On the plus side, they're relatively affordable (good value for money, esp. if LONG!), convenient to carry and available in all sorts of places; and if you pick one up without knowing anything about it and it turns out to be a really good book rather than just cheap brain fodder, you are delighted and amazed! (I found Poppy Z. Brite, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker all this way back in the 90s before the web told me about things I would like.)
On the down side, taken en masse, they tend towards mediocrity in the literal sense.
I got a really good haul of them at that store closing the other week, and read the first and most desirable two with considerable pleasure (though probably none at all of the entire twelve books would I have bought unless either marked down or at an airport while desperate for reading material): Stephen White's Dry Ice (I gave up on his books some years ago, after reading many of them very rapidly in sequence - they are like the thinking man's Jonathan Kellerman, but still only the dimly thinking man - I grew very weary, though, of the extent to which White seems to believe that drama can be exacted from the legalities of the psychologist's client confidentiality obligations! - but this one seemed better than the last few I read, perhaps just because of my time off from the series); and F. Paul Wilson's Harbingers, which I liked very much indeed (in fact it is strange I have never read any of the Repairman Jack novels before, though I've heard good things about them for some time - I will seek out others).
After that, though, I started three different ones and then put them aside - not that there was anything exactly wrong with them, just that there was nothing much to them on one count or another. They were boring, boring, boring! It is the curse of being a fast reader - I often feel, about 40 pages into a book, that the rest of it either is only worth about an hour or so of reading, and that I might as well just leaf through to get the meat of it - but this is a slippery slope, because once you're leafing that quickly, you sort of might as well speed read and just turn over the pages and be done with it in about eight minutes! Which is really all many of these sorts of book deserve anyway, you can get the whole page in the very quick scroll of an eye downwards!
So instead I have been dipping into some of the non-mass-market finds I got that day: Temple Grandin's Animals Make Us Human, which is full of interesting things but not really stimulating from a literary point of view; and Eric Ambler's Journey Into Fear (actually that one may have come from the Humane Society Book Loft), which is very slight and really what I would read in little more than an hour (in short, also boring) - but it is refreshingly lively in the writing compared to the ones I had to put aside.
An early paragraph of Ambler's that I particularly enjoyed:
On the rare occasions--when matters concerned with insurance policies had been under consideration--on which Graham had thought about his own death, it had been to reaffirm the conviction that he would die of natural causes and in bed. Accidents did happen, of course; but he was a careful driver, an imaginative pedestrian and a strong swimmer; he neither rode horses nor climbed mountains; he was not subject to attacks of dizziness; he did not hunt big game and he had never had even the smallest desire to jump in front of an approaching train. He had felt, on the whole, that the conviction was not unreasonable. The idea that anyone else in the world might so much as hope for his death had never occurred to him. If it had done so he would probably have hastened to consult a nerve specialist. Confronted by the proposition that someone was, in fact, not merely hoping for his death but deliberately trying to murder him, he was as profoundly shocked as if he had been presented with incontrovertible proofs that a2 no longer equalled b2 + c2 or that his wife had a lover.I partly liked this because it reminded me obliquely of something I'd read earlier in the week at the Independent, about a 1966 interview in which John Le Carré told Malcolm Muggeridge
"I dislike Bond... I think that it's a great mistake if one's talking about espionage literature to include Bond in this category at all... He's more some kind of international gangster." Le Carré's stance has softened in the intervening decades, he assures the Radio Times, but, "at the root of Bond there was something neo-fascistic and totally materialist". Re-watching the 1966 interview is embarrassing, the author adds – not least because he smoked throughout, hoping to appear intellectual: "I shouldn't think I've smoked 20 cigarettes in my life since then."In short I need to dig into the books I brought with me at the start of the summer and pick one that is a bit more challenging - perhaps the doorstop 2666, which I am somehow never quite in the mood for? That said, I need to reread Tristram Shandy for work, so perhaps I will simply set to on that instead...