I quite enjoy perusing bookshelves belonging to other people.

In fact, it is often the first thing I look for when I see someone’s place for the first time. I walk over and scan their titles, often with the awkward tilted head to make reading the spines easier.

It’s always interesting, looking at someone’s shelf.

Sometimes I find what I expect – my brother has basketball and business books, his two passions.

Sometimes I am surprised – a friend I met a few months ago has accounting books and…oh my goodness, Italian cookbooks? Okay, he likes to cook. Tidbit gleaned.

Other times, I am blown away. I once saw a guy’s place and found Pride and Prejudice. Another guy, a lawyer, had Wuthering Heights mixed in with his Girl with a Dragon Tattoo trilogy.

Bookshelves are always interesting.

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Recently I found T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone on my mom’s bookshelf. It is a cute little paperback edition printed in 1979.

I was surprised.

I was excited.

It sounded thrilling!

The king died without an heir — whoever pulls the sword from the stone is the new king — nobody expected Wart to be that person!

However…

It hasn’t been thrilling.

I began the first pages of this novel two weeks ago and have yet to finish it.

Reading it has made me yearn for more contemporary texts.

Why?

Because all this lengthy description and wordy language have made me crave more dialogue.

The story, I’m assuming, ends with the sword in the stone. I’m at page 216 of 286 and Wart (the future King Arthur) is still a young boy being tutored by Merlyn. There is still no stone in sight and a large percentage of the action of the story is description of plants, animals, processes and the like.

The novel was penned in 1938, and I will gladly say the ideas White explores of what it might be like to be a fish or a hawk are interesting and the comedy he infuses into some of the characters is amusing. But overall, I’m not loving the story.

Now I understand why so many writers, writing coaches, literary agents, editors, and publishers are tweeting quotes about dialogue dialogue DIALOGUE.

Challenge: Go ahead, take two novels, one from the earlier part of the 20th century, or even before that, and one from the last ten years or so. Open them each to a random page. Compare.

  • Look at how much of the page is filled with text versus white space.
  • Look at the depth and quantity of description versus the back and forth dialogue between characters.
  • Notice differences?

Novels have changed. Styles have changed. Readers have changed.

But bookshelves haven’t. They will still tell you about the person you’re with.

Have you perused other’s bookshelves and been surprised? Or disappointed? 

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