disco said...

Basics. We are talking about these people needing to run out a buy a copy of Strunk's Elements of Style and anything by Kate Turabian at the VERY least. I too, hate the urban tales that have become the equivalent of an infectious disease with urban youth. I have read a couple of these books. Sometimes the train of thought isn't even discernable in these books!! **sigh** There is a great need to diversity our youth's reading base and these tales, while easy to read, provide nothing substantive for them to masticate on. So, to answer your question, I feel that there are some excellent writers out there, but completely agree with your analysis and think that there is so much more to black writers than just "ghetto tales"... we must raise the bar. Good post.

Shai said...

As an avid reader, I am glad we have more opportunities to put out books. I was SO excited when in 1994 I started seeing black romance novels from there it grew then these non-edited self-published urban books came. Yuck! It saddens me to see ALL these kids in the bookstore head to books entitled, Nympho, Bitch, A Hustla's Wife and so on.

My 17 year old is a reader now and I am selective about what she reads. I give her balance. It is hard with a young adult to find good books. SMH. Either it is too juvenile or too grown. I let her read some of my books not all and I buy her a few street books. I cringe at some stuff, yet I know when she gets 18 she will venture to the books I banned.

I pray I gave enough foundation to still appreciate the good books I have introduced her to.

Don said...

IMHO, James Baldwin, Ralph Wiley and Zora Neale Hurston are the three best to have ever done it.

Don said...

African American writers, that is.

Don said...

John Grisham is my other choice of color.

Mega Rich said...

I hate to admit this, but I never read James Baldwin. Wiley either, but Zora was the truth. That I can attest to.

Shelia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shelia said...

There are quite a few good writers out there...some are more popular than others. It really depends on what type of books you like to read. For example, most would say Toni Morrison is one of the best writers out there today. She's definately a good writer, but she's not in my top ten. The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison was her best book; but I didn't like her book titled "Love." (I'll keep my comments about that book to myself).

As far as suspense writers, it would be Keith Lee Johnson, Michelle McGriff, Vincent Alexandria, John Wooden as well as the more popular writers such as John Grisham, James Patterson and Walter Mosley. When it comes to romance, there are quite a few in my top favorites, such as Donna Hill, Francis Ray, Nora Roberts, etc. When it comes to sci-fi, it would be Steven Barnes, his wife Tanarive Due, Brandon Massey, Stephen King...and the list goes on and on. Although street lit does get a lot of bed press, you can find some diamonds there as well, such as books by Solomon Jones. I could name more in each category...they are there.

One writer whose best book hasn't been published yet is V Anthony Rivers. It's an epic and I can't wait to see it published...remember you heard about it here: Until Again...in my opinion, it's along the same lines as The Color Purple--a classic.

Mizrepresent said...

Out of my fav AA writers i would suggest you dive into some Walter Mosley, Tanarive Due, Octavia Butler, and Guy Johnson...excellent writers and great storytellers...i myself read all types and genres, trying to learn and excel...not at all where i want to be, still working on it till the end. I also love John Grisham, James Patterson, Steven King, and Dean Koontz, i will call them i early muses...love this post, can't wait to hear what you have to say.

Lovebabz said...

I get your point and I am on the fence about this new wave of urban lit or ghetto lit or whatever it is. On one side the fence it has created an industry that was ignored and folks are reading these books with a passion. On the other hand it offends the high-brow literary sensibilities of other folks--myself included. I have no patience for urban/ghetto/street lit. I like a lot of stuff and will read a lot of stuff. Who hasn't read everything by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Pearl Cleage, Zora, Langston, Maya. My partial library is listed over at library things--from my blog. My point is I am not so quick to dismiss this genre yet. And I do like the erotica stuff, but the good stuff, not the tired, shock value stuff, but Erotique Noire, or Bluelight Corner-Black Women writing on passion, sex and romantic love. I would be interested in seeing what you come up with--although that is going be a lot of reading (Sigh). I look forward to your reviews. Happy Holidays!
Love,
Babz

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

ill take your challenge....u can start with a matter of attention or rock,star, stud, gigolo all yawl, i challenge but u gotta read history and philosophy too

The Master (De)bater said...

Great, good, and bad writers have been on the literary scene since papyrus was invented... and,possibly, long before. I blame the primary school systems across America for dropping the ball on reading comprehension and composition skills, and I shake an angry fist to the multitudes of administrators who choke the life from from good teachers who want to present classic literature to children... but find themselves stuck with a curriculum that teaches a child how to memorize subject matter for mandatory skill tests and that denies the child the chance to learn for learning's sake.

Take a deep breath if you need it; that was a borderline run-on sentence.

Thank God for good books and the writers who create them. My mind's salvation from the slums and the projects was strong books. Every child deserves the chance to experience that brand of escapism and imagination.

Tasha said...

Much of what I was going to say has already been said by other commenters. I can't stand the writing in much of this "ghetto fiction"--in some cases it does more to perpetuate stereotypes than one would expect. I know this type of literature has gotten more people reading, which is a great thing. I wonder however, if a lot of those readers believe that this type of writing is literary genius and will never branch out and read more substantiave works.

CapCity said...

Preach, Brother Ced! Sadly, since i've stepped into public schools i realize first hand - it's a system set up for creating direction-following EMPLOYEES (no offense against those who r educated/educating there - but i'm sayin' nothin' new 2 u).

Regarding good books/authors - Yea, Rich - u already know i'm a literary snob;-). can't stand the "urban" lit - but i also know the world is not writing for me alone. so, if it gets folx reading - GO FOR it! As Stephen King said in On Writing - you won't know a best-seller until it sells!
I have too many fave authors to list but TOP choices: Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Faulkner, Edgar Allen Poe, Mildred Taylor, Ray Bradbury, ME;-)....just the TIP of this reader's iceburg...

...so many books & so little time...

Femigog said...

okay, I write science fiction and the few black science fiction writers I find are impeccable writers. This might be because of the technical nature of Fantasy/Science Fiction as a genre. There are rules of chaos for the genre so to speak. I also manage merchandising in a book store and I read voraciously, every genre. This onslaught of urban fiction is almost an assault or attack on good black fiction. Now I believe that some of it alright but I cant read another thing about frisky Pastors, strippers turned gangasta or gangstas gone the way of the italian goodfella. Then there are the sisters writing tell alls about there days and nights as whores to entertainers. I cant wait to check out your reviews. I typically review black biographies and black non-fiction. I read Clarence Thomas's memoir (which was a pathetic attempt to validate his own self hate and contempt for black people at large) and Condie Rice's new book is on my nightstand right now.
So please review some of these self published and "urban" authors for us.
sorry to ramble

Angelia... said...

Mega,
there are good, bad and indifferent AA books out there, the same as anything...

blessings,
angelia