Book.Review: Blindness

blindnessI’m not sure how Nobel prizes are handed out. I believe it is based on an author’s body of work, not just on one book, but after reading Blindness, I’m unwilling to read any more of José Saramago’s books to find out if, in my opinion of course, he deserved the prize.

You can think what you want, that maybe I’m not intellectual enough to appreciate this book that “has swept the reading public with its powerful portrayal of man’s worst appetites and weaknesses-and man’s ultimately exhilarating spirit.”*  To be very blunt, I thought this book, Blindness, was crap.

[Sorry, but crap is a funnily appropriate term considering Saramago’s obsession with shit.]

The books wasn’t compelling, and it could easily have been. The story was there, the storytelling was not.

I got past his “…long blocks of unbroken prose, lacking conventional markers like paragraph breaks and quotation marks…”**  I struggled with how the point of view was all over the place: third person, head-hopping, first person, and the much confusing we used when Saramago interjected himself into the novel to have a short conversation with the reader, just in case you, the reader, weren’t smart enough to get the point. Near the end, even the dog got a chance to share its point of view.

I don’t have problems with difficult books. I’ve read Faulkner’s Sound and Fury, for goodness sake. I actually love Faulkner, and have read most of his books. I’ve read Dostoyevsky and Eco, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. I’ve read Borges and Marquez. And I’ve read quite a few of the other Nobel Laureates, and that’s why I don’t understand how this book could have gained the following it has. These other authors, their stories engaged me as a reader. Blindness did not.

What bothered me was two fold.

One, I didn’t care about the characters, not really. [I told myself I was going to finish this book whether I wanted to or not, because I felt it had to have some redeeming qualities. It didn’t.]  It wasn’t until I was about half-way through, when the doctor’s wife realized she had the scissors, that I actually got just a teensy bit interested in what might happen, but even that fell a flat, was too predictable.

The doctor’s wife would have been a great protagonist. The one person who can see in a city of blind people, how could that not be more engrossing than the “village chorus”**?

Did I mention that no one had names, that they were the first blind man and the doctor’s wife and the boy with the squint, etc? Maybe that was a way of being clever, of trying to show how blindness can de-humanize us, but it put distance between me and the characters. I didn’t connect with any of them, not even during the most horrific scenes.

And finally, regarding characters, it felt very obvious that this book was written by an old man. The women were two-dimensional, more so than the men. They were either whores or mothers or crazy, mostly whores. I really disliked his treatment of women, and not in the way you would imagine. The rape scenes and the surrounding text did not anger me because those scenes felt like possibly the only true to life scenes in the book. I just felt like I didn’t care about these women. They were all whores or crazy, and uninteresting whores and crazies at that.

Two, the book felt antiquated. I kept thinking it was written in and about the 1930-40s, until he would throw in a term like microwave or AIDS that made me stop and wonder too many things that kicked me out of the story.

Why were none of the women concerned about birth control or the spread of venereal diseases? With all the shit everywhere, why did none of the women get infections? [Old man writing?] Why did no one have a computer? And considering the problems the sighted doctor’s wife dealt with in the city, were there no flashlights with batteries? Really? In a city of blind people, you’d think flashlights wouldn’t be in high demand. Where were the malls? the REIs? Where were the religious fanatics? Surely someone in the hospital would have been shouting how this was all God’s will, that he was punishing sinners. Where were the drug addicts going through withdrawal? Why did no one in the hospital have cancer or diabetes or require special medicines? Did no one get a cold or have a headache?  Did no one bring a bag full of drugs, over the counter or not? Why, out of 200+  inmates, did only one person bring a gun?

Did the blindness intentionally take the good, the old, the boring people first?

I just couldn’t relate to these people or the problems they were having. The people in Saramago’s world were more concerned with filth, with how everything was covered in shit and piss, than with realities. Saramago must have had some psychological problem with cleanliness. I get it. It smelled really bad and felt really bad, conditions were unsanitary, but if you say it more than three times you’re beating the reader over the head with it and showing the world your own obsessions.

He needed to show us what real people deal with everyday, things that would have been exacerbated by blindness. Things besides their bathroom habits.

Maybe a lot of these things were in the book but I just didn’t care enough to remember. Maybe they were too subtle for me to notice, or maybe I’m not intelligent enough to get it. Or maybe they were covered over with shit.

I gave this book two-stars because I did finish it. I didn’t want to, but I did.

 * Blindness (Amazon)

** José Saramago, Nobel Prize-Winning Portuguese Writer, Dies at 87

Do Yourself a Favor: Edit Your Book

IMG_20140627_165856Yesterday, Lorraine Devon Wilke was a guest blogger on Indies Unlimited. After starting out with the Amazon/Hachette debate, her post, The Persistence of Self-Publishing Stigmas and How To Transcend Themmoved to a topic that’s a constant source of irritation for me.  Lorraine’s opinions on why indie-authors are typically thought of as sub-par was spot-on, and you can read her opinions for yourself.

I agree with Ms. Wilke, but not because I’m an uppity my-writing-is better-than-yours author. No, I agree with her because I’m an avid reader, and I have pulled down far too many badly written indie books, rife with typos, poor grammar, and just plain bad writing. So many that I have a “Don’t Like” folder on my Kindle so that I won’t forget the author’s name. So many that I now shy away from most authors I haven’t read before. I paid for many of those poorly written books. But even if a book is free, I’m investing my spare time reading your work. And if you’re one of the ones who is putting out these obviously unedited books, you won’t get my repeat business. Sadly, it doesn’t affect just you. Actions like this reduce the chance of readers investing in other unknown, indie authors’ work.

Do yourself a favor, okay. Edit your book.

~0~

First of all, the idea that you can’t afford an editor is ridiculous. If you don’t barter, beg, or pay for an editor, chances are you won’t ever have the funds to pay for an editor because after reading your first book, no one will ever buy another one. If you can afford a $5 Macchiato every day, then you can afford to save up, budget, and pay for an editor. At the absolute very least have beta readers. There are a ton of groups on Facebook alone where people are willing to read your book, free of charge, and comment on it.

Do yourself a favor: let someone else decide when it’s ready to release.

 ~o~

That leads me to the idea that you can finish the last chapter on Monday and have your book available on Amazon on Tuesday. It is enticing, and it is prompting many new authors to “rush to publish”. Even though the rush to publish idea is a perfect metaphor for today’s society, it’s a bad, bad, bad idea. Did I mention it’s a bad idea? Have you not heard the term shitty first draft? If you publish right after finishing the last chapter, then you are publishing a first draft. I’d even bet that you haven’t gone back and re-read your book, probably not even once. This is not even a money issue. This is an arrogance issue, a stupidity issue. What is the big hurry? If you really believe that you can finish your book and publish it right away, you probably aren’t going to be losing any awards/money/readers by waiting a month or a year, because books like that don’t get awards or tons of royalties or loyal readers.

Do yourself a favor: wait, re-read your book, several times.

 ~o~

With many new authors, especially those who are still totally in love with their own work, there’s this attitude that their work is as good as it’s ever going to be and they may as well publish it now. Wrong. Every now and again, I go back and re-read the work I wrote in my first writing classes, and even though I see the potential in my writing, I also see what a huge pile of crap my writing was at that time. And at that time, I thought everything that came out of my pen was pure genius. It wasn’t.

Do yourself a favor: attend a class, join a critique group, learn your craft, polish your work.

~o~

I could go on and on about poor workmanship, bad writing, and ridiculous cover art. [gimp is free, folks, figure out how to use it to create an attractive cover.]

But I still wonder why some new authors believe that they don’t have to do the hard work, that just telling a story is enough?

Is it possible that someone has told them that their work is the greatest writing since [fill in the blank]? It’s possible. Which leads me to my biggest indie-world pet peeve: coercing your friends into writing 5-star reviews. If that person is your friend, and if you’re a good writer, then you should be able to take an honest, constructive critique. Several close, long time friends have given me a 3-star rating because literary [women’s literary] fiction isn’t a genre they enjoy. I’m okay with that. Personally, I never give a 5-star review unless I’ve read the book multiple times, or I think that I would want to read it again.

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While perusing books on Amazon, the first thing I do is to look at the review graph. If that graph shows anything other than an inverted triangle, then I don’t even bother. There is not a single book that’s been published that everyone likes. So don’t try to bullshit me that your book is so good that it has fifty 5-star reviews and nothing else.

On the flip side of this review/ratings coin are the people [usually indie authors themselves] who always give 5-star reviews, no matter how bad the book is. Maybe they want all the other authors to like them. Or possibly, these people think if I give Sara a 5-star rating, she’ll return the favor. That is not going to happen, and not because I like being a bitch. If I’ve read your book all the way through, and I see problems, then I feel it’s my responsibility to respect you and your work, and tell you the truth. This is not a mutual admiration society. We are authors. Stand up and be honest. Give constructive criticism.

Do yourself a huge favor: accept constructive criticism, use it to make your book(s) better.

~o~

Finally, I’ve re-read this post at least five times. There may still be typos because it’s hard to proof your own writing. You see what is supposed to be there. And I’m a terrible speller. But, no one can say that I didn’t spend the time trying to make this post as good as it can be.