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Posts Tagged ‘lolita’

Did I dress up for Halloween? Not really. I always wear black and I’m wearing black today, so I basically look the same as I do every other day of the year. My costume is on the inside.

I had a couple of interviews published over the weekend, and in the comments of one, a reader tried to inform me that I was in error to have a “personal” interpretation of a piece of literature. This reader informed me that I was missing or ignoring the “universal meaning” of the book in question. Well, holy shit. My surprised face, let me show you it.

This idea is not new to me. After all, I have a couple literature degrees, so I’ve spent plenty of years in intellectual servitude to the “universal meaning” of literature that any given professor espoused. When it was for a grade, I could regurgitate the meaning I was supposed to have absorbed from a novel, play, poem. I could reproduce the meaning traditionally ascribed to the author of the piece.

Once I got free, however, I started having my own interpretations of meaning that didn’t require me to check in with anybody else, including the author. It was a pretty radical experience, even inside my head, to not check in with the dominant cultural point of view as I read. Having been trained to view books from that POV, though, it’s easy to slip back into that mode. To have discussions about literature based on the perspective of middle-aged upper class white men.

vittorio-reggianini-poetry-reading

I almost let it happen this weekend, but then I remembered that I hadn’t read Lolita as a middle-aged upper class white man. I read Lolita as a working class pre-pubescent girl. While it’s all well and good for Nabokov to have had specific intentions, I was under no obligation to feel what he wanted me to feel. I experienced the book from my own particular perspective, one distinctly different from the received wisdom about the “meaning” of Lolita.

So today, on the inside, I’m the default reader. My interpretation of a book’s meaning is valid. If you want, you can join me in being the default reader. It’s easy and it doesn’t require grease paint. Just go through the day feeling confident that your perspective and interpretation of any piece of literature is correct. If we make it through today, we’ll try again tomorrow, until it’s not a costume.

And if you’re curious, my two interviews are here:

For the Kansas City Star‘s FYI Book Club (jointly hosted by the Star and the Kansas City Public Library.)
On Writer Unboxed, interviewed by Liz Michalski, author of Evenfall.

My November newsletter goes out tomorrow with more deleted scenes from All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. There’s still time to sign up.

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You might think the title of this blog post goes without saying, but considering some of the wacky things happening in the writing community these days, you’d be mistaken. We’ve had an author confess to stalking and harassing someone who gave her novel a poor review, and we’ve had a blogger apologize for years of harassment and threats against writers whose work she didn’t like.

As a passionate reader, I have always maintained a “review” of books I’ve read. In ye olde pre-internet days, I kept a little notebook in which I recorded the books I’d read with a few lines about the book. When Goodreads emerged, I joined and began to track my reading habits there. I viewed it primarily as a tool for me as a reader. Of course, as I connected with people on GR, I also began to see my notes on books as useful to like-minded readers. All the same, in the age of the internet, where data is perpetually retained and easily accessed, I have always tried to be polite when I write reviews of books. I am neither a professional reviewer nor someone who relishes drama. Just as I would hate to read a review of my books that was nasty or personal, I would never want a writer to read one of my reviews and feel that I was being anything but professional, even if I disliked the book.

Despite my policy of being polite, I’ve still received a few nastygrams, typically from people who loved a book I didn’t, and who wished to inform me that I was a stupid poopypants. I don’t think those were the exact words, but something juvenile and unnecessary.

Not a few people have cautioned me of late that as a published writer I ought to be more careful about reviewing and rating books, so as not to attract haters. I’ve considered it, and someday, maybe I’ll need to make a more anonymous Goodreads account, but in the interim, I’ve made a different choice.

I’ve always had a Did Not Finish shelf on my Goodreads account, to identify books that I did not or could not read through to the ending. Rarely do I remark on those books and never do I rate them. This week, however, I added a new shelf: Not Every Book Is for Everybody. Let’s call it NEBIFE. We know in our hearts that this is true, but it seems to get lost within the book community sometimes. A book isn’t bad, just because we didn’t like it, and a reviewer isn’t stupid or evil or many far worse things, just because they didn’t like our favorite book. I come face-to-face with this when I realize that almost 17,000 people on Goodreads have given Nabokov’s Lolita a 1-star rating. 1 star? One? Are you kidding me? I consider Lolita to be one of the greatest English novels of the 20th Century. I love this book.

ONE STAR?!?!?! OMGAAAAAAH!!?!?!?

ONE STAR?!?!?! OMGAAAAAAH!!?!?!?

Yet Goodreads reveals that two people whose opinions I respect have rated Lolita as 1 star. Huh. I guess we’re gonna have to disagree on that one, but I’m not going to send them emails to tell them they’re stupid poopypants. Primarily, because I don’t think they are. Secondarily, because I accept that even a brilliant book will not be the right book for every reader.

I was looking for an apt comparison, and found it quite by accident. I occasionally pull a recipe off allrecipes.com, and it struck me that even when people dislike a recipe and give it a low rating, I have never seen anybody get nasty or personal in a recipe review. I’ve never seen a recipe submitter called a stupid bitch, or a recipe called corrosive garbage, or seen someone wish the original recipe writer be raped to death, all things I’ve seen in book reviews. Similarly, I’ve never seen a recipe submitter get hostile with someone who didn’t like a recipe. Why? Because on some level, as a society, we’ve done well at accepting that not everyone has the same tastes. After all, my mother hates Indian food. Hates it. We’re still on speaking terms, because why wouldn’t we be? I think it’s silly that she dislikes an entire culinary tradition on the basis of one ill-fated buffet visit, but I’m not going to cut her out of my life over it. Similarly, I’m not going to kill a friendship over Lolita. Or even a potential friendship.

In this week, where madness is swirling all around us, I’d like to ask everybody to embrace the concept of NEBIFE. If you get a negative review on a book you wrote, keep in mind that not everybody loves the same books. You can’t expect everybody to love your book. If you read a book you disliked, try framing your review from the perspective that not every book is for everybody, and that this book wasn’t for you.

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