The Scenic Book Journey — Good, Bad, or What?

I admit that I started and left unfinished Moon Over Manifest until after it won the Newbery at which point I returned to it and read it with pleasure. On my first go-round, like some others, I’d found it a bit too languid and easy to put down and not pick up again.  Now having just read Laura Miller on the amount of description in novels I’m wondering if that was what caused me to lose interest.  Or is it a taste thing?  Miller references David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, a book I definitely found had too much description for me to stick with it.  I thought it was just me, but is it?  There are books where I love the world building (the Harry Potter series comes to mind) and the more description the better, but there are other books where it just gets a bit too tedious for me.  For example, I finally have put aside Salman Rushdie’s Luka and the Fire of Life unfinished for the time being.  I had enjoyed his first children’s book (and several of his adult books) and so dived in feeling delighted to be in that familiar world building, filled with wild imagery and language. But then I’d tire of it and was unable to sustain interest.

There is occasionally complaining about the bulk of some children’s books and the suggestion that they would have benefited by page culling.  Is that because there was too much description?  Or something else?

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8 responses to “The Scenic Book Journey — Good, Bad, or What?

  1. I enjoyed Moon Over Manifest, but I wonder, if adults are having trouble getting through it, will kids be able to read it through? Why was it picked for the Newbery Medal? A reader on my blog felt Countdown was a much better historical novel, and after reading it I’d have to agree. I’m curious how the Newbery Medals are chosen.

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  2. I think excessive description (or adverbs ;-) is just one part of it. What’s padding novels today are excessive plot repetitions and/or curlicues that only reiterate what happened already. In fantasy, it’s anotherencounter with a magical beast; in realism, the Mean Girls are mean again. Plus, most heroines seem to have three friends where two could comfortably divide the responsibilities between them.

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  3. Jude, loads about the Newbery process (and it is a process, in my experience, not unlike being on a jury) at the Heavy Medal blog. (http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/heavymedal)

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  4. Roger, Oy adverbs:) And yeah, I definitely see those overdone tropes filling things up too.

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  5. Anonymous

    Sometimes I think “too much description” is a scapegoat. It’s easy to tell when there are big paragraphs of description–you can SEE those paragraphs; they’re right in front of you. You can also skip them (and many children do.) When I get bored with a book, it’s usually because I don’t really care about the main character, and the problems in the story don’t seem urgent or compelling. If I really love the protagonist, and what’s at stake is really important, I’ll either read the descriptive passages (if they’re part of the story, I’ll read them with deep interest) or skip over them. In my experience, when a book doesn’t work, it’s usually because of what is missing–not because of what’s there.

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  6. Sandy D.

    I think it’s a taste thing. I can read through *pages* of landscape description in “The Lord of the Rings”, because the landscape is integral to the story (though I have some friends who vehemently disagree with me, and cite that as one reason they can’t stand the books), but in other pieces of fiction it just drives me crazy. Especially if it’s something I don’t care about (like shoes in chick lit.), it doesn’t contribute to a deeper understanding of the story, or it isn’t well done.

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  7. Remember what Emperor Joseph II was reported to have said to Mozart? “Too many notes!” Sometimes I’m inclined to sniff, “Too many words!”
    I’ve just started Moon over Manifest – so far, so good. Unless I”m skipping over descriptive passages without even realizing it…

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  8. I didn’t get a feeling of “too much description” from Moon Over Manifest, but I did find it hard to get into the story. I was hooked maybe halfway through – and I’d have to read it again to pinpoint it, but I felt like there were too many pieces to the plot – all interesting, but detracting from any focus early on. I don’t know what I would’ve cut, since each piece added something, but I wouldn’t be inclined to blame the descriptions.

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