I've been following BEA in cyberspace and stumbled across an amazing thread.
This discussion began after last year's BEA, but has taken on a life of its own. A year later there are still new comments being posted on the thread.
The topic: "The Book Loved by Everyone But You."
The number of comments intrigued me as I found both books that I adored (The God of Small Things, Cold Mountain, Love in the Time of Cholera, Harry Potter) on the list as well as those I similarly despised (The Giving Tree, The Great Gatsby, She's Come Undone). It's a fascinating conversation to follow and reveals both a problem and a need:
Problem - Reader guilt/secrecy; need - absolution.
Why do we feel shame when a book that's been lauded doesn't suit us? If variety is the spice of life, surely there remains room for a veritable seasoning pantry of literature to match diverse tastes.
Yet readers and writers seem loathe to admit when a "classic" or "critically acclaimed" text fails to set their hearts afire. Similarly we're encouraged to hide our love of "bestsellers" or "commercial" books. I can't tell you how much I struggled with the idea that I was making a horrible confession when I posted about my love of the romance genre.
This phenomena has become particularly apparent in the abundance of threads devoted to love and hate of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight.
Everyone and their mother has come out of the woodwork to heap praise or lob grenades at this series.
My own position on Twilight is mixed, so here's a summary.
Do I like this series? Yes. Correction, loved it. Stayed up several nights devouring all four books.
Do I think the writing is good? Not particularly. The story is good. The writing could be better, but I don't think that Meyer's writing is so horrible that she needs to be crucified for it. And I thought Stephen King's knock of her work was particularly petty and unnecessary. The writing community needs to get better at supporting authors rather than spending time tearing down success stories. Critiques of Meyer by other writers smack of sour grapes.
Do I think the gender politics of the book are okay? No, absolutely not. Some of my favorite critiques of this text are about the problematic nature of Bella and Edward's relationship and the whole issue of Bella's lack of self-esteem. However, I think anything that makes people excited about reading and gets us talking about gender and society is a very, very good thing. And it's still a damn good story.
The vitriol that accompanies criticisms of popular books juxtaposed by the secrecy with which readers surround their dislike of "literary" monuments makes me wonder why we're all so afraid to just live and let live. The one truth that rises to the surface in discussions about finding an agent and a publisher is that this industry is subjective. What works for one agent or house may not be the "right fit" for another. Nathan Bransford's "Agent for a Day" contest really drives this point home.
I believe I can love Stephenie Meyer, Kurt Vonnegut, J.K. Rowling, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez without the forces of the universe punishing me with sudden death by lightning strike.
Life is hard enough without petty squabbles about the books we're allowed to love and those we're encouraged to scoff at.
Reading is a gift all around. I think there is plenty of room for love, and I could just do without the hate.
*Comics courtesy of "Angry Little Girls," by Lela Lee. I love her work, but I do not endorse the ads attached to the comics, my apologies, they're just tied to the embedded text. Visit Lela's website: www.angrylittlegirls.com