The other day, when reading a blogger’s review of The Soprano Sorceress, I came across an interesting question, clearly meant to be rhetorical – what point was there to reading a fantasy if the reader didn’t like the fantasy world created by the author? It’s a good question, but not necessarily in the way that the reviewer meant, because his attitude was more along the lines of wanting to avoid reading about worlds he didn’t like, particularly because he asked another question along the lines of what fun was there in reading about such a world.
Yet… I have to confess that there are authors I probably won’t read again because I don’t care that much for their worlds, just as there are authors I won’t read again because I don’t care for their characters. In particular, I don’t care for characters who make mistakes and errors that would prove fatal in any “realistic” world situation, yet who survive for book after book [I presume, because the series continues, even if I’m no longer reading them]. Obviously, those kinds of books have great appeal, because millions upon millions of them sell, and maybe that’s the “fun” in reading them.
But there’s a distinction between “good” and “fun,” and often one between “entertaining” and “thought-provoking,” and there are readers who prefer each type, although sales figures suggest that “fun” and “entertaining” are the categories that tend to outsell others significantly, often by orders of magnitude.
The question the blogger reviewer asked, however, holds within it an assumption that all too many of us have – that “our” view is the only reasonable way of looking at a particular book… and that, I think, is why I tend to be reluctant in reading reviews, either those considered “professional” or those less so, because the vast majority of reviewers start from the unconscious presupposition that theirs is the only “reasonable” way of looking at a given book. The more “professional” the reviewer is, the less likely this presupposition occurs, but there are still well-known reviewers and review publications that fall regularly into this mind-set. The problem lies in not only in the expectations of the reviewer, but also in the knowledge base – or the lack of knowledge – that the reviewer possesses. A novel that uses allusions heavily to disclose character will seem shallow to the reader or reviewer who does not understand those referents. A reader unfamiliar with various “sub-cultures,” such as the corporate or legal worlds, politics, the military, academia, is likely to miss many subtleties of the type where explanation would destroy the effect. Because of this “sub-culture” blindness, certain books, or parts of certain books, tend to be less entertaining – or even boring – to those unfamiliar with the subculture, whereas a reader who understands those subcultures may be smiling or even howling with laughter.
As a side note, despite the impression that some bloggers have apparently gained from this site, I do read blog reviews of my work and that of other authors on a continuing basis, if sometimes reluctantly. Why reluctantly? Because it’s more often painful than not. As a writer, for me such blogs often raise the question of why the reader didn’t understand certain matters that appear so obvious to me. Could I have done something better, or was the matter presented well and the reader didn’t get it? Half and half? Such questions and second-guessing, I feel, are necessary if any writer wants to improve, no matter how long he or she has been writing… but I suspect any author who claims the process is enjoyable or entertaining is either lying or a closet masochist. As part of being a professional, an author should know, I personally believe, the range of reactions to his or her work, as well as the reasons behind those reactions, but, please, let’s not have commentators suggest that we’re somehow outdated, out of touch, or unreasonable when we suggest that the process isn’t always as pleasurable to us as it apparently is to those who take great delight in complaining about what they perceive as deficiencies in what we write. Sometimes, indeed, the deficiencies are the writer’s, but many times the deficiencies lie in the reviewer, and where the deficiencies may lie, or even if there are such deficiencies, isn’t always obvious to most readers of either blog or professional reviews… or even of professional blog reviews.