What Happened to all the Good Books?

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KestrelLowing
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What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby KestrelLowing » Tue Jul 13, 2010 2:48 pm UTC

I recently went to Barnes and Noble looking for a "slab of recopies that are quick, tasty, cheap, not too difficult, and this book is under $25" cookbook. While I was there, I realized that the book I had been waiting for (The next book in the Unicorn Chronicles by Bruce Coville) since 5th grade (I'm 20) finally came out!

It made me slightly sad, because I realize that I don't love books the way I used to, simply because I don't think they're as good as they used to be. I haven't found a book recently that I want to reread over and over again, but I'd like a bit more challenging books than the Unicorn Chronicles.

I guess this might be a little nostalgia, but I still reread books all the time that I read first in elementary and middle school. I still think they’re good books, but I’ve re-read Ender’s Game so many times it’s starting to get old.

So where did all the good books go? Why aren't the 'adult' books better than the kids? Anyone else have this issue?

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby Adacore » Tue Jul 13, 2010 4:15 pm UTC

I think the problem isn't so much that there aren't any good books, it's that a combination of the fact that there are an awful lot of poor and mediocre books, so finding the good* ones is pretty hard and the fact that most things you experience in childhood have a nostalgia attached to them which makes them seem far better than they actually are to your adult self.

I have a (small) number of authors I know I always enjoy reading and so I get any new books they write. Occaisionally I try works by other authors to try and expand this pool, but it's pretty rare that I consider anything good enough to join the group of authors I actively follow.

*Good, of course, is more than a little subjective in this context, so finding books that you really like sadly isn't as simple as just asking other people what the best books are.

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby bigglesworth » Tue Jul 13, 2010 4:24 pm UTC

Good books are being published all the time. For a start, why not look at award-winners or nominees for book prizes in the genres you like?
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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby Ivor Zozz » Tue Jul 13, 2010 10:59 pm UTC

Sometimes I wonder what happened to all the good music, but then I consider that music experienced in my childhood or teen years has a nostalgic tint that new music can never hope to possess, and that it is easier to be impressed by things when you have only the limited life experience of a kid.

I think the same goes for books.
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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby Jorpho » Wed Jul 14, 2010 2:03 am UTC

I have piled all the good books in my apartment, with the intention of getting around to read them some day.

I propose that it is easier to grasp some of the really good books as a younger child, mostly because your brain hasn't become accustomed to all the tropes which, after all, wouldn't be tropes if it weren't for the fact that they work so well and hook the mind so easily.

Also I want David Brin to get off his duff and finish Kiln Time, right now.

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby Jesse » Wed Jul 14, 2010 8:04 pm UTC

There's also the fact that when I started reading books, I had decades of books written to draw upon for good books, whereas now I am muhc more limited, so the good books could eb coming along with the same regularity etc.

As it is, there's amazing books always being released. Neal Stephenson is still writing, Katharine Kerr has only just finished her Deverry Cycle, Jeffery Deaver never fails to get me going for some crime writing.

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby El Spark » Wed Jul 14, 2010 9:08 pm UTC

Personally, I start with the ALA's lists of banned and challenged books. They may not be awesome, but they at least managed to make SOMEONE passionate.
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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby suffer-cait » Thu Jul 15, 2010 7:09 am UTC

um...the 4th book of unicorn chronicles is out now.
i read the same books i have since i was 8 though.
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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby Amarantha » Thu Jul 15, 2010 12:19 pm UTC

Jesse wrote:Katharine Kerr has only just finished her Deverry Cycle,
Wait, what? How in the name of FSM did I miss that? *looks up library catalogue*

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby mercuryseven » Mon Jul 19, 2010 10:50 am UTC

If about the availability of good books in book stores, I agree. They simply don't put the good ones on shelves. My local book store has "Science Fiction" section is simply a sad little shelf in the corner, filled with Halo, Star Wars and Warcraft novels; and only the most recent Arthur C. Clarke (Time Odyssey series). And books the other great SF author's can't be found anywhere. Worse, the "Science Fiction" section shelf has fantasy books mixed in...

I thought real SF is about Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Card, Niven, etc.... If bookstores are to be used as reference, it seems the current generation seems to think SF = Halo, Star Wars...

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby KestrelLowing » Mon Jul 19, 2010 3:13 pm UTC

Yeah, I have issues finding the good books - which makes me think there are none.

I guess my main problem is I enjoy more of an epic/action story than one about discovering oneself and such (although, if those two are combined well, it can be awesome). All the 'classics' I've read are pretty lame in my opinion. That could be because I read all those books in school.

I can definitely see how basic plot lines were new to me at a younger age, so they were more entertaining. I just had a thought that maybe "adult" books are supposed to contain something profound, and that could just detract from the storyline for me.

I guess I just haven't found a book recently that warrants re-reading, which is very important for me as I like to own my books, but they are far too expensive to buy if I'm only going to read them once and get maybe 2 hours of entertainment out of them. (I read very, very fast - when I was being taught to 'speed read' the teacher didn't believe my normal reading speed was faster than the typical speed reading rate - so you can understand why $20 can be a bit much for a 300 page book. It's helpful for school to be able to read fast, but it stinks when you want to read for entertainment. I can't slow down, or I lose comprehension.)

Also, there's a fourth unicorn book? (I haven't had time to even start the third) Dang, I'm out of it.

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby folkhero » Tue Jul 20, 2010 3:50 am UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:All the 'classics' I've read are pretty lame in my opinion. That could be because I read all those books in school.

I can definitely see how basic plot lines were new to me at a younger age, so they were more entertaining. I just had a thought that maybe "adult" books are supposed to contain something profound, and that could just detract from the storyline for me.

I guess I just haven't found a book recently that warrants re-reading, which is very important for me as I like to own my books, but they are far too expensive to buy if I'm only going to read them once and get maybe 2 hours of entertainment out of them. (I read very, very fast - when I was being taught to 'speed read' the teacher didn't believe my normal reading speed was faster than the typical speed reading rate - so you can understand why $20 can be a bit much for a 300 page book. It's helpful for school to be able to read fast, but it stinks when you want to read for entertainment. I can't slow down, or I lose comprehension.)

If you can get through books so fast, I'm not sure why you wouldn't utilize the library heavily, if only to broaden your horizons and find authors whose books you would want to buy. If you really insist on owning books you read, a good used bookstore is a great resource. Try reading some classics that aren't required for school, nothing helped my appreciation of literature more than not having to read something. You can also get a lot of the classics for pretty cheap if you get the mass paperback edition. You might also want to read some really long books (warning tvtropes) that will take you a while to finish regardless of your reading speed; I would recommend Charles Dickens or Neil Stevenson.

Mostly I'm jealous that you can read so much faster than I can, and I think it'd be a shame if you didn't get some real enjoyment of literature to go with your skill.
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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby novax6 » Thu Jul 22, 2010 7:25 am UTC

This is just like when people say that there's no good music anymore or other such bs, and in both cases those people just aren't looking hard enough. Looking at only the bestsellers and 'popular' books is just the listening to the radio. There can be some good stuff here or there, but the majority of it is crap. You should only need the popularity of Twilight or Dan Brown as evidence to that.

If you're disappointed by current books, then you need to stop reading what you've been reading and branch out. Try different authors, and different genres then you're used to. Find books that are prize winning or that are highly recommended by people who have similar tastes. Go on Goodreads or Amazon and find a highly rated book you've never heard of, and if it sounds interesting, read that. You might a new favorite author, or at the least something that's a different. There are so many good books out there, some new and some decades old that it would take you forever to read them all.

About the reading fast thing, maybe try slowing down a bit? I don't think there's any way someone could appreciate an author like Cormack Mccarthy or Dostoevsky reading that fast. Why do you lose comprehension when you read slower? But in addition you could get used paperbacks instead of new ones, which still shouldn't be 20 bucks, more like 10-15, and used about half that.
Last edited by novax6 on Thu Jul 22, 2010 7:39 am UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Thu Jul 22, 2010 7:32 am UTC

Short story collections are an amazing resource for introducing yourself to upcoming authors you may enjoy, but the only way to find the good books is by reading lots of them. If you can't find them, it only means your finger is not on the pulse. I don't know any good music right now because lately I've been too interested in other things to be bothered to look.
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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby KestrelLowing » Thu Jul 22, 2010 3:19 pm UTC

Oh, I do use a library when I have access to one. I've been moving about every 4 months for school and work and such, so sometimes I can't get a library card until I get a bill which can be a month or two into the time I'm there.

I just really like owning books, so when I find a good one, I'll buy it and reread it a lot. Used bookstores are an excellent option that I completely forgot about. I'll have to see if there are any in my area.

I probably do need to broaden my horizons a bit, (I'm a bit too stuck in sci-fi and fantasy) so maybe I'll just grab some award winning books off the library shelf and read them.

As to why I lose comprehension when I slow down, it's like I can't remember the first part of the sentence and then I have to re-read it in order for the passage to make sense. I get really annoyed at people who talk slowly as well. (Sorry to all the southern US people out there, but holy crap! You can say more than one word a second. Yes, I know not all southern people talk slowly) My brain is the type that skips from idea to idea so if my brain is not fully taken up by one thing, (reading fast tends to do this) I'll start thinking about something else and won't pay attention. This is also the reason I had to learn to type fairly quickly.

My speed of reading was enhanced by competitions in elementary. My friend "Sally" could also read quite fast. People found this amazing and would challenge us to race against each other. Then they'd read the passage and ask us basic questions to make sure we actually read it. My brothers also 'helped' because our family would get one Harry Potter book, and I was usually the one to go get it with my mom in the morning when they were still sleeping. This meant I got to read it first, and also meant they were harassing me to be finished. I was always done before the day was over - I read the 5th one in 4 hours.

For school, it's nice to be able to read fast, but I do wish I could slow down for pleasure reading.

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby bigglesworth » Thu Jul 22, 2010 7:31 pm UTC

Yeah, I can relate to reading fast, then being able to re-read. I've done that to all the great books I have.

If you want great award-winning books, you don't have to go outside Sci-Fi and Fantasy, there's some awards for those.

But if you want one to start with, try the Life of Pi. Great book.
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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby RabbitWho » Thu Jul 22, 2010 10:42 pm UTC

I know it takes a while to bridge the gap between kids books and grown up books (because teen books are rubbish and the best published grown up books are romance and crime) but don't give up on it, keep trying. You'll find the great grown up books for you eventually and they'll blow your mind.

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby cv4 » Thu Jul 22, 2010 11:45 pm UTC

RabbitWho wrote:I know it takes a while to bridge the gap between kids books and grown up books (because teen books are rubbish and the most frequently published grown up books are romance and crime) but don't give up on it, keep trying. You'll find the great grown up books for you eventually and they'll blow your mind.


Fixed for truth. Also, you uses the term grown-up books? I think that was left behind along with big-boy bike.

Great books have been written constantly for decades. Unless you are very specific in what you like, there will be a ton of good books out there for you.

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby RabbitWho » Fri Jul 23, 2010 12:07 am UTC

cv4 wrote:
RabbitWho wrote:I know it takes a while to bridge the gap between kids books and grown up books (because teen books are rubbish and the most frequently published grown up books are romance and crime) but don't give up on it, keep trying. You'll find the great grown up books for you eventually and they'll blow your mind.


Fixed for truth.


No, you fixed for clarity, thanks. I didn't realize it could be misunderstood. I didn't mean the best books published, I meant the best (most well) published.
For example John Steinbeck is possibly the best known American author. He's not the best of the known American authors.

Also, you uses the term grown-up books? I think that was left behind along with big-boy bike.

Yes I uses the term "grown-up books". I'm quite happy with my way of expressing myself :).
Great books have been written constantly for decades. Unless you are very specific in what you like, there will be a ton of good books out there for you.

True! :)

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby JayDee » Fri Jul 23, 2010 12:45 am UTC

novax6 wrote:About the reading fast thing, maybe try slowing down a bit? I don't think there's any way someone could appreciate an author like Cormack Mccarthy or Dostoevsky reading that fast.
KestrelLowing wrote:I probably do need to broaden my horizons a bit, (I'm a bit too stuck in sci-fi and fantasy) so maybe I'll just grab some award winning books off the library shelf and read them.
I find these two things tend to be related. Modern authors are really easy to read, for the most part. They'll use familiar words and language and so on. Keeping your reading within a genre means you become familiar with the genre's conventions. So it isn't likely this kind of reading will throw any challenges at you. That's what I find slows me down. While I can read most any modern fantasy book I pick up in a couple of hours, Kidnapped recently took me a couple of days - it was unfamiliar language (English as spoken in Scotland circa 1886) and I had to slow down to speaking speed to get through it.

Poetry has a similar effect (I'd bet Paradise Lost isn't something you'd get through in a couple of hours). Or anything, really, that puts you into "read out loud" (even if silently) mode. If you want to slow down, try doing that deliberately?

Non-fiction tends to make for slower reading, too, but that's more due to understanding and comprehension reasons, rather than the particular uses the words are put to.
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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby modularblues » Thu Jul 28, 2011 1:42 am UTC

The fast-paced media these days is slowly chipping away people's ability to appreciate/process/write books that are not mere casual reads on a train.

For much of undergrad, I didn't read for the sake of reading. I did bookmark some authors (pun intended) - Doug Hofstadter, David Sedaris, Douglas Coupland, Ann Lauterbach. They have very different styles, but their writing all make me think. Sometimes laugh first and then think.

There are some good non-fictions too. I am personally biased toward (1) quantum physics philosophical pondering (2) neuroscience & behavioral studies...

Okay, non-living author reference - Oscar Wilde's writing is painfully hilarious. I'll hopefully finish reading The Picture of Dorian Gray on Kindle software with my highlights and comments. I like paper books because they let me make notes in the margins, and Kindle is almost good enough.

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby LaserGuy » Thu Jul 28, 2011 4:24 pm UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:I recently went to Barnes and Noble looking for a "slab of recopies that are quick, tasty, cheap, not too difficult, and this book is under $25" cookbook. While I was there, I realized that the book I had been waiting for (The next book in the Unicorn Chronicles by Bruce Coville) since 5th grade (I'm 20) finally came out!

It made me slightly sad, because I realize that I don't love books the way I used to, simply because I don't think they're as good as they used to be. I haven't found a book recently that I want to reread over and over again, but I'd like a bit more challenging books than the Unicorn Chronicles.

I guess this might be a little nostalgia, but I still reread books all the time that I read first in elementary and middle school. I still think they’re good books, but I’ve re-read Ender’s Game so many times it’s starting to get old.

So where did all the good books go? Why aren't the 'adult' books better than the kids? Anyone else have this issue?


There's a couple things that I can suggest...

The more you read in the same genres, the lower the average quality you will perceive books to be, especially when compared to the first ones you read. This is essentially because books in a genre borrow heavily from the same tropes and storylines, so if you've seen something once, you're much less surprised if something similar happens again, and it doesn't stick with you. Ironically, this is true even if the book you are reading more recently is better or older than the one where you were first exposed to the trope. If you read Sword of Shanarra before you read Lord of the Rings, you might think that the former is better or more original than the latter, even though Shanarra is a total ripoff of LotR. Unless you find a book that is really into breaking the rules of the genre (if you've only read books like Lord of the Rings, picking up A Song of Ice and Fire is going to be a bit of a shock because it breaks a lot of conventional fantasy tropes in spectacular form). Branching out into other genres thus can provide a way to get that 'wow' factor back, because you aren't familiar with the conventions of that genre.

The other thing to realise is that rereaders probably have less to do with the quality of the book itself, and more to do with your attachment to it. There are a number of books that I've read that I thought were really fantastic, but I can't imagine ever picking up and reading again; there are others that are pretty marginal, but I will happily read over and over. It's much the same with old video games for me, for that matter. Most new video games, even the ones that I thought were really, really good, I will probably only play through once or twice. Some of my older titles, especially ones from my NES, say, I've probably beat 40 or 50 times, and would still be happy to pick them up and play them even though I've owned them for 20 years.

I'm actually quite happy not worrying about trying to find books that I am likely to reread, at least for the moment. I can go back to my old favourites when I want to, but it also gives me the option of working my way through a huge pile of non-fiction books and have been really enjoying those.

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby Angua » Thu Jul 28, 2011 6:32 pm UTC

I find good books by new authors quite a lot, either by people recommending them, or just picking up a book at random in a shop - the latest great ones I've found were David Farland (Runelords series) and Alistair Reynolds (lots of epic books - I started with Century Rain). Authors from my childhood I keep up with are Terry Pratchett and Garth Nix.

Of course, you can also look up series that have finished running now (or are quite old) like the Chanur series (C.J. Cherryh), the Dragons of Pern (McCaffrey), Dragon and the George (Gordon R Dickson), etc.
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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Jul 28, 2011 8:33 pm UTC

I think part of it is getting more critical of what you read. There was a sci-fi novel I recall reading a while back that I loved the hell out of, but now when I think about it, I realize it was just a bunch of furries moonlighting as racist caricatures with a bunch of very copied sci-fi tropes. I don't 'regret' enjoying it, but I doubt rereading it would provide the same sense of enjoyment.

I agree, that it's harder to find 'good' media as time goes on, but I think that's more a reflection of your rising standards as a consumer of said media.
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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby Kewangji » Fri Jul 29, 2011 2:11 am UTC

modularblues wrote:The fast-paced media these days is slowly chipping away people's ability to appreciate/process/write books that are not mere casual reads on a train.

As 21st century writer, I bloody hate this sentiment.
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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby Izawwlgood » Fri Jul 29, 2011 4:21 am UTC

Kewangji wrote:
modularblues wrote:The fast-paced media these days is slowly chipping away people's ability to appreciate/process/write books that are not mere casual reads on a train.

As 21st century writer, I bloody hate this sentiment.

As a 21st century reader, I bloody hate that sentiment.
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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby Jorpho » Fri Jul 29, 2011 5:07 am UTC

LaserGuy wrote:The more you read in the same genres, the lower the average quality you will perceive books to be, especially when compared to the first ones you read. This is essentially because books in a genre borrow heavily from the same tropes and storylines, so if you've seen something once, you're much less surprised if something similar happens again, and it doesn't stick with you. Ironically, this is true even if the book you are reading more recently is better or older than the one where you were first exposed to the trope. If you read Sword of Shanarra before you read Lord of the Rings, you might think that the former is better or more original than the latter, even though Shanarra is a total ripoff of LotR. Unless you find a book that is really into breaking the rules of the genre (if you've only read books like Lord of the Rings, picking up A Song of Ice and Fire is going to be a bit of a shock because it breaks a lot of conventional fantasy tropes in spectacular form). Branching out into other genres thus can provide a way to get that 'wow' factor back, because you aren't familiar with the conventions of that genre.
I daresay Bruce Coville (of the OP) was rather guilty of recycling his own material from series to series.

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Re: What Happened to all the Good Books?

Postby Bufo_periglenes » Fri Jul 29, 2011 5:28 pm UTC

90% of everything... but there are really interesting books around.

Have you looked at the Recommend a Book and What is Your Favorite Book threads? Lots of potential recommendations, including from many people who read sci-fi and fantasy and, if they recommend classics, actually like them for specific reasons.

If you're interested in recent books beyond those that win prizes (for some reason, I personally don't tend to like literary prize-winners; I've had better luck with genre prizes), there are a lot of online book reviews (which I usually evaluate by skipping through the archives, finding a few likely recommendations, and then hitting up the library) and a LOT of blogs; if you find a blogger enthusiastic about an obscure book you like, that can be a good way to get more suggestions.

Meeting people whose tastes you share and then stealing borrowing their books is also useful.

Some of the best recommendations I've gotten recently came from authors whose books I enjoy. (A while back I got my hands—temporarily—on Once More, with Footnotes by Terry Pratchett, and it contained a preface he wrote for a book called The Leaky Establishment by David Langford, which also mentioned The Tin Men by Michael Frayn. Both were very funny.)

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