bibliophilic monologue · Opinion

Bibliophilic Monologues: The Reader Response aka I Thought We Were Over This.

I really wish people would get this. It’s not that difficult. It’s not rocket science. It’s not even math. Wait, rocket science is mainly math so ignore that. I’m talking about this:

john green

When I read this, my first expression was something like:

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Because seriously. SERIOUSLY. Wait, before I go off into my rant, let me point you to Sarah’s wonderful post where she makes several PERTINENT points and says smart things very smartly. I know this is very difficult to believe and no, there are no laws against it but reading? It’s an activity you do in isolation and your experience reading a book is YOUR OWN and no one can tell you that there is a correct way to read something and that you are doing it wrong.

Okay maybe your teacher may tell you that you’re doing it wrong but whatever, you only have to indulge them until the class is over. The thing that ticks me off about John Green’s tweet is the condescension dripping of it. Like, seriously. Like, I’m so hip I’m going to like, tell the same teenagers whom I think are like so smart that they don’t like know how to read. Why? Because they weren’t falling over themselves to laud the conclusion of what was possibly one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year.

Not for me, mind you. I read the first book and it didn’t gel with me so I passed on the sequels. I don’t care about the ending and I have nothing against Roth. Also, let me put it out there that people who threaten an author because of the ending? What’s WRONG WITH YOU GUYS? Go read some fanfiction and ship the alternate endings there!

I’ve been reading stuff about how the author has had anxiety problems etc. etc. and she should be treated gently because of all the issues she’s going through. And honestly, that sort of things leaves me befuddled. Call me cold, unfeeling and stone-hearted but an author’s personal life is none of my business. My business is with the finished product. I am interacting with THE BOOK and not the author. I do not owe the author anything except the money I paid for the book. It’s a business deal and yes, things do get murky because writing is an art but art is not marketed the way these books were. Art is not commercialized and art is – we will be here for a long while so let me just say that we’ll talk about that aspect later.

I know how difficult writing is. I’m writing my first novel (creative writing thesis) and it’s tough; it makes me cry, be emotional, zone out and just be an out and out mental case. You put a lot of yourself in a book you’re writing. You bleed sweat etc over it. You get my point. Anyone who writes knows that writing is not child’s play and anyone who says that it is is not a very good writer. However, just because it is difficult doesn’t mean that my readers owe it to me to love my book. I’ve had people read my books and completely miss the point that I thought was all but emblazoned on the page in big neon letters.

And you know what? That’s my fault. It is not the reader’s fault if they read something the way you, the author, did not want them to read. When I was reading The Hunger Games I was 100% sure who Katniss would end up with in the end simply because Collins prepared me for it. She set up the story and emotions in such a way that though the mystery was remained, readers were gently led to expect the inevitable relationship. So if people didn’t get what I wanted them to, it is either because a) I didn’t do as good job of writing the scene etc. as I thought I was doing or b) their experiences lead them experience that scene differently. If I wrote about a girl walking in the night and I intended it to be a non-threatening scene, I should imbue it with enough elements to make it seem so otherwise someone who is scared of the dark will read the scene and imagine a serial murderer to be lurking behind a tree somewhere close by. Know what I mean?

It is not just my opinion that reader responses are complex and there are several scholars who are smarter than me who have discussed reading in great detail. But what I can tell you is that almost all of them agreed that readers bring as much to the book as the authors do. In fact, some of the scholars maintain that authors matter not at all where reading is concerned and a conversation takes places strictly between the text and the reader. In other words, the novel is just pages covered with ink until readers give them life. Whether you agree with this or not, what matters is that when a person reads a book, the way the world looks like depends on him/her.

My point is, just because people are displeased with the ending of a book does not imply that they have entitlement issues and/or are twihards who cannot get over the fact that sometimes fictional reality sucks as much real reality. I would like it if authors did not continuously trivialize reader responses and reader experiences. I would freaking love it if certain readers understood that making death threats against authors is not right.

Surely Roth was prepared for the blow up following the release? Honestly, she did what she had to do but if I were her, I’d have disappeared from the internet until two months had passed after the release of the novel. But eh. That’s me.

Also, like, I want to say this: Teenagers and readers of other ages are not just minions over the internet to give egos the occasional (or daily, depends on your desire) stroke. They are real people and whether their opinions and reading experiences align with yours or not, their experiences are pertinent and should be awarded equal respect.

끝.

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12 thoughts on “Bibliophilic Monologues: The Reader Response aka I Thought We Were Over This.

  1. I don’t think you’re being cold and unfeeling by wanting to separate the Allegiant author’s personal life from the response to her work. I have a truckload of compassion for her anxiety issues–I’ve dealt with an anxiety disorder most of my life, and it sucks–but I also don’t think it’s reasonable to instruct readers on the right way to read and respond to a text because of the author’s personal situation. If I were her, I would have considered exactly what you’ve suggested, going dark online for awhile.There are also other ways to manage that sort of stress online, such as having a friend or family member screen social media and email. But to put all that on the reader seems ludicrous and insulting to everyone, including the author and anyone struggling with the same disorder.

    I’d hoped that writing about this mess would give me some closure and calm me down about it, but I find myself getting more and more frustrated about it, as others add their thoughts to the dialogue. I have a sick feeling that this sort of thing is only going to grow as the line between author and reader continues to become more blurred and the feedback loop grows tighter.

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    1. It’s seriously annoying and tempts me to just not follow authors whose books I like simply because I’m afraid that something they may say or do will ruin their books for me. Like you, I don’t think this is something that will be easily solvable as social media, though it’s awesome in certain ways, sucks tremendously in others.

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  2. This post is so brilliant, Nafiza. I 100% agree with you.

    If you don’t connect with a book, then you don’t connect with a book. End of. There are so many books that I’ve read that I’ve been very ‘meh’ over but other people, some of my closest friends, have absolutely loved. Does it matter? No. Not at all. I’ve never begrudged someone for having a different opinion with me and no one should feel bad having an opinion that differs from anyone else.

    Also, I agree with reading THE BOOK not the author. When I pick up a book, I don’t care who the author is. Whether they’re female, male, gay, straight, black, white, Chinese, green, blue, purple, had an amazing life, had a horrible life… if they write a brilliant book, they’ve written a brilliant book. If they’ve written a rubbish book, they’ve written a rubbish book.

    As a writer, however loosely you want to apply that to me, I’d be mortified if my personal issues affected how people read my stories.

    However, an author telling me that I “didn’t get what books are/should do” is pretty likely to convince me that their books aren’t worth my time. There is nothing more frustrating than not liking something (not necessarily a book, but in this case, yes…) and someone saying “Well, you obviously didn’t get it then, did you?”

    Also, like, I’m so glad you, like, picked up on the use of John Green’s like… because, like, that was really, like, troubling me.

    Sorry, this has turned into a bit of a rant but, basically, yes, Nafiza, I completely agree.

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    1. I like rants and that wasn’t ranty at all. I just find it amusing that for all the proselytizing about “entitled” readers, certain authors fail to realize that expecting 100% laudatory reviews also reveals feelings of entitlement. And that “like” irritated the hell out of me. Ugh.

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  3. So many good points.

    I have to admit, I feel for anyone who has anxiety problems like Roth because I deal with that myself. However, as someone who hopes to be a published novelist soon, I don’t think it is readers’ responsibility to treat me like a delicate kitten. On one level, books are a product, as much as we writers wish they could just be art. No one freaks out because someone gave a bad review to a hair gel they disliked. (And yes, as a writer I cringe at that comparison I just made, but whatever.)

    On the other hand, while it isn’t the readers’ job to cater to the writer’s wishes, it also isn’t the writer’s job to cater to anyone else’s, or even to know or care what readers’ wishes are. I think George RR Martin is quoted as saying, “Art isn’t a democracy. You don’t get to decide how it ends.” Some readers these days are very entitled, (hence the death threats happening, holy crap) which I think has been aggravated by a social media culture that gives people a false sense of participation. In the end, though readers today have the ability to interact with authors with frequencies they never did in the past, the story still belongs to the author. It isn’t their job to please someone who wants a happy ending, or wants a certain couple to get together, when that isn’t the ending they feel is true to their vision.

    For those reasons I fully support the decision of many writers to not read their own reviews, because let’s face it, not everyone who writes reviews missed the asshole gene, and I think you can get better constructive criticism just by cultivating a community of other writers around you who will critique your work in an honest but fair way.

    Wow, this turned into a bit of a rant :)

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    1. I think not reading reviews is a VERY HEALTHY thing. Why would you subject yourself to that much beating down? I’d read positive reviews and not the negative ones because I like praise (haha). However, just because someone didn’t like my book doesn’t mean their experience is somehow incorrect. I may be in the minority but I wish the distance between authors and readers had been maintained. And I agree, it’s better to get constructive criticism from your community of writers than negative reviews. Negative reviews will never say things that’ll make you completely happy.

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  4. Nafiza, I don’t have a lot to add that other commenters didn’t say already, but I do want to throw my support in to say I agree with them. John Green’s comments annoyed me that day. He has no right to tell readers what books should do as that is not his decision to make. Also, this is not the first time he has made condescending remarks like these. He’s also contradicted himself on several occasions. Isn’t he the author that is famous for the quote, “Books belong to their readers?” What happened to that, huh? I’ve pretty much decided not to read any of his books at this point because I am so over him and his position in this community. I am sick of his name on every book that’s even remotely similar to one of his. I think he’s overrated and his klout in the YA community if undeserved. I think there are far better writers. Am I mean? Maybe. But he needs to zip his lips when it comes to how people should be reading. I’m over it.

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    1. I don’t follow Green outside his books (book? I’ve only read one, haha) but I was really annoyed by this. It’s specially infuriating when you realize how popular he is and how many fans must have read his comment and felt crappy about themselves and their pertinent reaction to the novel. Sometimes the prominence of authors outside of their work negatively affects the way the author is read. You probably wouldn’t be able to separate your dislike of the person from his book and I completely understand.

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  5. Brilliant post! I so agree with so many of the points points you made:
    1) authors should not continuously trivialize reader responses and reader experiences.
    2) readers should understand that making death threats against authors is not right.
    3) “Also, like, I want to say this: Teenagers and readers of other ages are not just minions over the internet to give egos the occasional (or daily, depends on your desire) stroke. They are real people and whether their opinions and reading experiences align with yours or not, their experiences are pertinent and should be awarded equal respect.”

    There must be mutual respect between authors and readers. I totally agree that there’s a relationship between the text and the reader and the reader brings their own experiences etc into the reading experience. So no one should trivialize the reading experience and dictate how readers should read or what the correct way to read is! And we readers are not here to sooth the authors’ egos! Like the readers can if they want to but for authors to expect readers to always do that? Big no-no!
    On the readers’ part, making death threats is a huge no-no! Making death threats to anyone is never right!

    With regards to “I’ve been reading stuff about how the author has had anxiety problems etc. etc. and she should be treated gently because of all the issues she’s going through.”, I find this a double standard. It’s like, readers are told to respect an author’s privacy and yet when authors are going through a rough patch we are expected to be gentle to them? It is certainly not my responsibility as a reader, who’s a stranger to the author, to be gentle to her. If she needs help, go get professional help! If she needs mollycoddling, go to her family and friends! It’s never the readers’ responsibility or duty!

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    1. Some readers cross boundaries when they issue death threats but I don’t think a generalization should happen. We shouldn’t have our hands slapped and be told “Tch tch, you’re reading it wrong.” Eh, I hope these kinds of things don’t happen again. It’s so upsetting.

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      1. I totally agree with you. To me, people who make such statements come across as people who think that readers can’t be trusted to think in a mature manner.

        Yes, I hope that such things won’t happen again. Perhaps mutual respect and open communication might prevent such things from happening in future.

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