Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Problem of a Good Book

I finished a really great book the other day. I'd love to talk about it, but as a published author I don't always feel like I can. I started to talk about this problem over at SF Novelists: Writers as Readers or Worse (?) Fans. But, I'm not sure I had enough coffee to get to the heart of the issue, because more than just gushing to y'all about the positives of this book, what I really, REALLY want is a forum in which we could have meaningful dialogue about this book.

Those of you who have met me at various conventions know that there's nothing I like better than a good debate. I was raised a Unitarian Universalist and I often joke that for me coffee and an intellectual argument is a religious experience. One of my favorite things about fandom is that it puts me in rooms filled with people who read (and watch and play) the same stuff I do, so the chances are I can find someone to talk to about whatever I've just finished/discovered that I'm fired up about. I think most fans understand that you can be critical about the things you love, so they know I mean no disrespect when I note the lack of queer characters on Battlestar Galatica, etc. I still love the show. I don't have to say I love it over and over for anyone in the room to believe it. The fact that I've memorized scenes, have shown up to a panel about it, etc., shows my devotion. But, when an author criticizes another writer, it feels different -- even when what you might have to say comes from the fact that you loved the book... got so into it, in fact, that it became IMPORTANT enough to want to argue about it.

Normally, I'd ask myself "how would I feel if it were my book." But the golden rule doesn't work in this situation, because my skin has been made particularly tough by years of theatre training. An unfair review still hurts me, of course, but criticism that comes out of love bothers me a whole lot less. I might still be stung by what someone has to say, but I tend to see that sort of criticism as a challenge (in the most positive sense of that word.) I don't tend to take that stuff personally. I defend my work, but I don't transfer my passion to the critic.

But I know that I'm weird that way. And sometimes I just couldn't resist. I've used my blog (or Tate's) a couple of times as a forum to talk about books I loved -- though not unconditionally, and I think because all of us authors have "google alert" set to notify us of any mention of our names I may have made some authors cranky with me, despite the fact that I LOVED their books.

This is a really long way of saying I loved Jo Walton's FARTHING. You should go buy six copies and you should read it. Then we should get together for some coffee (or on a panel) and talk about it.


Kelly Swails said...

I'll talk with you about it, Lyda. Though, it's been six months since I've read it and I'm not a history buff, so you might find the conversation one-sided.

As for the issue of critiquing books from people you know ... wow. It's tough. Before I started writing seriously and meeting lots of cool authors, I would have long discussions with my non-writer friends about books we'd read. I'd have no problems talking about what I liked, what I didn't like, how the book sucked or how the book kept me up all night.

Now, though, I find that friends have written some of the stuff I read. I don't always love it. Heck, I don't always like it. I find that I want to talk about what I've read with someone, but oftentimes that someone might know the author, or know someone who knows the author, etc., and it's tough to be completely honest. I find it hard to publicly (even if it's just over coffee with three people and not on a blog)talk about a novel without feeling like I'm bashing a co-worker.

lydamorehouse said...

Yeah, that's it exactly. We're all in a very small office and you don't want to piss anyone off.

It's really one of the things that I miss about being *just* a fan. The freedom to have a strong opinion about something I love.

Kelly Swails said...

Yeah. Me too.