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Sun, Sept. 22

Williams: It’s what’s between the covers that counts

My wife and I developed a habit several years ago of reading before we drop off to sleep each night. With that statement, any similarity of our reading habits ends. These days, I prefer novels to nonfiction. The wife entertains equal volumes of fiction and a fair balance of the real stuff.

I like novels that clearly distinguish between the bad guys and what they’re up to and the good guys and what they’re doing to stop the bad guys. I want to see where the story is going within the first couple of paragraphs. I don’t need an introductory chapter to describe the setting and to painfully dissect each character’s personal history and psychological profile. And why they are involved in the plot.

I require only the bare bones of character development. For example, the sentence, “John really, really hated bears,” provides all the information I need. Anything beyond those five cleverly-crafted words is wasted effort on the part of the author and on my part for having to slog through it.

I don’t want an in-depth analysis explaining that “While Jane fully understood that bears have played an integral role in wildlife history, she still painfully remembered that morning in the summer of 1937 when a bear chased sister Colleen and her back to their cabin causing the tear in the taffeta dress that her mother had made for her just the year before. Taffeta had been one of Jane’s favorite fabrics ever since her senior prom when Gabbie, Jane’s best friend, wore a taffeta ensemble that won the acclaim of all their combined friends. That, of course, was before Gabbie broke up with her prom date, Jeremy, who really, really hated bears.”

Going down the rabbit hole of Jane’s summer, her torn dress and Gabbie’s tragic estrangement from Jeremy, whoever the hell he is, would consume approximately 11 minutes of my life. I’ll never get those 660 seconds back.

Put into perspective, 11 minutes is long enough to heat up a can of Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup and to open up a beer, or to shower and shave. So, I make the decision to be fed and hygienic rather than wearied by Jane’s tormented past.

If I’m reading a police novel that involves a private detective charged with hunting down an evil-doer, I only want to know that Scatback (the detective) will catch the guy who offed a liquor store owner two days ago.

I don’t need to know (and don’t want to know) that Scatback has been married four times. I don’t want to waste my time learning about his childhood or first, second or sixth marriages unless one of his ex-wives seeks a diabolical revenge on him in Chapters 3, 8 and/or 11.

I will admit that my wife and I both read a novel recently that took place in France during World War II called The Nightingale. It focused on the extreme circumstances suffered by the countryside French who resisted the traumatic German occupation.

The wife and I each rifled through the romantic portions to see if anything of significance would happen next. I think that novel was about 340 pages. If the unnecessary detail (extended romantic descriptions) were eliminated, that book would have lasted for about 220 pages, saving an untold number of trees that lost their lives just because humans started a war.

OK, I think that explains it all. I feel much better now.

To comment on this column, email wilaugust46@gmail.com.

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