Page-Turner or Page-Keeper?

Have you ever had a conversation about what kind of novel you like? The conversation that goes beyond genre? It’s a conversation I have found myself having frequently of late. Surprisingly, there is more variation in favourite genres than in what readers seem to be crave in a book.

So many readers I talk to crave a ‘page-turner’, a book that makes them want to get to the next page to find out what happens next. I, too, love a good page turner. These books, however, are not and never will be my favourites. I’ll read them once, then never open them again. Their drawcard, the suspense of What Happens Next is blown.

It’s what I term a page-keeper that makes me excited to read. It’s the books that make me reluctant to turn the page, that make me want to read sentences or whole paragraphs again and again, even though I’m desperate to find out what happens next. I’m not referring to books whose message is hidden or whose use of language is so obscure as to be indecipherable without migraine inducing focus for at least fifteen minutes. I’m referring to books in which the language is so artfully applied that I marvel over the uniquely beautiful way they render images. Or those where the voice is so vivid it evokes an emotional reaction (as opposed to a mental one).

Books that have me hurrying to turn the page make me think I can write. Books that induce me to linger over a page make me want to write. They also induce every doubt that ever existed that I could ever match that writer’s skill. This is not a bad thing. I know I can learn from these works. On reaching the final word, I often flip to the front cover and open it right back up. I re-read, this time as a writer.

I think this is something all writers should do. I admit I don’t do it often enough. Time spent reading is time stolen from writing. But at every workshop or seminar I have attended, the commandment Read is right up there with Write. Reading indiscriminately is probably useless– I just don’t have the time or inclination to plod through a story I’m not enjoying, whether it be poor plotting or poor expression. Despite feeling of guilt, I close the book. When I consider a novel a good read, I get to the end. When I find a novel that thrills me, that make me want to linger, there’s not much can pry me away from it. And in my rather biased opinion, my writing is stronger after I’ve read such a book. (Almost no hope of writing while I’m reading these kinds of books!)

My favourite author is Guy Gavriel Kay. If anyone ever penned a page-keeper it is he, and in every single one of his novels. A couple of local authors with recently published anthologies are also enticing me to return to their pages. Midnight and Moonshine by Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter is crammed with superb imagery. It’s been a while since I’ve read sentences that can say so much in so few words. The old world style is both evocative and charming. The stories in Everything is a Graveyard by Jason Fischer have a strong voice. I’m not an avid fan of horror, but the three dimensional characters and unique Australian settings keep me engrossed.

Finding new authors whose books I can’t wait to open is a joy. So, when faced with the choice of page-turner or page-keeper, I’ll take the page-keeper any day.

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