Sometimes it seems too hot to read. The day is long, there is ice in your glass, sun overhead and nothing but free time to indulge in words, pages and endnotes. Yet after several pages you grow listless, too lazy to cast your eye on the next syllable and you create some excuse about reading in sunlight deepening fine lines. The book goes under your chair and you spend autumn and winter hiding from the thought that given unlimited free time you actually stopped reading voluntarily.
But what if it was your reading material that made you reluctant? It is amazing what bookshops will try to pass off as "perfect for a lazy afternoon" when actually it would be better used in winter, as fuel for the fire. The first sunbeam appears and out come the 3-for-2 tables grunting under the weight of all the dubiously titled wonders with covers ranging through all the colours a mythical creature could possibly vomit. Badly written novels of every genre are tantalisingly half price and average books, 70% off with a free bookmark! We are all so excited to be allowed time to read pleasurably for pennies that we load up hopefully and dive in as soon as we have tugged the sun lounger open. Once settled it quickly becomes clear that what we have brought home is not "a gallumphing work of genius comparable to the glory of the Northern Lights" which "even Stalin would have liked". Instead it is a piece of stodge the publisher thought we should make an effort with because they are sure the author tried very, very hard.
There really is no experience as wasteful as beginning an average book. A badly written book may be tossed away perhaps accidentally bouncing off a wall, but readers often feel the need to complete an average title on the off chance that it might turn out to be a work of brilliance later on. There is nothing more underhanded and nasty than the deliberate hyping up of a blah reading experience because it forces the curious to see what the fuss is about and you often come away feeling poor and confuddled when the appalling sham is revealed. I’m sure many of you know this feeling and I’d love to hear you name and shame the dazzling disappointments you’ve recently encountered.
How to avoid the disappointment of half-assed literary attempts? Stricter publishers would be the ideal solution but that is a naïve idea. Stern lectures and extremely serious papercuts are the less utopian answer. Shut down the presses, there are quite enough books as there are, cries the cynic. The only word to help you is hope. Hope that the book you’ve selected with genuiness and deep thought will be a wonder. If instead it blunders around breaking plates and starting small fires heft it into a charity bag, they are always grateful for what they can get.