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September 07, 2008

Comments

Q

I always wonder what an author has to say about x event in their book.

hwalk

This is brilliant stuff. Actually going and meeting you has made me realize a lot about authors. Like they are very human and are doing their best.

Shawn

May I ask what the book was that you were reading at the book club? I have an idea, but I'm not sure...

The Boy

Your insight into this subject is incredibly helpful, Shannon, for us who are avid readers but not published authors. I know that I personally have been changed as a reader from these posts. Thank you so much!

PaperbackWriter

Shannon, these posts (along with my text book talking about commercial literature vs. literary literature) have spurred a couple discussions in my house about reading and what we like. I really appreciate this stuff because it's making me think! Thanks!

Dr. Sallie N. Cheinsteen

It has always bothered me when I have been in english classes and the book is analyzed in complete detail. Teachers say that the author put this part of the story in the book for this reason. Or a student says that this part is boring, has no point, and dismisses that section. I have nothing wrong with discussing books. In fact, I enjoy it. But when it is considered to be put there for one reason, and one reason alone.... No one can know why that was put in except the author. No one. And when students criticize a book as being dull, tame, and not worth the effort... I don't know. The author put it there for a reason. It's important for them. And to dismiss that is very irritating.
I loved your comments, Shannon.

Somnite

I guiltily must admit that I find the most fascinating part of your post that you still use Quark. Adobe InDesign has so many more features. Huh.

I myself am actually guilty of making assumptions about the work of an author and I'll remember what you said.

Evelyn

I love you Shannon, you are such an inspiration and I'm sure you hear this all the time by others who read your books but, I LOVE you.
I strive to be an author, and reading your books and blogs, well everything you say comes to me in a whoosh and i realize that I could never be as great an author as you!

Emilie

I've enjoyed reading your last three posts and while I haven't agreed with every word, I appreciate that a lot of what you say allows me to "agree to disagree" with you. And most of what you say makes total sense and I'm right there with you:)

I will say this about interviews. I reported for my college paper for three years and then got an internship and a subsequent part-time reporting job for the local paper that lasted nine months total. There were several times when my editors would tell me what "slant" they wanted with my stories, even when it became apparent that my interview subjects didn't see the issue that way. Other times subjects wouldn't give any real information, just vague opinions, so "leading" questions helped stear them toward more concrete answers. And many times the story the editor really wanted just wasn't there. I knew I was moving across the country very soon when I worked at that paper, so it didn't bother me to turn in a story my editor didn't want. For other reporters who may not have had that sort of nerve or who were still under the illusion that the editor is a demi-god, that may not have been an option. They deserve the benefit of the doubt, too:)

calandria

"When I haven't loved a book, I really enjoy talking with someone who did and hearing how they read it. Quite often, my opinion changes about the book. My own reading experience with it wasn't great, but seeing it from someone else's perspective helps me appreciate it after the fact."

I like to do this too, and sometimes end up rereading the book after hearing how and why someone else loved it. That's one reason I LOVE my book group.

So I have to admit to dissing the female characters of a certain male Victorian author I usually really enjoy. But it's not one scene--it's book after book, character after character, so maybe it's not so bad.

Good points, Shannon. Now that I've started trying to write a book, a read completely differently. I am more observant and analytical, but maybe a little less judgmental. I actually enjoy reading even more now, something I didn't think possible. One reason may be that I am open to a broader variety of books.

cando

I wasn't sure which post to put this under, but I just have to say that I agree 100% with you about Midnight Sun! I'm so glad that someone has put that out there for people to read. I have read time and time again about other artists putting something on the shelves, even after the completed book or the cd had been leaked on the internet. "Why can't Stephenie Meyer do that?" It's such an unfair comparison. I'm so glad that you made the point of Stephenie Meyer's work not being finished. Inspiration can be taken away so easily. A lot of people don't realize that. I'm so grateful for her being so considerate to put it online for her readers. I absolutely loved it!
By the way, I am now addicted to your blog. Another great post.

Enna Isilee

Uh oh. The next post is on reviewing books? I hope I've been doing it in a nice way. Usually the only books I really bash on are by authors who are already dead. Heh...

JoLee

These last three posts have made me think about how these ideas apply not only to literature but to all the arts. I always tell the students in my Humanities and Art History classes that, while I don’t expect them to like every artist, art form, or style that we will study, I do expect them to come to class every single day with an open mind. Because, like you say, every viewer or reader contributes to the making of a work of art or literature. I’ve often thought that one thing that makes a work art is that it is meant to have an audience (I suppose it could be an audience of one).

I also think that the development of critical and analytical thinking skills is very important. However, it seems that people have a difficult time separating the art from the artist (or the book from the author). And criticism shouldn’t be a laundry list of everything the critic dislikes about the piece in question, but an investigation into its inner workings. I must say, however, that I don’t have a problem with negative responses as long as the critic has come to his or her conclusions after a respectful and thoughtful inquiry. I believe the real crime is when a critic summarily dismisses a work. I always tell my students that if they don’t like a work of art they need to ask themselves why. But, I feel equally strongly, that a viewer must ask him/herself why he or she likes a work of art. So, I’m looking forward to your next post on reviewing.

And, I say all of this, because, however much we may quibble with (or vehemently disdain) the canon, I do believe that some art is unequivocally better than others. I’m not saying that Michelangelo is better than Picasso (or Milton is better than Fitzgerald), but that there’s a reason that you recognize the names of the aforementioned artists and authors and not a name like Paul Meltsner (a 20th century American artist). The amazing thing is that you can learn some fascinating things from Meltsner’s not-so-awesome art. But, the thing is, that this is not to say that every work by someone like Michelangelo is created equally. The problem is how to judge. What is this standard and who gets to decide it? And do we really need to? And so, Shannon, I absolutely adore your books, but I also applaud this 4-part (or more?) investigation because I think that you raise some very tricky questions.

rebeccajoy

I love these posts - they remind me that no matter who you are or what you do, you're still human, and being judgmental and jumping to conclusions is natural - but we should still do our best to have some integrity and think about the situation first before becoming critical.
Thank you so much for these thought-provoking posts. :)

Speed Reader

Great thoughts! I especially loved this part:

"Instead of dismissing a scene or character or plot device that rubs us wrong, we might ask, Why did the author make that choice? Reading it as a carefully intended choice rather than as a mistake gives us the chance to explore the story and discover connections and wisdom we might have otherwise tossed aside."

I totally agree with this. If I can try to get behind the "why" of a situation, then it totally changes my perspective on the the story/scene. I still may not like it, but I usually understand it better and can appreciate how it fits in with the rest of the story.

myrna

Great post. I remember just loving one of Ursula K. LeGuin's novels until I got to the end. I hated the way she ended it. But I respected her enough as an author that I asked myself why she ended it like that. I read the book again. I was on my third time through the book before I figured it out, but when I did, I couldn't believe I'd missed something so obvious. It's my favorite book of hers now. (I'm trying to respect the "spoiler" thing)

Frogster

I think some people are going to cause disruptions wherever they are, because that's just how they react to things. I'm not saying that it's right to cause disruptions, but it is maybe a tiny bit easier to cope with someone bashing your book if you know that they criticize every little detail about other authors' works. These people are never satisfied no matter what you give them, so you can blow off their statements a little bit easier and pay attention to the people who, when they critique you, are nice about it, and have something they like about the work, too. And I agree with Enna Isilee about the whole bashing dead authors' books thing--most of those dead authors wrote decades, years ago, and for some demented reason, the American school system is still making us read their books, even though newer and better books are always coming on the market.

Just keep writing, Shannon! We love you!

Erin

Reading it as a carefully intended choice rather than as a mistake gives us the chance to explore the story and discover connections and wisdom we might have otherwise tossed aside.

Wow. That hit me fullforce. It's so true. I always think, "What on earth? They must have been sleeping when they wrote that." when I get to a part that's not as good, (or at least not to me!), but now I'll keep that in mind! See, even your blog is amazing, in addition to your books!

Jenna

First of all I saw that you said that Enna Burning was one of your least popular books and I would just like to say that I loved it. :)
Also I would like to say that i always enjoy reading your blog, but these last few posts have been fantastic! :) You've hit it on the head.

Sasha

So many great points in this post and the comments! I agree wholeheartedly with JoLee's point that this discussion can (and should be) applied to all the arts. In fact, that was an idea that a friend of mine brought up during our conversation regarding Shannon's posts on how to be a reader.
I also took to heart Shannon's point about trying to realize that most (if not all) of a book is a product of conscious choice. It is easy to dismiss certain sections or characters that might not work for you, but trying to figure out why those were written the way they were is a wonderful reminder. it makes me want to go back to books I have dismissed and see what might be there that I didn't catch. I may still not like it, but being more conscious as a reader is always a good thing.
Also completely agree with the difference between a completed work being leaked and a partial work being leaked. While both are huge violations, one seems more harmful to the creative spirit than the other (partial work being leaked). I cannot imagine trying to work on a project that I know will be compared to a partial effort - no matter how much I might wish it wouldn't. Can anyone imagine the uproar if Stephenie Meyer had decided to rewrite large swaths of the chapters that leaked? It truly seems like a no win situation, as much as I would love to read a completed Midnight Sun (because I loved the Twilight series) - I understand why that probably isn't going to happen.
Can't wait to hear more about reviewing books, this has been a enjoyable and educational series. One question I have within reviewing is how much of an author's persona should be applicable to reviewing their work. Taking Stephenie Meyer as an example, it seems that many people believe her writing to be sloppy or thoughtless (a theory I do not subscribe to) because it is well known that she wrote her very long books very quickly and her "backstory" is so often highlighted in article about her work. It makes me wonder if some reviews would be different if it had taken her longer to write the same story, or if the books had been published on a different timeline.
Thanks for discussion, hope this comment isn't too long.

Rachel

I agree with Cando, i am now addicted to your blog.
As I've mentioned before i recently started writing and found it to be thrilling and exhausting all in one. I absolutely love it but i discovered early on that the better reader i am, the better writer i will be. Writing is so much more than words on paper, it's a study of human interaction and the feelings or convictions that move us all. They are not the same and they often contradict each other, but that's what makes a good read.
Thank you for this blog and the time you commit to your fans.

Lisa

"For me, the kindest and also most honest way of living is to give people the benefit of the doubt."

Amen! Last night, a girl working tirelessly away at the Cold Stone ice cream counter exclaimed to me, "You are SO nice!" And all because I made eye contact, smiled, and said "please" and "thank you". How sad. When did that become kindness? My mother taught me those simple manners, and it's not as though I was raised in "a different time". I'm in my twenties!

When did it become okay to rudely voice how annoyed we are about standing in line for more that 30 seconds? When did we forget that the folks working in the stores where we shop, driving in the car next to us, delivering our mail, or writing the books we read are people like us?

Aren't we all trying to do the best that we can? Be generous. I have yet to regret doing so.

p.s. Thanks for your recent posts and insights, Shannon. They've been happily swirling around in my head all week.

Lia

Awesome post.

You know, though, regarding giving the author the benefit of the doubt, sometimes it swings too far in the other direction. I remember a discussion in a college course about a famous poem. People really go all out analyzing poetry. The professor shared with us that people have speculated for years as to why the last line of the poem is repeated. Literature buffs attributed all sorts of deep reasons as to why that line would be written twice.

Then one day someone asked the author about it. And he said, "I couldn't think of anything else that rhymed!"

In another class, we were discussing the deep meaning of a certain part of Heart of Darkness. Defending my interpretation, I raised my hand and pointed out that the author specifically wrote in the introduction that the book was about xyz. The teacher hemmed and hawed a bit and then said that a book transcends the narrow meaning that the author himself puts upon it -- that even the author himself doesn't comprehend the full meaning.

Which I thought was baloney. If I find my own personal meaning in a book, sure, that's good -- but in a discussion about what the author meant, surely the author's own statement about what he meant should be paramount.

I guess what I'm trying to say is sometimes we look for more than is really there. In the immortal words of Freud, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." And I'm inclined to say the same thing about suspect chapters.

But hey, as long as the author has already proved himself by writing everything else well, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and bat around ideas on why a certain chapter is so different. But I'm not married to the idea that there must for sure be a good reason.

Shannon, I love you for starting these interesting thoughts and discussions.

Josh

Hmm... yes, that's an interesting point! When I started to read "The Goose Girl" for the first time, I remember actually not liking it at all, purely for the first chapter (I didn't know anything about it's connection to the Grimm's version - perish the ignorance!) But, like you say, giving the author the benefit of the doubt is not only good but rewarding. Once I'd followed Ani into the forest and she'd had to flee from potential death, the fact that she'd done that... I don't know why but I was suddenly rooting for her, I wanted her to survive, to save herself. And when she did, giving up her royalty and post, I began to root for her even more. She was intriguing, this princess, not at all like most of the princesses you read about. In fact, why didn't she just run away from it all? Escape her responsibilities and duty? If I could have told her to do it, I would have. But then she didn't (another surprise) and not only did she not RUN, she actually turned and faced something undoubtably frightening - not only a sharper tongued, quicker witted imposter and her band of malicious piratical men - but the duty that was given to her in the first place. PRESTO - Hey! What a heroine! And she didn't even win it with a sword in her hand! Even if it hadn't ended well for Ani, I would have loved her. To surmise my point, giving stories the benefit of the doubt is the best thing you can possibly do with a slow moving/ not immediately to your taste story.
(aanndd.... I'll be sneaky and slip it in since it's referenced in your post, I thought the Twilight finale was marvellous! Wonderful saga - though its a shame a good few of its readers have trouble differenciating the contrast between their OWN desires for Bella/Edward/Jacob, and desires which are true to the characters. It DOES say a lot, doesn't it? When fans become so deeply connected to a book that they feel the need to HATE it...)

Calliope1of9

Friday at 9:30. I just wrote it in my day-planner. Did I pencil it in? No. Sharpie, baby!
Also, thanks for the limerick Laura. Made me smile. You. Have. A. Gift. For. Limmericks. Very handy when you're friends with someone like Shannon... :)

shannon

I came to your blog because of your discussion of Stephenie Meyer and the Twilight Series. I have followed your recent "Reader" entries with thoughtful appreciation. I've since read "Princess Academy" and look forward to reading your other books.

The following comment may not be specifically relevant to this post, but I feel the need to introduce a dynamic that I've not seen discussed.

It seems to me that some of the vicious attacks on SMeyer follow a disturbing trend. We as a society seem to take great pleasure in building someone up to the peak of popularity and then taking advantage of any opportunity to orchestrate their demise.

Were people "gunning" for Stephenie Meyer?


Rebecca Carlson

After reading this series of posts I feel I ought to apologize for some of the book reviews I've written. Sometimes I think I'm so clever pointing out flaws, but then my own internal artist goes and cowers in fear, seeing the kind of treatment she'll get if she ever lets her voice be heard.

mb

What I've learned from my book group is that absolutely NOTHING is for everyone. We couldn't agree whether William Faulkner was a great writer or an overrated hack. Which is all good in the name of stimulating discussion, but it does make me wary of relying too much on other people's reviews.
I am seeing more and more grammatical errors in published books -- should I be cursing the copy editors?

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