Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On Subjectivity

I want to thank E.J. for inspiring me to write this, with this wonderful post. And no, it's not wonderful just because he references me.

If you follow any agent blogs- and chances are, if you're following me, that you do- you'll hear them go on about the subjectivity of the business we're trying to make a living in. "It just wasn't for me," is as much of a catchphrase in the publishing realm as "It's not you, it's me" is in the relationship realm.

It's easy to take it personal and get angry. But let's get analytical for a second. There are some classics that everybody swears by. Do you like them all? I make no secret of the fact that I despise CATCHER IN THE RYE. And there are others who swear by it as the quintessential novel of teenagerdom. On the other hand, I love THE COLOR PURPLE. But I'm sure there are those who find the writing simplistic or are disgusted by the story.

And we don't even need to go back to the classics. Ever had a friend recommend a book to you as the greatest thing ever, and you were barely able to struggle through it? (For me, it was THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.) Or recommend a book to someone only to have them dodge you for months to avoid telling you how much they hated it?

It's called subjectivity. And it doesn't make the books I like any better than the books I don't like. I don't dispute the greatness of CATCHER IN THE RYE. It just wasn't for me. And in our societies, that's a right we revere: the right to choose what we like. Without it, we'd be forced to marry the first suitor that came along. But we don't. And it's not that there's neccesarily anything wrong with the suitors we don't choose. But only one can truly be number 1.

This post is really about reviews. E.J. commented on the fact that almost every review you read on the bloggosphere is about the most amazing book since Moses learned to write. And the fact of the matter is this: every book CAN'T be amazing. If every book was amazing, then amazing would become the new average.

No one's going to fault you for saying a book was good, instead of great. And the people you reccomend to, will come to trust your judgement, if what you say about the book actually turns out to be true.

Swing by tomorrow for "How to Review." Same bat time, same bat channel.


KO: The Insect Collector said...

I agree wholeheartedly.

E.J. Wesley said...

Looking forward to tomorrow's post! :)

-LGraham said...

I had the same experience with The Invisible Man. It has a reputation as a great piece of literature, but the paragraph structure and sheer, mindless repetition drove me up the wall when I had to read it for my HS English class. I responded by forcing my way through it, then spending ten pages talking about WHY I couldn't stand it in the essay my class had to write about it afterwards.

What surprised me was that my teacher gave me an 'A' on the essay and told me later that most people in her class praised it just because it was a classic. She said she was happier to see thoughtful critique than mindless praise just for the sake of praising.

-LGraham http://www.larissamariegraham.blogspot.com

Colene Murphy said...

True true. I'm a big fan of the subjectivity of the novel world. It would take a lot for everyone to unanimously hate my novel one day!

Marsha Sigman said...

So true, really love this post and I'm looking forward to tomorrow!

Jon Paul said...

You couldn't be more right, Claire. And as writers, truth and taste, subjectivity and objectivity--and being able to tell the difference--are our bread and butter.

If we spend all our time trying to write the novel we think people want to read and not the novel we have to write, we'll come up short in the end. Same goes for reviews.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I was literally just thinking about this and how subjective it all is. Glad I'm not alone in thinking this.