When I visit elementary schools, I often have this kind of interaction with kids.
"Who here doesn't like to read?"
lots of raised hands
Most common answer--books are boring.
"It's true, some books are boring. Let me ask you this, if a book is boring, whose fault is that--your fault or the book's fault?"
The book's fault!
"That's right! It shouldn't have been so boring. The good news is, there are precisely one billion gagillion and five books out there to choose from, so it's easy to find books that aren't boring for you."
Then we talk about how to find the right book for you.
I believe this. When you're starting out, first learning how to read and ready to fall in love with reading, negative reading experiences are in no way the reader's fault. But then we grow up, mature as readers, learn how to read a book, and gain more responsibility for our reading experience. Or we should.
I've watched a curious phenomenon recently unfold, as some passionate fans of the Twilight books read Breaking Dawn (the fourth book in that series, and a book that I adored) and blamed the author when they didn't like it. Not just blamed. It's turned into an online hatefest. I've never seen the like and it's been very disturbing to me. And it's gotten me thinking--is it the author's fault if you don't like one of her books?
There are some lazy writers out there. There are very poor writers who somehow get published. But for the most part, every novel in your bookstore was written by a passionate person who wrote the very best book she could and told the story the best way she could for herself. It's only natural that not everyone will like it. But I think it's safest to assume that any writer told the story she wanted to hear. I know I always do. I poured as much of myself, time, energy, skill, and anxiety into enna burning (my least popular book) as I did in princess academy (my most popular book). Of course not everyone will like them equally, but all I can do is write the stories I want to hear and then put them out there and see what other people think.
So, when you like one book by an author but not another, that's okay. But perhaps it's safest to assume she still did her best. Blaming her entirely for your bad experience is not only fruitless, it's just plain wrong. Why? Let's discuss.
Have you ever reread a book and had a completely different reaction to it than you did the first time? Love turning to hate, confusion to understanding, or disappointment to heart-stopping glee? Not one word of that book changed. You did. In high school I read The Stranger and felt as if my world had been turned upside-down. In college I reread it and found the story flat and uninteresting, and walked away untouched and baffled by my younger reaction. My understanding of the world, my fears, my needs had changed, and so the story changed. The words Camus wrote remained the same; nevertheless, the story completely changed in my mind. Camus didn't do that--I did that.
I've always believed that as an author, I do 50% of the work of storytelling, and the reader does the other 50%. There's no way I can control the story you tell yourself from my book. Your own experiences, preferences, prejudices, mood at the moment, current events in your life, needs and wants influence how you read my every word. I wish I could write a story that would appeal to everyone, but that is so impossible. I think most authors know we have to write a story to our own internal reader. We can please ourselves--that's the only control we have.
You are half of the story. But in order to participate, you need to give up some control. You can't force the characters do say different things, do different things, be different people--you can only control your own interpretation and reaction to them. You need to allow the author to tell the story she's trying to tell. It may not be a good story, it may not be your kind of story, but if you don't try to play along, you're not giving the story a chance. And in the end you might not like it--there are an infinite number of reasons why this might be. But the author didn't fail you--the author just wrote a story that didn't click with your internal reader at this point in your life. You are responsible for half of that story. So you go find the next book, the next author that works for you, and as a team, you and the author tell a new story together.
I think by understanding our responsibilities as readers, we can have more successful and interesting encounters with the books we read. When a story fails you, half of the responsibility is your own. And when a story sings to you, is beautiful, enchanting, exciting, life changing, inspiring--again, half of the praise is due to you.
You are powerful. Claim your power. Own it. And use it wisely.
EDIT: Sept. 1, 3:30pm
Whew! Well, did I open a can of worms? I have a feeling if I had left out those two words "Breaking Dawn" from this post, I'd have about 65 fewer comments. If you want to leave a comment, please observe our blog rules:
- Express your opinion whatever it may be, but do so respectfully and without insult to those who disagree. Squeetus will delete or edit comments that, in our opinion, cross that line.
- Refrain from mentioning any spoilers
- Please read the previous comments before making your own
- Do not attack any person, be she author, commenter, or yourself. Please remember that we are all human beings.
And again, this post is not about whether or not you liked Breaking Dawn or what faults or praise you found in it. There are many places on the web where you can discuss that to your heart's content. And whatever you say, please be kind, you lovely people! We are all bound to disagree and often, so let's do it with aplomb, graciousness, and humanity.