where the writers are
Reading Critically

I just finished Richard Russo's sublime Bridge of Sighs.

Wonderful book and one of the first I enjoyed on every level for some time, the most fun read I've had since David Mitchell's Black Swan Green.

It's hard for me to enjoy books, to resist picking them apart, analyzing the sentence structure, assaying the quality of the dialogue, the believability of the characters. When I'm reading I can't take off my writing cap; I read very, very critically. A popular or commercial novel, something written for pure entertainment is about as interesting to me as a speck of flyshit on a dirty window. No thanks. Such books are sloppily crafted, inexpertly conceived, irredeemably derivative and formulaic. I avoid hacks like leaking hemorrhoids--check the front of a book, if an author has more books published than years lived, chances are the volume you're holding is fit only for kindling.

It's very hard for me to read genre fiction--while the ideas may be there, the quality of the writing isn't (and if you don't believe me, pick up a horror novel written in the past five years and tell me the first draft wasn't written in wax crayon...or the author's excrement). I crave gorgeous syntax, sentences so perfectly and elegantly constructed, they seem composed rather than written.

Bridge of Sighs had nary a false note. I was completely immersed in the narrative from the opening line and that's no mean trick. Russo has done it before, of course--Straight Man is one of my favorite mainstream novels and Empire Falls rightfully won the Pulitzer Prize. You can read Richard Russo critically and rarely come away disappointed.

Few other contemporary scribblers fare nearly as well.

How many can you think of?