Back in the Saddle

It’s been weighing on me that I’ve fallen silent here. Most of the stuff I have to say about writing, I’ve been saying at the Moody Muses on Wednesdays. And I haven’t really had much to say otherwise. Life is life, deeply interesting to me but unlikely to be as interesting to anyone else.

But from time to time, I do like to talk about stuff. And I thought I might take a leaf out of my friend Corrina Lawson’s book, and write about stuff other than writing. More

A Couple of Thoughts

First thought: I should not be surprised that my imagination is sometimes pigheaded. It’s my imagination after all, and I’ve been known to be a bit stubborn from time to time. This time, my imagination has decided that it would much rather work on the Ennevel scene, even though I know a whole lot less about it, than on the Ilsabet scene.

I could fight it, but all that would do is waste time. Because, in the end, I’ll do whatever my imagination — and the Girls in the Basement — want.

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Second thought: Just recently, it’s become very clear to me that there’s a world of difference between a book I don’t like and a book I think is bad. There are any number of books out there I don’t like, for whatever reason, and most of them are good books. Just not books for me.

I’m not sure what this has to do with anything, though I think it relates to reviews. How many reviews out there give a book low grade — whatever the grading system — as if the book were badly done schoolwork, when the truth is, the reviewer just didn’t like it? I’ve always known how subjective reviews are, both from having written them myself and from comparing my responses to a given book to reviewers’ responses to the same book. But somehow it’s different today.

Silence is Golden

Back in October, I wrote a post about reviews. In it, I said that I had no intention of reading reviews of my own books (assuming I sell something).

Apparently over the weekend, a well-known author (whose books I have enjoyed) took public exception to a review she received. (I’m hearing about this after the fact.) I mostly understand the emotion behind what she did — I’ve had reviews that stung, that depressed me for days. And that was only on two books. I can understand cursing the reviewer and all her offspring, writing nastygrams (on paper, so they don’t get loose, or using a computer not connected to the internet), all that.

I can even understand the impulse to take one’s unhappiness public, attacking those that have hurt you. However — as many people have pointed out when discussing this — you can’t win when you’re the author. You can only make yourself look badly, and bring attention to something you might have preferred stayed hidden.

Which is yet another reason not to read reviews of my work.

October 23, 2008: Look Away

Today, one of my favorite bloggers, Jessica Faust of Bookends LLC literary agency, blogged about reviews. One of the “perks” of being a blogger is having her posts reviewed, and that’s given her some appreciation for the pitfalls of the experience. Her advice to her authors is not to read reviews, especially if they’ll make you second-guess yourself.

I completely agree with her. My thought on reading her advice was, “It’s one person’s opinion.” More

More Pondering: October 4, 2008

I did some more thinking about what makes a book work (or fail to work) for me, and I figured out two aspects that are so important to me, they act as gatekeepers for me.

One is prose quality. If, to me, the prose clanks, that’s it. I can’t read the book. Nothing else about the book will be enough to overcome that clanky prose. On the other hand, prose that delights me will overcome a multitude of sins.

The one thing lovely prose can’t overcome, however, is the second gatekeeper, which is how much the author’s worldview aligns with mine, in the sense that we both think the world works in a given way, that people act in a certain way. It doesn’t have to be complete alignment. It just can’t be completely different. Otherwise, I spend the whole time annoyed with everything because I believe the author is starting from a false premise.

I haven’t figured out the more negotiable elements, but I’m chipping away at it.

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I’m also still chipping away at Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa. I don’t love it — I’m trying in the back of my mind to figure out why — but I am enjoying it. As of this moment, when I’m 2/3 of the way through, I’d say it has all of the elements necessary to make it a good read for me, none of the elements that generally push me away; so far, it hasn’t shown any of things that take a book from “I enjoyed it very much” to “I just loved it.”

(Both assessments are purely subjective and all about my reactions to them — a book I enjoyed very much isn’t necessarily a lesser book than one I just loved — I just didn’t respond as strongly and/or as positively, that’s all. I think that’s true, to some degree, of all reviews, even if the reviewer says it’s the book itself, not her reaction to it, that drives the review.)

Better: October 2, 2008

I did end up reading last night — I started Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa. So far, I’m enjoying it very much — it’s moving briskly and it’s vividly written. I know I found out about the book from a review, but I don’t remember where I read it. Which is kind of maddening, in a can’t-close-the-loop sort of way.

I’m still not entirely well — not at all — but I am getting better, so that’s reassuring. Hopefully, I’ll be able to describe The Night Villa in more detail tomorrow.

Finding Stuff to Read: September 28, 2008

One of the things WordPress does is automatically generate a list of blog posts out there that might possibly be related to one you posted. Friday’s post generated a link to Nerd World: A Blog About Geek Culture, on Time.com. I did a little poking around (because I’m a curious soul) and found this very interesting post on buying used or new online.

My sister G. wonders where I find out about the books I read. More

Chemistry: September 18, 2008

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the relationship between reader and text. I’ve long thought that books and readers need chemistry (almost in the romantic sense) to connect. There has to be something in the book that satisfies a need the reader has, and if the need isn’t satisfied, the book doesn’t work for that reader.

I’m starting to read reviews with an awareness of that. A reviewer might give book A a glowing review, complete with five stars or hearts or a high letter grade, and then give book B a meh review, two or three stars/hearts, a low to middle letter grade. Does that mean, objectively, that book A is a better book that book B?

No. It just means book A met that particular reviewer’s needs more completely than book B. If my needs as a reader are a lot like the reviewer’s, then I’m likely to respond pretty much the way the reviewer did. On the other hand, if my needs are different, my responses are going to be different — the degree of difference will depend on how much overlap there is between us.

A good example of this is my response to Tribute, versus the response of one of The Romance Reader’s reviewers. Tribute didn’t really work for the reviewer — she gave it three hearts, which means for her the book was an average read.

The sense I got from reading the review is that the book wasn’t suspenseful enough for a romantic suspense novel. From that, it’s easy to imagine that she opened the book with certain expectations and needs, and the book didn’t meet them. (Well, of course she opened the book with expectations and needs — that’s a given for anyone opening a book.) I don’t know what my expectations were, but whatever they were, the book met them, so my experience of the book is different than the reviewer’s.

So which one of is right? Both of us. My experience is real and true; so is hers. That book was a mediocre read for her. My response doesn’t change that, any more than her response doesn’t change mine.

I still haven’t worked this through, completely. But it continues to interest me, and as I keep thinking about it, I’ll keep writing about it.