I learned early on in life that I seldom agree with movie critics' assessments. What they tout as brilliant and ground-breaking, I often find creepy or boring. With a little thought, one can figure out the problem: movie critics see movies for a living and therefore enjoy experimentation and boundary-pushing. I, on the other hand, go to a movie for an evening's entertainment and just want to have a good time. We're looking for vastly different things.

Writers are the movie critics of readers. We've studied the process and know how it's supposed to be done, or at least we should. All too often, we see the hand inside the puppet, and it distracts us from the show. In addition, we know what's out there, and we recognize copycats with a yawn and a sigh. As a result, I often keep my opinions to myself these days when non-writing friends gush over this writer or that one. "Yes," I think to myself, "but she's so..." whatever it is I perceive about that author that I might not have objected to or even noticed in the past.

Reading a lot of books makes one a more perceptive reader (if one isn't just devouring them as an escape from housework or the aura of the commuter train). But writing books! Ah, there's the real measure. Those who write better appreciate the talent of authors who do it well. It may make one jaded toward hacks and pretenders, but inside a well-written book: how lovely is the dwelling place!

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Tags: copycats, originality, talent, writing

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Comment by Dana King on June 11, 2009 at 5:39am
Ditto to both. I write my own fiction and review thers, and I find myself cognizant of flaws I'm sure most readers don't notice, and probably wouldn't care about if they were pointed out. I've tried to address both sides in reviews lately, noting the pros and cons of the writing while still providing what I hope is worthwhile information for those who just want an entertaining story. I'm not lowering the rigor of my reading habits, but I don't expect everyone else to share them.
Comment by P.J. on June 11, 2009 at 1:35am
As a reviewer, and a voracious reader, I am certainly familiar with this problem. It has become harder and harder, the longer I read for "work", to find a book that truly takes me out of my world. Sometimes I miss the days when I didn't notice bad plots or lousy characters, but mostly I'm just supremely delighted to find a writer who has the ability to make me forget where I am, or what I should be doing. I just wish it happened with greater frequency.

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