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Reading Crisis – Can’t get lost in a story anymore

February 13, 2013


Has anyone ever had an experience of reading a book so good that all books since then have seemed second rate? I had such an experience after reading the Dune novels. For some time I tried out many different books by many different authors, but nothing could compare with Dune. I left a string of books unfinished, not reading through to the end, something I try to avoid doing as it can become a bad habit.

I could always read through Dune again, but I don’t like to read the same novel twice. Certainly not without a good few years between reading, so that I could potentially appreciate it from a different angle. It became a real struggle for me to try and figure out what was going on here. I tried the Dune follow-up stories. I got through a few, they were ok, but something was missing. I tried other science fiction styles. Iain Banks, the algebraist; Peter Hamilton, the dreaming void and many others. Once again, they were ok, but some spark was missing. I was following the story, but I wasn’t feeling embroiled in the action of the story.

I suppose the obvious step would be to read other stories by Frank Herbert. There are many possible ones, but up to now I have been put off by how little popularity his other stories seem to receive. Also, they are quite difficult to get hold of. If I saw one at a good price there in a shop, or at a library I would pick it up straight away, but the distance of buying online somehow puts me off with an item that might mean so much to me.

Maybe I am worried if the other stories of Frank Herbert don’t get my interest then there may be no books left for me to read at all where I can really get embroiled in the story. Maybe I have reached a point in life where I can simply no longer become lost in a story? Has my youthful imagination gone, leaving only a practical person with merely worldly interests?

Over time I have come to think that this is not the case. Things are not quite this bad. The problem is simply I have come to expect too much from a novel. A novel can provide some good experiences, enjoyment and increase your awareness of things around you, without always having to turn your whole life upside down. I think also I have been restricting myself to the science fiction genre needlessly. Much science fiction these days is not the intelligent, cutting edge stuff it used to be in the days of Arthur C. Clarke. It is more like the escapism of fantasy, a genre I have never really got along well with.

The conclusion seems to be a switch in direction. To get down to the essentials of what makes a story fascinating to me, regardless of genre. And I think what means most to me in a story is people struggling with their own conscience in a harsh environment. This has to be the central thread around which everything else in the story is weaved. Without a moral conscience in a story it becomes soulless for me. An empty container with no contents. It is as if the pages are blank with no writing on them and I am flicking through looking desperately for something that simply isn’t there.

My goal now is to search for stories of this kind, and lower my expectations a bit, not looking for a world-creating, life changing experience, but for any story with a soul.

  1. This has definitely happened to me. After I read Atlas Shrugged, nothing else seemed to come close in character development, depth of the story, descriptive accuracy, and almost everything else. Everything I read after that seemed sort of one-dimensional. I was also afraid to read other books by Ayn Rand in case I didn’t like them as much – I tend to do this with music, too. I actually had to take a break from reading for a while, and when I returned, I read a guilty pleasure to sort of clear any expectations for a serious book out of my head.

    It’s great that this experience helped you to understand what kind of literature really satifies you, even though it can be kind of frustrating when nothing else quite measures up.

    • Good to hear of a similar experience. I still am not fully sure what books to go for now, but I am beginning to get an idea. It is very frustrating at times. I used to be able to take for granted a good book coming along for me to read. These days they are a much rarer thing. I have probably read and enjoyed more poetry in recent times than novels. But you don’t get lost in them in quite the same way as in a good story. I am trying out an old reliable horror author at the minute, James Herbert, the Fog. It is nothing spectacular. But it has a steady pace to it, so I will just keep going with it. I think my main problem has been over reliance on sci-fi. Recently I have became more interested in history so maybe that could open new avenues of fiction to me. Oh, and thanks for your response, was interesting to hear your point of view.

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