When your inner reader needs a palate cleanser

Sorbet, from iStockPhoto

A couple years after I entered the Air Force, my boyfriend and I went to a new gourmet restaurant in Ft. Walton Beach, FL. We were celebrating something (I can’t remember what) and the restaurant was the fanciest and most expensive one we’d ever tried. This was where I was introduced to menus that have no prices, waiters so proper you’re scared to ask them for prices, and sherbet after soup! No, the waiter corrected me. That’s sorbet, and it’s meant to cleanse your palate between courses.

Well, I came across a book that left a bad taste in my mouth—for many reasons. This was a debut author and the SF premise was promising, but I had too many problems with it. The first was all the slang and made-up names. SF/F writers have to do this, but we’re warned to do it sparingly and carefully. The second problem was the vagueness of organizations and class structures. The vagueness didn’t stop there; I quickly found the “gripping characterization” promised on the cover really meant that the reader never knows what motivates the characters, including the protagonist. The characters are extremely unpredictable and unfortunately, not unique (I couldn’t tell four important secondary characters apart).

Clearing the aftertaste

I put this book down several times and had to force myself to pick it up again. That’s how much this book did not resonate with me. Curious, I checked the Amazon.com reviews and found that this book had quite a few 4- and 5-star reviews. Some of the reviewers raved about it. Okay, people have very different tastes when it comes to fiction. Then I found this book had been nominated for the Phillip K. Dick award. Really? (I’m stunned. But I’m still not telling you the title, although it’s been significantly narrowed down for you).

When a book hasn’t been to my taste, I usually put it aside and forget it. I don’t do negative reviews. However, this book disturbed me more than usual because I wondered how I could be so out of step with the rest of the SF reading public. It even bothered me from a writing perspective (more in part 2).

But how to clear that aftertaste? I had to stop reading SF/F and go on a “reading candy” jag. How’s this for clearing the reading palate?

If it looks like I grabbed every mystery in the unread pile—well, that’s what I did. And, besides being one of five people in the U.S. who hadn’t read The Da Vinci Code, I have to also admit to being a Jane Austin fanatic. But they were all fun fluffy books that I could devour in a couple nights and excellent palate cleansers for my reader half. Now, refreshed, I can go back to SF/F. I think I’ll be doing this more often.

Next post… How this palate cleansing helped my writing half!

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