Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Bee in My Bonnet

Nathan Bransford had a very interesting post today, one that brought home an issue I have been meaning to blog about recently, and so this seems like maybe the right time.

I suppose what makes Nathan's blog so often interesting is that he sometimes just presents a question that is a springboard for others to comment, and sometimes the real blog is in the comments themselves. This was the case today, when he asked the question: What book did you just not get?

He didn't ask about specific authors you didn't like, but particular books, which not everyone adhered to, and he did limit this to dead authors, and I was glad of that, because I have had a real bee in my bonnet lately about the want-to-be-published writers slamming other writers. It seems like there is always someone ready to slam some other writer, mostly published ones, and mostly ones of some fame or success. It seems like the more money a writer makes, the more books he or she publishes, the more other writers want to talk about how untalented they are, or how lousy the writing is, or how underdeveloped the plot or characters are, or... anything!

Am I the only one who realizes that reading is a completely subjective thing?

I know that the books I love are not necessarily the kind of books my friends will like. That's okay with me. And just because I don't like some of the books they like, doesn't mean they have terrible taste in books.

In college we had what we called the Faulkner/Hemingway wars. Everyone loved one or the other, but not both. And everyone felt passionately about which style was GREAT writing, and which was TERRIBLE writing. And it was never even about the stories themselves, but about the way in which they were written.

These authors were well dead by then, and I never considered it bad form to debate the topic, especially because it seemed like less a personal attack on them and more like a debate about what constitutes good literature. And because these conversations took place in classrooms, and occasionally spilled over into diners or the student union, but never on the internet or the wider world.

But lately, on many wanna-be blogs and in comments on many agent blogs I have seen a definite personal attack on writers. Not, as Nathan says, an "I didn't get this" moment, but a "how in the world does this person get published because he or she is a rotten writer." And not just the dead writers, which I am less likely to get upset about because they are not likely to take it personally, but also because their books were published in a very different world, and are being published today for different reasons than new authors are published. They mostly slam new writers, and most definitely living writers.

Okay, I'm going out on a limb to say they are published because their work sells. Someone is making money on the books besides the author. And when their work stops selling because the quality of writing declines so much that readers say, "this isn't the author I use to buy and love anymore," then they will stop being published. Until then, I keep my own mouth shut and wish I could sell that many books as well.

I am not some Pollyanna. Really, I'm not. I wish ill on the squirrels that steal my bird food. I occasionally lie to telemarketers to get off the phone faster. But I do hope that more writers get published, and I do hope they sell lots of books. Even the people who write stories I don't necessarily like. Even science fiction, which I don't read. And thrillers, which I gave up when my kids were born and I wanted a better outlook on life. And fantasy, which, unless you are C.S.Lewis or J.K. Rowling I probably can't get one paragraph into. And yes, even commercial/literary fiction, which is where I hope to break in and someday share a shelf. I hope there are enough readers for all of us.

I enjoyed Nathan's question, and the answers, today, because they didn't really step on my toes. Some books I love were mentioned as ones others hated. I'm okay with that. What I'm not okay with is when people say there is no redeeming quality to those books.

And if you've started 50 books this year and haven't managed to finish one of them, maybe the problem isn't with the writers. Maybe it's you.

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