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Monday, October 22, 2018

Tell Me About The Prose

Right after slogging through an atrocious memoir - recommended by someone who I'm sure meant well -  I began constructing a questionnaire for vetting all future book recommendations aside from those made by my posse. I welcome the input of any discerning reader who thinks they can help.

1.) Did you read the book yourself?

Third party recommendations can be problematic. I'm glad your sister liked it or … the NY Times praised it or … Philip Roth blurbed it but what, specifically, moved you?

2.) How long ago did you complete a book before the one you're now recommending to me?

I find it helpful to know how important reading is in the life of any recommender. Even more helpful is when the recommender can tell me what made a fictional character memorable - not whether they "liked" or could "relate" to the character - or, what made a specific non-fiction account provocative, challenging, elevating, especially for a recommended book.  

3.) How would you describe the prose?

At this point in my reading life, I'm OK with most subjects (I'll pass on the sexually abusive fathers preying on their daughters, thanks) and most genres (although fantasy, memoir, and historical fiction with the word "wife" in the title often go further down my list). My one non-negotiable is the prose. At the bottom of my hierarchy are books with groanworthy or featureless prose. If you didn't extract a single sparkling sentence out of a whole book, why would I waste my time? From there, we climb up to serviceable or sturdy prose. If a committed reader tells me most of the other elements in a recommended book worked, and the prose rises to those levels, I'll bite. Mostly, when someone describes the prose in a recommended book I long to hear words analogous to those at the top of my hierarchy like muscular (" We Were Eight Years In Power - Ta Nehisi Coates - comes to mind) rich ("News Of The World" - Paulette Jiles - for example) or masterful ("The Sense Of An Ending" - Julian Barnes).

Now if someone asks what I'm referring to when I say prose, well …

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