I’m one of those strange people who don’t believe you have to be a Great Writer (the caps are deliberate) in order to be a Great Storyteller. Like love and sex, each can exist without the other and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Let’s take a look at one of the shelves in one of my book cases (I have a lot of both books and book cases) the complete Harry Potter series, Twilight (the first book),Candace Bushnell’s original Sex and the City, Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, Alan Paton’s Cry The Beloved Country, The Well Read Witch, AA Milne’s Winnie The Pooh, and a funny little book called The Daughter’s of Megwynn. The first thing that shelf tells you is that I’m hopelessly disorganized when it comes to my bookshelves (which is probably unsurprising to many who know me) and the second thing is that I have fairly ecclectic taste.
If I were to admit I enjoyed the Harry Potter series and the first of the Twilight books, I’m sure plenty of people would be quick to point out all the things wrong with them – and the reasons would vary from poor writing to vampires shouldn’t sparkle.
My eldest son was about eight when the Harry Potter books first came out and he devoured them. In fact the collection we have is so battered and dog eared you’d think they came from a library rather than just one family. These books have been read, and read again. Over and over. The story still captivates him – even though he’s a 19 year old musician covered in tattoos. I enjoyed seeing his enjoyment so I read them. She may not be Shakespeare, and to be honest The Goblet of Fire leaves me cold, but I thought Rowling told one hell of a story. In fact I’d read Harry Potter over MacBeth any day ( I think I just heard them revoking my NZ Society of Author’s membership).
I felt the same about Twilight. I fell into the story and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Did I think it was the best piece of writing I had ever read? Well no, though I’ve seen worse, but it was a great story. A great love story. The fact that the vampires sparkled never bothered me because I never viewed it as a vampire story. The story that captured me was the story of two young people falling in love, who technically shouldn’t be together. Some other writer has dealt with that hasn’t he?
And let’s be honest here – I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I would love to be the next Rowling or Meyer. Does that make me a sellout? I don’t know and I don’t care. At 44, starving artist has lost its appeal….
Anyway….I didn’t like The Time Traveller’s Wife. I loved Niffenegger’s writing. She certainly could make me see what was happening – but not once did the story engage me. I felt no sympathy or empathy or even interest for any of the characters (except the father’s landlady). I didn’t care what happened to them – yet I always felt sorry for Snape and could cheerfully have booted Bella in the Potter and Twilight books. The Time Traveller’s Wife just left me grumpy and irritable and I had to force myself to keep reading.
The jury is still out on Sex and The City although I loved the TV series. The Well Read Witch is a directory of books for …well….witches. The Daughters of Megwynn is a great little story that I found hidden in the back of my mother’s bookcase. The writing is at best…correct but it’s saving grace is great characters and a lovely storyline.
The ideal book for me is either of the two remaining on the shelf: Winnie The Pooh or Cry The Beloved Country. About as far apart as you can get in style and subject I grant you but both, for me, are brilliantly written and brilliantly told stories.
And while that’s the kind of writer I dream of being – one who is both a good writer and a good storyteller- if I had to choose, I think I would opt for being a great storyteller. Why? Because I love how my kids got lost in the worlds they were reading about. Because I love the way I feel when I’m lost in a book. Because quite simply, nothing beats a really good story.