Bland Season For Best-Sellers

I’ve started a new habit within the last few weeks, and that has been to peruse the Kindle Top 100 list every few days.

I can’t say it’s given me anything new to read.

Let me explain my disappointment. I work at a cinema on the weekends, and of course the talk of the town right now is the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey adaptation. (Yes, I checked out the first book from the library a long time back to see what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t really my cup of tea.) So, with all the business of Grey pulling people’s attention back to the books, I went looking for something new that could catch my interest. Surely there had to be something that would catch my attention on the Top 100. There usually is.

However, there isn’t a single book that caught my interest on that list. Most of the listings at the top are pre-orders of Amazon’s imprints, which are mainly books that college professors would have had me read. They all have boring, unobtrusive covers and artistic names. Further down the list, I see books based on recent movies – Grey being one of them, and also American Sniper and Unbroken. Even Gone Girl, a book that I read almost two years ago, is still hanging on due to the film’s success both on the screen and its Blu Ray release.

Where are the original genre offerings I found not even six months ago? I’m a sucker for romance normally, as my family knows with my Downton Abbey obsession, but even those offerings are incredibly bland. They’re all carbon copies of previous franchises with nothing new to offer.

Is it the off-season for books? There is certainly an off-season for films, and we’re in the thick of it right now. I wonder if it’s the same thing for books as well. I didn’t notice how slim the pickings were for fantasy novels and even horror fiction until I set down my own work and came up for air.

Thankfully, Audible came to my rescue this time. I discovered David Eddings’s Belgariad series and have started it, hungry for something new. As my physical book shelf gets downsized, I’m seeking to replace it with new, digital books and audiobooks. Yet, there are only so many Song of Ice and Fire books out there. The same can be said for the Stephen King collection – and he’s an incredibly prolific author.

Perhaps I just need to dig deeper than the Top 100. Specifically where fantasy is concerned, I’ve become very disillusioned by the indie crowd. There are a few who take their craft very seriously, most specifically I’m thinking of Mitchell Hogan’s A Crucible of Souls, which I’ve started recently in audio. But, there are an equally large number of writers who seem to be hacking their way through an underserved genre. I was very disappointed by Edward M. Knight’s Ashes Saga, as he has gutted his website (which was sparse to begin with) and virtually cut off all contact with his readers. His first book was enjoyable, though it became too much of a montage towards the end. Where were the scenes that allowed me to connect with his characters? If I wanted just a straight-up drunken story at a bar, there are plenty of them where I live. They wouldn’t involve evil orcs or magic daggers, but that’s beyond the point. Looking at Knight’s success as far as gaining readers goes, his first book appears to be just a case of luck, since the second book has virtually the same cover and the story flounders, making barely any progress from where the first one left off. I was hoping for someone who could be prolific and surprising in the indie side of the genre, but haven’t found that yet.

On the other hand, an author who I haven’t been able to get through but seems to be incredibly prolific is Morgan Rice. Her (or his) books are independent, and her fantasy series has gone on for nearly fifteen books. But, they are all imitations of other works who have done the same story over and over. Even with the first book for free, I couldn’t get into it.

As far as horror goes, I have downloaded a few books by different writers who are up there on the charts, and have been let down a bit as far as creativity goes. I demand a lot of my horror. There needs to be a fine blend of the familiar and also the sprinkling of new, unexpected developments. Where some of the books I read were intriguing as far as their content went, I was surprised by the slap-dash way that most of the offerings were put together. Many did not have paragraphs, an appealing textual design (meaning, the spacing of headings to differentiate them from the block of the actual narrative text), and in some cases, it felt like the author was just throwing their blog into an eBook form and selling it for two or three dollars. It really isn’t enough to just put red text onto a picture of a cemetery and include a linked table of contents. To be fair, a lot of these horror authors claim to be paranormal investigators in their bios, which was one of the initial draws for me. Their books were billed as “true” accounts, with names and places changed of course, so that I could never question whether the story was real or fabricated. So, it made sense that these writers wouldn’t be experts at eBook design. But, neither was I when I started out, and it’s not that hard to learn with a few tutorials. If I’m spending a dollar or more on a book, I want it to at least feel semi-thought out as far as presentation goes.

This all sounds like just a bunch of criticism, but there’s a point I’m getting at.

The point is, I suppose what I’m discovering is that my tastes in genre fiction are growing. I’m finding my old haunts are becoming less and less enjoyable to re-read and I’m seeking out fresh stories that I can experience for the first time. But, I won’t take just anything. I want something that is a little more complex than a run of the mill fantasy or horror book. I don’t want to read Eragon, which is basically a retelling of Star Wars with dragons instead of a Millenium Falcon. I want to be surprised, and more than that, I want to feel like I’m a part of a reading experience that others have also shared. To use my gender for a moment, I guess I’m sort of envious of all the women who will be going to the cinema in droves to watch Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m envious because it is an experience that will allow for conversation and the expressing of opinions. Right now, for the genres I love, there isn’t a whole lot that fits into that category of media. It’s a long time before The Force Awakens gets here, or even Age of Ultron. I’m excited for those stories, but I also wish there was something out right now during these claustrophobic winter months that could take me away from the snow and the cold.

I shouldn’t complain too much. I did find Eddings, after all. Hopefully those books last me for a little bit.

But, I’ll still be on the lookout for the next big thing in fantasy and horror. Maybe even in other genres I haven’t given a try yet. At the same time, I’ll try to make my own work live up to my standards as a reader. That is the scariest part of the job, after all, and perhaps that’s the reason why the pickings are so slim right now.

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