Late night Greetings, Bearers!
As an early Christmas present to you, it is my pleasure to introduce guest blogger Eric Zawadzki of Four Moons Press for this entry. I trust you’ll find his words thought-provoking and challenging, as I did. -J. Dean
On Reading Twilight
I first off want to thank J. Dean for hosting us on his blog and for posting on ours. On Christmas Eve, no less. Man, are we ever hard core! Okay, so we’re actually writing this a couple days before all the holiday festivities, which is good because my weekend is packed.
Today I’d like to talk a little bit about reading and criticism. I ran into a forum thread recently in which some teenage girl was looking for reader opinions of Twilight, because she had really enjoyed the movies and was thinking of reading the books. You can probably guess the reception she received. Twilight is badly written. Twilight is anti-feminist. Twilight is proof that the publishers need to have their car keys taken away before they ruin books forever. Boo! Hiss!
Look. I haven’t read these books. I probably never will – not because I have some kneejerk reaction to them but because I’m not particularly interested in the paranormal romance genre and I know I’m not the target audience. I’ll admit, I can enjoy the jokes about sparkly vampires, but I can also enjoy jokes at the expense of public figures I’ve never met if they’re funny. Or honey badgers. I’m a creature of the Internet. Memes are fun.
Incidentally, reading should be too.
Here in this age of bemoaning children who would rather text or play video games than read books or play outside, we have adults actively ridiculing young people for the books they choose to read. What are you doing?!? Would you ridicule a toddler for asking you to read Goodnight Moon or Hop on Pop to her just because it isn’t as deep as Wuthering Heights or Beloved? How can we possibly expect children to read for pleasure if we dictate to them what is and isn’t acceptable reading material?
No one learns to love reading by being forced to read books they don’t enjoy. I grew up reading formulaic tripe like the Tom Swift books. Twenty plus years later I can see how formulaic they were and laugh at the idea of the Swifty in dialogue. When I was ten or twelve, though, I was fascinated by the neat new inventions and how they changed the way the world worked in dramatic ways. That was science fiction. My tastes would change and become more nuanced in later years, but first I had to have a good reason to make reading a habit and not something I did because my teachers required it.
This goes for adults, too. It doesn’t matter who or what you read, someone out there will hate it or dismiss it as inferior. If it was self-published, someone will assume it’s badly edited and not good enough to be picked up by a major publisher. If it is light and fun, someone will insist that the author is a hack. If it is fantasy or science fiction? Don’t even get me started. Suffice to say that when I was an undergrad, many M.F.A. applications specifically stated they would not consider any applicant who submitted genre fiction as a writing sample, especially fantasy and sci-fi. If it’s Dickens, someone will complain that he isn’t Shakespeare. If it’s Shakespeare, someone will judge you for liking a play they consider his worst work.
You can’t win this game, so you might as well read what you enjoy.
Nor should you feel like you have to like just one genre or one kind of book. Ray Bradbury famously said a writer should make himself a compost heap, and I’d say that applies to readers, as well. Read the serious books and the silly books, the important books and the frivolous books. Choose them to suit your current mood and enjoy them on their own merits. I’m a big proponent of occasionally pushing out beyond one’s comfort zone, but I only read maybe one work of literary fiction and half a dozen pieces of literature per year. Again, reading should be fun first and edifying, um, a little lower down on the list.
There are books I loved twenty years ago that I have no interest in rereading and books I loathed in high school that I have since come to cherish upon revisiting them. I have had books radically alter my perceptions and crystalize my philosophy. Some of those seem rather silly, now, but at the time they were startling revelations placed in my path at exactly the right time. This is perfectly normal. Sometimes when we read a book is even more important than what we read.
It’s okay to hate something about a book or series you love. When I was in college, some people seemed to have this curious notion that because I was studying English literature, I liked every book I read. My response to this (after the wild laughter, of course) is that no one can hate a book like an English major can. The same goes for any writer, especially one who writes in the same genre. It doesn’t mean we hate the book or the author or the genre. On the contrary (and this may seem a bit oxymoronic), it is quite often the way we express our love of them.
Every author and every book has flaws. Matt and I often make fun of Robert Jordan’s quirks even though (and quite honestly because) he was a huge influence on us as young writers. I can point out the shortage of female characters in Lord of the Rings and still love Tolkien. I can say that the first book of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife series is really not what I’m looking for in my fantasy and still rave about Paladin of Souls (one of the few fantasy novels I’ve read with a middle aged, female protagonist).
Finally, it’s okay for someone else to have different tastes. It doesn’t make them inferior or less refined. Not everyone will “graduate” to reading the kinds of books you like. Some will stick to familiar genres. Some will branch out wildly. Most will be somewhere in between. The choice isn’t yours or mine to make for others.
We can recommend. We can discuss. We can stick our favorite books in their stockings. But we can’t make them read any of them.
We can certainly increase the likelihood that a young person will never read our favorite books, though. All we have to do is shame her out of reading the ones she enjoys. TV and video games will be happy to fill that void you had hoped reading would occupy.