Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My trash may be your treasure, but it's still trash to me

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Is it just me, or are vintage Nathan Bransford blog posts just not as good as the new ones? I stumbled upon his post about Making Taste Overly Personal and I was taken aback by his dismissive attitude toward a writer's instinctive reaction to a book.

I realize that nobody wants to read a review on Amazon posted by ThisBonerz4U describing his/her book as "stupid" or "boring", or "I know this wuz like a spaceship book, but y iz it so ridic?" It's human to dislike comments like that. It's also human to know you should ignore them and yet quietly obsess about why someone would say such a thing about your baby! Obviously, anyone who would do that has no culture . . . Right?


I work with people all day and have a lot of practice in the art of understanding that there's a way of saying things that helps and a way of saying things that hinders. Delivery counts for a lot, and so does the amount of thought put into the message. Criticism similar to the example stated above probably won't follow your career any further than a few downvotes on the message board.


I have a hard time swallowing the idea that as I writer, I should read everything with an open mind and set aside my own aesthetic because I have soooooo much to learn from all the chosen ones out there (as in published authors.) I have a lot to learn. I learn something new every day, and I still carry a lot of self doubt around. I'm sure that has a lot to do with why this old post pissed me off so much. However, I know what good writing and good craft looks like. A lot of published authors write badly.


Let's take Dan Brown as an example. If you sat down and tried to read The DaVinci Code, could you tell me that the dialogue sounds natural and that his writing is clear, clean and in the active voice? If you have eyeballs, probably not. That book is sloppy and could have been half as long without losing anything. In fact, cutting it could only have improved it. The only quality that would have been reduced is the hardcover's functionality as an excellent doorstop. With digital gradually taking over the market, that's just not the kind of feature it once was. You know? I read that book and even kind of allowed myself to enjoy that book, but it's not literature. I can see why some people would like it. For one thing, it was impossible to avoid the darn thing when it first came out. If you bought Cheerios, you could get a coupon for it (okay, not quite that bad, but seriously, it was everywhere.) It was easy to read. Anyone who passed the 5th grade could understand all the words. Also, I guess, the setting was interesting. I say, I guess there because while I appreciate fiction's ability to transport the reader to another place, I'd rather use a travel guide than a Dan Brown novel---the writing is less cloying.


All that said, since I write book reviews, I've had to wrestle with my conscience on some of the books because I hate giving bad reviews. The counselor and writer side of me pleads, someone worked hard on that, Amy. Give the poor schmuck a break. The reviewer in me says, Nonsense! If you say everything is good, nobody will ever trust your reviews again. I want my recommendations to mean something, and I know literary agents want the same thing. So, seriously, I know that no agent or author wants an author, especially one of us unpublished people, saying, What? That's it?


I think it's only fair though that if we have to slave away on manuscripts and customized query letters so we can "submit" repeatedly and get all those "dear author" letters or nothing in return, we are entitled to our opinions on what we're being asked to spend our money on in bookstores. Maybe that's immature or maybe it's just recognizing that just because something's published doesn't make it a unique and special snowflake that's beyond my ability to evaluate.