Friday, May 19, 2006

U Stink But I Luv U

No, Grandma, I haven't been kidnapped by a handsome red-silk-shirted gypsy with flashing dark eyes and a gold hoop earring and carried off to the wilds of Moravia. Promise.

Sorry, I did promise to resume normal service at start of week, but severe overwork has paralysed my mental digestive system. Minimum twelve-hour days would block up anyone's thought processes. And then, whenever I get five minutes to spare, along comes one of those kick-ass online dust-ups. Just following the innumerable spin-offs, debates of varying cordiality and interesting little tangents around the corners of the blogosphere I frequent has been a major distraction for a tired mind.*

From reasoned debate couched in prose so eloquent I desperately wanted to agree with every single word written; to lethal strikes by black-pyjama-clad literary ninjas; to bookish barrages by battlefield alliances: it's all been so very entertaining. (hey look - semi-colons, probably improperly used!) I've been quite happy to wallow in it all, because the sheer volume of opinion is quite overwhelming.

Some of the posts have left me slack-jawed in admiration, some have just left me slack-jawed. But all of it has been food for thought, which is lovely. One thing that strikes me is that when adults look fondly on a child curled up in a corner with a book and think, "Oh, how lovely and quiet she is", they are being woefully naïve. Think about that, Mrs. B., when your sprog eats reads that copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar I gave her. Just think about it.

'Cos y'know, if a person loves to read, whatever they love to read, they're going to care about it. That's why it evokes stronger passions than, say... oh hell, when it comes down to it, people cherish the oddest things and enjoy the most bizarre activities. Pick almost anything and you'll find internet forum, study group, club, association or secretive underground network that caters to aficionados. Although sometimes this plunges joyfully into the sort of loves whose names I dare not speak of. To surf is to know I'm a prude.

Giving a shit about something for no other reason than that it speaks to you is a very human trait. It's all bound up the way we see ourselves and create identities. But if people care enough about anything to seek out others with similar tastes to discuss it, you're bound to encounter strong feelings. Express any opinion and you'll probably step on someone's toes. On a bad day, you'll smudge their freshly-applied Brazenberry Shimmer polish too.

It's all well and good to explain that it's just a criticism of the thing, the book or whatever, and not the creator. But at the end of the day, someone's spent time and effort in the creation. It's part of them so the wrong opinion can sting. But someone's also spent time and effort in the reading. Not as much as the writer, but still, we care. Enthusiastic readers don't take an unquestioning approach when they read, thinking is integral to generating that sense of wonder which comes about when we encounter something truly great.

All of which has been said before at some point, somewhere. There's no easy way out of this sort of dilemma. But I also wanted to point out that just because I criticise something doesn't mean I don't love it. For one thing, I'm very conscious that my opinions are influenced by a host of other factors. It's probably not fair, but it's how my head works. I just can't provide an impartial analysis of a text that's meant to do more than inform. Mood will come into it, as well as my own opinions on other matters. And I'm woefully inconsistent.

There are books I loved once that I suspect would give me strong reservations now. Similarly I now love some books that I previously disliked. Clearly the books themselves haven't changed, but I have.

At the end of the day, I just want a good book. But I can't define what this is. I can't come up with a list of guidelines for the aspiring author. If I could, I certainly wouldn't be doing what I do now. All I can say is that I've never found the perfect book, but the books I love aren't perfect. I know it, but for mysterious reasons beyond my ken, I just don't care.

*Will add links later. Kinda busy to hunt them out.


Bev (BB) said...

I've found the perfect book. No, really, I have. The perfect book is the one I'm reading at the moment that my mood and state of mind mess seamlessly with the story unfolding inside my head told by the writer of the book. The perfect book holds me captive until I finish the last page and set it aside.

I may pick it up again later and find that it isn't quite as perfect then, but for that brief time it is simply perfection personified.

I've found a lot of those over the years to be honest.

Bev (BB) said...

Uh, that should've been mesh, not mess, although I suppose that might work too in a twisted sort of way. :D

EvilAuntiePeril said...

I hadn't thought of it that way, Bev, but I really like the way that explains why I can love the covers off a book and yet still sit down, talk what I liked and disliked about it and even change my mind. Not perfect for all time, but perfect for now.

Bev (BB) said...

Yeah, I believe "perfect for now" explains quite a bit about why readers can look past many book's obvious flaws and still greatly enjoy stories critics basically tell them they shouldn't.

Maybe the next time, they'll see what the critic is saying, but in that moment, wow.

Kate R said...

Okay, that's the last word. A damn fine one (or couple hundred) too.

Kate R said...

I've decided you have hinted that the very hungry caterpillar is an important work and one of teh best books, evah.

And I decided linking to this entry constitutes a regular blog entry for me.

Lazy On A Monday

Lyn Cash said...

Totally enjoyed this (blame Kate - I followed her over here). You had me from word one, but this is what hooked me: "There are books I loved once that I suspect would give me strong reservations now. Similarly I now love some books that I previously disliked. Clearly the books themselves haven't changed, but I have."

Excellent. Thanks for putting this past week's flurry of posts into perspective for me.

EvilAuntiePeril said...

Oh, wow. Thanks for the linking-back to a post thing, Kate. Dunno that there can ever be the last word(s) on a debate like this, but I'm very flattered.

Umm... and I can't write concisely. It's congenital, but at least here I'm only messing up my own sandpit. But the Very Hungry Caterpillar is a work of (concise) literary genius, imho. First book I ever read.

And hello Lyn, too, and thank you kindly for the lovely compliment.