Friday, 3 October 2014

Don't Even Get Me Started on The Da Vinci Code...

You are one of the rare people who can separate your observation from your preconception. You see what is, where most people see what they expect.   -- John Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

I tried to carefully arranged my thoughts on what I'm about to say. The last thing I want is for my words to come across as a complaint or a tirade on an old subject. I'm just thinking. Out loud. 

And those thoughts are: Opinions. How everyone is entitled to them. And how they can send a writer soaring to the heavens or they can kind of hurt. (As my ol' pal Vastine Bondurant says, they should not make us or break us, remember). 

So to the point I go.

I just read a couple of reviews of a book. What got to me was not whether the reviewers liked or disliked the book. Hey, do you like every book you read? Oh, hell, no, you don't. 

What did strike me was that bits of the evaluations were based on what the reviewers felt should have been. What might have been added to make them like the book more.

Aha! You think I'm going to go on a rant about reviews, don't you? Well, I'm not. As Vastine and I have said, I love reviews. I love good ones. I even love bad ones. Yes, I do. Why? Because, good or bad, my work is being read. And I cannot please every reader. But I love them all. The readers, that is. 
I'm honored when any person takes the time to give feedback on my work. Hey, I've known the sad, left-out feeling of having had my work rejected by some popular review sites. Plain and simple, I am not well-known. My work is no draw to anyone's visibility ratings should they review me. So...for those beautiful people---whether they have good to say or bad to say about my books---to host my name and my book? I am, as I said, honored.

But, when I read those reviews on this particular book, I realized something very important. I read that same book. I loved it. The writing was stellar, beautiful, passionate. I did not even notice---for an iota of a second---the shortcomings that the reviewers had cited. To me, the work was perfect. It was unconventional, bold, refusing to concede to popular codes just to be accepted. It was what it was and it was fabulous.

And that is my point. Can you see it? How opinion really is just that---opinion. A bad opinion of a book does not make it a bad book. 

Want some examples? I found some awful reviews on some of my most beloved books. Books I adore, books I have read over and over, books I wish I'd written because they are so damn good.

Salman Rushdie said this of "The Da Vinci Code", Do not start me on The Da Vinci Code ... a novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name.

Of "Wuthering Heights", George R. Graham had this to say, How a human being could have attempted such a book [Wuthering Heights] as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.

 It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote Leaves of Grass, only that he did not burn it afterwards, complained Thomas Wentworth Higginson about "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman.

And, again, on "Wuthering Heights", the North British Review made this prediction in 1847,  Here, all the faults of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë are magnified a thousand fold, and the only consolation which we have in reflecting upon it is that it will never be generally read.

Mark Twain hated one of the Brontes' writing so much he claimed to want to hit her over the head with her own shinbone. Ouch. 

Ahem. So there. And that is only the beginning.  So many citations on readers hating books that...well...went on to literary immortality in spite of those who did not quite cotton to them. 

Steve Maraboli says, I am self-propelled; fueled from within. I appreciate people’s opinions, but I’m not attached to them. I learned a long time ago that if I give them the power to feed me, I also give them the power to starve me.

I must emphasise that my thoughts this morning aren't only as an author but as a reader.

And my biggest point is, somewhere lost in all my rambling: books are written to the tune of an author's heart. They are not written to the expectations of those who have expectations for their words. They should not be written to meet preconceived notions at all. They should also not be evaluated on such.

I, personally, have found myself trying to streamline my thought process while writing into putting out what I think will meet the expectations of what is popular. Bad, bad, bad. For one thing, my individuality just plain won't let me do it. Epic fail for me. 

I honestly don't know if the expectations upon reading a book are based on what is popular, that everyone is supposed to write within the same guidelines. All I do know is that, if that is so, it's dangerous for an author's artistic soul to try to meet those expectations. To force characters into tried-and-true molds. To sell, sell, at any cost to the integrity of the book. 

Expectations. A good word, really it is. But...




Unknown said...

Hmmm....this gets me thinking. Aside from the big, general unspoken agreements like a romance should have some form of relatively happy ending for the couple, a mystery should be solved and a horror should be scary, I wonder if the reason I like books others find lacking might be because I enter the bargain with a pretty blank slate of expectations. I've always said I'm pretty easy to entertain. Maybe this is why?

hollis shiloh said...

I get so much out of your thoughtful blog posts. Thank you for sharing this balanced and thought-provoking (and warm-hearted) essay. (Somehow your words never just seem like blog posts but like essays to me...) :-)

C. Zampa said...

Jaime, I am just now seeing this comment!
Let me tell you. YOU are an author who has been an inspiration to me for this very reason. You are true to your gut and you write to the voice of it. Not to what you think outside expectations are. To do otherwise would be untrue and I admire you so for doing this.

C. Zampa said...

Hollis, like with Jaime's comment, I'm just now seeing this.
Thank YOU for reading my thoughts and for your own thoughts!