Formula Fiction

Formula Fiction

A website has tried to figure out what makes people drop some books

Goodreads,the hugely popular website with 18 million members who post about authors and recommend new titles online,has compiled an interesting list of books people tend to start reading but abandon midway. Hearteningly,for people in the writing world,even the phenomenally successful JK Rowling’s book Casual Vacancy and EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey top the list of books people shelve. Unfairly or fairly enough,the cult classic of an entire generation,Atlas Shrugged and Catch 22,fall in the same category. Apparently,people lose interest after page 50.

The reasons given for abandonment of some books are an author’s worst nightmare like the damning adjective,“boring” or “the heroine was whiny and self-obsessed” as in the case of Eat,Pray,Love. Nobody who’s read Harry Potter or even just caught a glimpse of the movies can doubt the genius of JK Rowling,but her first work post Potter,Tales of Beetle the Bard,also for children,had a tepid reception. The Telegraph reviewed it,noting that it would be entirely unremarkable were it not for the body of work behind it. Casual Vacancy diminished the curiosity and connect readers feel with Rowling further,but there would still be enough readers who’ll buy it expecting the originality of Harry Potter.

The abandonment of Fifty Shades … is more puzzling,considering over a staggering 50 million women are thought to have bought a copy. They can’t all be wrong. EL James is to publishing what Roger Federer has been to tennis: a dizzying sensation,one of a kind. But the survey suggests that readers also aim to be literature snobs,and let’s face it,there’s very little highbrow stuff in this trilogy. The oldest and cheesiest fairy tale of all,Cinderella,re-imagined with a fashionable BDSM fantasy and some random sexting. Not that I have anything against lurid sexual content in books,bring it on in fact,but is it too much to expect it to be central or at least have something to do with the plot? Taming a deviant handsome billionaire and turning him into a loving husband has been an enduring theme in women’s romantic fiction since Jane Eyre . It would have been a lot cooler if James had been brave enough to abandon the cliched happily-ever-after ending and had not turned the dashing Christian Grey into a regular guy. But surveys like the one on suggest that rich dashing tycoons have to,in the end,become lovelorn spouses or the book won’t sell 70 million copies. What’s remarkable is that though the erotica market is glutted with every type of pornography available at the click of a button,on the internet and phone,James chose the most dated and old fashioned way to get risque,in print. And it worked. Rather thrived beyond anyone’s imagination.

In keeping with the bondage theme,every writer in reality is actually a slave to the reader,who can whimsically and tragically destroy an effort with a two word review online,like “Extremely Stupid” and such is the ripple effect,the Fifty Shades… magic has waned. Maybe what the reader is actually “bored” of is a pedestrian,retrograde fairy tale and ready for a more empowered Ana who won’t want to convert the red room of pain into a guest bedroom.