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The Irritation Effect

After reading the book Vlad wonders if anyone would miss the author

Call me a sadist if it makes you feel better. I admit it -- I love it when folks write to complain about the Crescent Blues review of their favorite book. Their reactions tell me the reviews hit hard and hit home. But more than that, such reactions show that genre fiction affects people as deeply this month's critical sensation. A good book is a good book is a good book, regardless of where you find it in a bookstore.

But even the very best writers can't hit a home run every time at bat. Anybody remember Titus Andronicus? Your tenth grade English teacher, the one who insisted William Shakespeare -- the "Swan of Avon" -- never scratched out a word, probably wishes you didn't. As a reviewer, I agree with your teacher.

As a reader and social animal, I can afford to take a different view. For once, let's praise the less than wonderful book, not bury it. Face it, how much can you say about a really great book? How many different ways can you praise the virtues already catalogued in someone else's review? Unless, of course, you enjoy raining on other people's parade. In that case, you may wish to seek employment as an editor and sadist, or psychiatric counseling.

On the other hand, the less than wonderful book offers endless possibilities to the creative mind. So for once, let's celebrate the also-ran, the two-and-a-half star book, the one that takes a fabulous concept and either runs it into the ground or never achieves lift-off. The frustrating book, the one that makes you want to track down the author and give him or her a piece of your mind.

The book that should've been better worries you like a sore tooth. You complain about it to your friends. You dissect its flaws and wail about its virtues until you run out of words to parse. It sets you thinking about the essentials of pacing and plot. You redraw the characters and change the ending…several times.

Congratulations, you just wrote a story, all because of a not-so-great book.

You aren't alone either. Mediocre literature may constitute a writer's first, best source material. If Thomas Kyd never existed, Shakespeare would've been forced to invent him. After all, Kyd stole the story of Hamlet first. More recently, Sharon Green wrote her first five books in a fury over the chauvinism of John Norman's Gor novels.

Call it the "Irritation Effect" and embrace the feeling. It just may keep you from hurling the latest worst book you ever read against the wall. Your paint finish will thank you. Your neighbors will thank you, and your wallet will thank you when you sell the darn, undamaged thing on E-bay®.

But don't stop reading the "keepers," or you won't recognize the almost bad ones when you see them. On the keeper end of the scale, you could do much worse than this month's featured writers. No one explores the dark side of romance and redemption quite like romance superstar Mary Jo Putney. And in his or her heart of hearts, what fantasy fan can resist the conflict between evil monster and mighty thewed barbarian? Certainly none of Boris Vallejo's and Julie Bell's legion of fans. Together they will make you shiver with delight, providing the perfect antidote to the dog days of summer. Enjoy!

Jean Marie Ward

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