Thursday 9 February 2012

Literary Blog Hop, February 9-12

Literary Blog Hop
Well hey, look which lovely little blog hop has popped up again! I was literally just thinking this morning 'I wonder if there'll be a literary blog hop question today, because I sure as hell don't have anything else planned' (blog wise, that is) and lo and behold! The glorious hoppage. So, the question for this month is:

In the epilogue for Fargo Rock City, Chuck Klosterman writes:
"It's always been my theory that criticism is really just veiled autobiography; whenever someone writes about a piece of art, they're really just writing about themselves."
Do you agree?

Well. Sort of. Or at least sometimes. But then sometimes no. But also a bit yes. 

Don't you love how clear my answer is? Ok, let's get some clarity: I think that sometimes it's almost unavoidable to write a review of something without letting things that have happened to you get in the way- it's why I read, mainly, to have an emotional response to a story that may not directly have anything to do with my own experiences, but that still brings up a lot of feelings and things related to past experiences that mean that, that's what I'm going to be writing about when I write about these books. So, the judgement of whether I liked or disliked a book is always, to some extent, going to be influenced by how well I related to it on a personal level, and not just on the writing or other general good or bad technical aspects about the book. 

But. I feel like Klosterman's view on it is one that allows authors to just think 'Well, just because that one/those many reviewers say my book is bad, that just means they didn't relate to it on a personal level, so it's actually ok.' You know what? Some books are bad. They just are. And maybe some people can relate to them, and their judgement is one that is purely autobiographical (as in, it makes them feel good because it reminds them of this), but that still doesn't excuse the bad writing, or poorly drawn characters, or unoriginality of the story. So I kind of think that negative criticism comes from a place that's more rational and not just related to ones personal history- that it's a carefully considered criticism of the book itself, rather than something like 'they don't like it because their dad never read to them as kids'. 

So I think it's impossible to fully separate the reader from the book, and I don't think you'd want to because the book would literally be boiled down to its most functional parts- language, characters, plot; and so on, without producing an emotional reaction in anyone. It's because of the autobiography that each of us brings to a book that they become what they are- otherwise they're just lots and lots of symbols on a page. What's also great about this is that it means that an author hasn't really just written one book- they've written as many books as the number of people they can get to read it, because every person is going to see it differently, and approach it from a different angle, because our lives are all so different, even when they seem the same. So obviously in this, it's impossible to separate biography from the reading of a book, but that doesn't mean that in criticism, things have to get overly emotional or personal. It's just that usually, its better if they do.

What do you think? Can you just keep a cool objective head when you review, or does your own life always sneak in there a bit? Hop on over to The Blue Bookcase and have your say.


  1. Loved this post, esp when you said: " have an emotional response to a story that may not directly have anything to do with my own experiences..." Reading is so relational, I'm learning, and it's not just about what I've experienced in life that affects how I read a book, but what I know of the author, what others have read and said, etc etc. My reviews are, I suppose, really reflections, since they're my knee jerk responses to what I've just read.

    1. Definitely! I think our reactions are all to some extent related to our own experiences, but it's just not something I want crappy authors to be able to use to say "well, they just didn't *get* it because it didn't get to them on an emotional level", because, whilst that may be true, it doesn't excuse bad writing!

    2. YES! I know -- and that's the tough part. Pretty much, if an author has to say a reader "didn't get it" then the failing is on them!

    3. Absolutely! Stupid authors! I think what I think is: Bad book=criticism not emotionally linked but more to do with other things; whereas Good book= criticism can be emotional, OR you can just say, yeah, this was a great book and I get that even though I wasn't IN LOVE with it. That's obviously a massive generalisation, but overall, that.

  2. "It's because of the autobiography that each of us brings to a book that they become what they are- otherwise they're just lots and lots of symbols on a page." I like this thought. Klosterman's quote makes it sound like the personal element is bad, when it's actually a fact of life--that's how art appreciation works. :)

    1. It really does! I mean, I don't know if that's just how I'm/we're reading it, but he really makes it sound like a bad thing, whereas I kind of think it's a wonderful thing!