Reviewing and Challenging Your Prejudices

Can I get in a blog post in the fifty minutes I have borrowing my parents’ computer? I’ll give it a go.

I read this article in the Irish Times today. I encourage you to read it in full, but the part I’m particularly interested in is this claim, made straight out of the gate:

What do we mean when we say that we loved book A, couldn’t get along with book B or despised book C? Not much beyond confirming that book A chimed perfectly with our personal prejudices, book B chafed against those prejudices and book C was cast aside not lightly but with great force, as Dorothy Parker recommended.

A challenging idea for all of us who presume to be reviewers – when I say I don’t like a book, do I really just mean that I am prejudiced against the subject matter or themes in it? That the book didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear?

I can only write for myself on this one, but in a word?

No.

I try not to spend time reading books I don’t like – the world is too big and life is too short for it. So to tackle this question fairly, I really did have to sit down and think hard to myself about the books I’ve encountered that I haven’t liked.

If I were to keep track of the books I’ve ditched and outlined clear reasons why (and I don’t generally get that analytical), the biggest reason I’d find for abandoning a book is not my being offended. It’s my being bored.

By all means shock me, offend me, challenge my prejudices, make me cry or scream or throw the book in horror, but please, writers, don’t bore me.

But when I think about whether I’ve abandoned a book for the crime of chafing my personal preferences, two series in particular do, reluctantly, come to mind: Twilight and its odd progeny, Fifty Shades of Grey.

At first I thought: well, the article is right. I loathe both series, and I’d be lying if it was purely about the writing in each (which I think is ordinary-to-bad, don’t get me wrong.) I’m also dismayed that both present an abusive relationship as Pure Love and a manipulative, abusive, creepy man-brat as Ideal Husband Material. I’m ideologically opposed to that.

But then, the biggest problem I have is not really that Edward and Christian are abusive tools, and that Bella and Ana tolerate their mistreatment because the man mistreating them is OMG DREAMY.

It’s that in each case, the writer has told me that Edward or Christian is dreamy, and shown me someone who is repulsive. They’ve told me Bella and Ana are bookish, intelligent, interesting heroines. Then they’ve shown them being doormats who don’t know the difference between Rosalind in As You Like It and Rosaline in Romeo and Juliet.

And that’s bad writing.

I’m currently reading, as aforementioned, Nick Brown’s wonderful The Imperial Banner. When the hard copy arrived in the post I, giddy as a kid, posted a photo of it on my Facebook with many a squee. A friend of mine commented to the effect of “Cool – but not really your genre, is it?”

I have to admit that I was kind of floored. Sure, my first love is the Crime and Mystery genre, but this friend knew well enough that firstly, I’m a history buff and secondly, I’m a pretty omnivorous reader, as they go. Moi? Turn down any free copy of a well-written book?

“Anything that isn’t erotica is my genre,” I found myself responding.

I admit to having deep reservations about “Chick lit” too, but Erotica really does remain the only genre I deliberately avoid reading, and one I’d not even attempt to fairly review. I see that as fairness to the writer – it isn’t their fault if the entire genre they write in just doesn’t square with my personality. Otherwise, I’m game. And as people keep giving me books that I would maybe have missed on my own out of sheer lack of opportunity, and I’m more-often-than-not loving these books, I’m becoming more and more open-minded as a reader.

I have more to write on this topic, but no time to do it in. As I’m dragged kicking and screaming away from the computer and packed off home, though, let me say this: Like Mark Twain, I have absolutely no love for Jane Austen’s work. But I’d sure as hell read it if I were earning a salary for doing so.

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One thought on “Reviewing and Challenging Your Prejudices

  1. I completely agree! The cardinal sin in writing is to bore the reader, not to offend. Reading outside one’s comfort zone is much more interesting than reading one’s favorite genre over and over.

    Like

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