I have noticed this before. Faced with two library books to read, one beautifully written and deeply considered, and the other telling a story that makes me turn the pages, I will always read the second book first.
Not to say the writing in the story book can be crap, the story has to be well told, which takes skill, but I can tolerate a lapse of sloppy writing in the service of a good story that I can’t abide in the deeper kind of book (even though lapses of this kind are extremely rare in a beautifully written book, or in the book of any good author, actually). The compelling story-teller’s book makes me turn the pages, gives me a tasty revelation at the end of each chapter that compels me to read the next.
Walter Mosely, whose Down the River Unto the Sea I am imbibing now, is a universally appreciated master story-teller, like Stephen King. Both are also excellent writers, make no mistake, but they are primarily in business to tell a story. That is, on one level, the business of every writer, to make us want to read the rest of the story. The genius of non-fiction writer Robert Caro is to take a mountain of careful research and turn it into a seamless, self-propelling story that sucks us in. Journalistic writers like Jane Mayer and Jeremy Scahill do no less. The words matter, and none of these writers wastes a word, but the words always serve to advance the story. The story is king, Stephen, as you know.
In a life, what is the story, what is the overarching story of a life? What are the essential small stories in a life that make us sit up and pay attention, make us turn the pages, hungry for the next set of revelations? I have no fucking idea, really, but I know it when I read it. And you do too.